Home / Canada / Convicted Sikh extremist had been removed from India’s travel blacklist, Star told

Convicted Sikh extremist had been removed from India’s travel blacklist, Star told

OTTAWA—Convicted gunman Jaspal Atwal, the Vancouver-area man at the centre of a political storm that has marred Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India, was removed from the Indian government’s own travel blacklist several months ago, suggesting the Indian government did not view him as security risk, the Star has learned.
Senior Canadian officials refused to discuss whether or how Canadian security officials vetted Atwal, or how he was able to show up at one Trudeau event in India, and get invited to another without being barred.
However, one source said Atwal, a convicted terrorist in the eyes of Canadian courts, was not removed from India’s notoriously hardline blacklist at the behest of any Canadian government official or agency.
That source said also that Atwal is known to have met with and has “close links” to Indian diplomatic officials with the Indian consulate office in Vancouver, and is close to other Indian officials as well. The insider suggested the Indian government itself appears to have accepted that “somehow his (Atwal’s) views on the issue of an independent Khalistan have evolved” and that he is “much more comfortable with” the government of India.
Atwal was sentenced with three others to 20 years in prison after a jury convicted them of attempted murder in the 1986 shooting of an Indian cabinet minister who travelled to B.C. for a wedding, a sentence upheld by an appeal court.
“This was an act of terrorism in order to advance a cause but acts of terrorism for whatever reason are and will continue to be condemned by all right-thinking members of Canadian society,” the courts said.
Atwal, who was 34 at the time, later told a parole board he was the gunman, the Vancouver Sun reports.
Embarrassing photos surfaced Wednesday of Atwal posing with Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi at a film industry event in Mumbai, prompting questions of both governments in India and Canada.
It comes as Trudeau faces reports and opposition criticism that he met a frosty reception in India because the government there views him as sympathetic to Sikh separatists among his voter base here in Canada.
Canadian officials deny there was any “snub,” saying the Trudeau visit was co-ordinated well in advance and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trudeau were scheduled to meet Friday all along.
Prior to and during the trip Trudeau’s ministers, his national security adviser and now the prime minister himself have repeatedly declared Canada’s support for a “united India.”
When the photos emerged just hours after Trudeau had assured a chief minister in the Punjab region that his government condemns violent extremism, Trudeau’s office swiftly rescinded Atwal’s invitation. Trudeau laid the blame squarely at the feet of MP Randeep Sarai (Surrey Centre), who admitted responsibility.
“The individual in question never should have received an invitation and as soon as we found out we rescinded the invitation immediately,” said Trudeau in a terse statement to reporters in India.
Sarai, one of 14 MPs who joined Trudeau in India for the tour, echoed Trudeau in a written statement later, saying
“I alone facilitated his request to attend this important event. I should have exercised better judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Although government officials would not say directly that the RCMP did not vet Atwal, that was the implication, with two saying it is not realistic that such individual vetting could take place.
One source said the nature of large public events or receptions where lists evolve constantly and where security forces have limited personal information does not allow for such vetting.
The source said officials conduct a threat and risk assessment that could include information on individuals, but added neither the RCMP nor CSIS received any information suggesting “that this person with his background was on the list.”
The source added that the information that Atwal was invited was received in advance of media reports and the process of pulling his invitation was under way before media reported his attendance at the earlier event.

One said security services take a “risk-based approach” to deciding whether the prime minister and his family require closer protection in such crowds. And sources denied suggestions any government minister, MP or other official overrode any concerns that may have been raised about Atwal.
The fact that Atwal’s name was dropped from an Indian government blacklist only partially explains how Atwal got a visa to travel to India. It doesn’t explain how he was able to leave Canada, whether he is — or ever was — on any Canadian “no-fly” list. Canadian officials would not discuss that either, saying only the threshold to be included is “very high” and a criminal conviction some 30 years ago might not necessarily place someone on that list.
The Star has reached out to the Indian government’s external affairs ministry for an explanation, with no reply by deadline. However, in India, government officials there were scrambling to answer press questions.
“I can’t say immediately how that happened,” Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters Thursday at a news conference in India that was posted online.
“There are different ways of people coming into India,” he said. “We are ascertaining details from our mission. We will have to see how this happened.”
Atwal has a record of involvement with the Liberal party. Photos circulating on Twitter show Atwal at party events with Trudeau and former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. He was exposed as an executive with a Liberal riding association in Surrey, B.C., after the Vancouver Sun reported on his criminal record in the wake of a controversy over his invitation to the provincial government’s throne speech in 2012. In 2011, a man in Surrey with that name donated $500 to the riding’s Liberal candidate, Pam Dhanoa.
A member of the riding association confirmed Atwal’s prior involvement in a Facebook message to the Star on Thursday. The message said a new riding executive took over in 2013 and that Atwal hasn’t been involved or attended any events since.
His name does not appear on any fundraising event guest lists that the Liberals have posted online since April 2017.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former NDP premier of British Columbia and federal health minister in Paul Martin’s Liberal government, tweeted his rage upon learning of Atwal’s presence at event in India. “Do we have no shame? Khalistan has seeped deep into the veins of this administration,” he posted on twitter.
Dosanjh has long been a vocal opponent of Sikh extremism in Canada. He was beaten in an underground parking lot in 1985 after speaking out against religious extremists, an attack which left him hospitalized with a damaged hand and 85 stitches, according to his autobiography that was published last year.

Atwal was among suspected of attacking Dosanjh, though charges against him were later dropped.
In an interview with the Star, Dosanjh criticized Canada’s security agencies for failing to properly screen people attending events with the prime minister, adding it undermines Trudeau’s effort to allay suspicions his government harbours sympathy for Sikh separatists in India.
“Suddenly the bombshell in the form of Mr. Atwal goes off right in the middle of a very sensitive diplomatic and trade mission,” he said.
“One is known by the company one keeps. The fact that he was able to get through the screening process and be there tells you that the claims made by Mr. Trudeau and his ministers are not true.”
Trudeau’s trip was already dogged by criticisms that it is light on substance, heavy on costumed photo ops and family pictures, and was getting the cold shoulder from an indifferent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ottawa’s suspected sympathy for the Sikh separatist movement was also fanned in the Indian media on Thursday, when reports claimed that a Khalistan supporter named Paramjit Randhawa entered the country with Trudeau’s delegation after having been barred from India for 38 years.
On Thursday, Randhawa told Mumbai newspaper The Indian Express that his local MP, B.C. Liberal Joe Peschisolido, submitted his name to come to India with Canada’s delegation.
“There have been many like me who haven’t visited India because they would not get (a) visa,” Randhawa reportedly said.
A senior Canadian official said flatly it was false, that Randhawa was not part of the government delegation, nor had any Canadian official made any representations to India to have him or Atwal removed from any Indian blacklist.

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