Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and the Modi government faced a major embarrassment on Thursday, after it emerged that a convicted terrorist and Khalistan activist from Canada had been a part of the official delegation’s events in Mumbai and was personally invited to a reception by the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
The controversy arose after photographs of the invitation to the event in honour of Mr. Trudeau at “Canada House” in New Delhi on Thursday as well as the event on Tuesday in Mumbai appeared in Canadian media. The Canadian High Commission said it had “rescinded” the invitation to Jaspal Atwal, a former member of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) who had been convicted for ambushing and shooting Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986 in Canada.
‘Invitation a mistake’
Calling the invitation a mistake, Prime Minister Trudeau admitted that it had been sent by a Member of Parliament, while the Ministry of External Affairs said it is looking into how the Indian High Commission in Canada issued the visa.
“Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously,” said Mr. Trudeau on the sidelines of a business event in New Delhi. “The individual in question never should have received an invitation and, as soon as we found out, we rescinded the invitation immediately. The Member of Parliament who included this individual has, and will, assume full responsibility for his actions.”
Mr. Trudeau didn’t, however, comment on his own relationship with Mr. Atwal, who has been photographed with him at events in Canada, and was also seen in a frame with Mr. Trudeau’s wife and his cabinet colleagues at Tuesday’s event in Mumbai. On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau had said that Canada would not support separatist movements against India, after his meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
‘How Atwal received a visa’
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs said it had already enquired about how Mr. Atwal had received a visa from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. “On the visa issue, I can’t say how that happened. There are different ways people enter India: OCI cards, e-visas etc. We have asked the Indian mission for details,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
The controversy over the invitation to Jaspal Atwal came on the back of a series of allegations against the Trudeau government for its failure to rein in separatist Khalistani groups in Canada, and the perception that it is catering to more extremist parts of their Sikh constituency in Canada. Matters have come to a head between both governments over the past year after an Ontario minister in Mr. Trudeau’s party passed a resolution in the legislature accusing India of “genocide”, and Mr. Trudeau attended a rally where terrorists from the Punjab insurgency were commemorated.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Khalistan issue had been discussed when she met with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday. “Canadian Foreign Policy is to support a strong and united India,” Ms Freeland said in response to a question from The Hindu , and that Canada is “familiar with separatism and we condemn terrorism in all forms.
“But we in Canada also take pride in our diversity, as India does… I discussed the [Khalistan] issue with Sushma Swaraj and it was constructive and useful,” Ms. Freeland added during a think-tank event in the capital.
The issue is also expected to come up in talks between Mr. Trudeau and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, after which the two sides will exchange agreements.