India calls accusations it set up the Atwal affair 'baseless and unacceptable'

The Indian government denies any involvement in last week's embarrassing invitation of a would-be political assassin to a formal dinner with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau stands by government source in the House of Commons

Justin Trudeau, left, is greeted by Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during his ceremonial reception in New Delhi on Feb. 23 as part of the Canadian prime minister's trip to India. The Indian government is refuting any involvement in last week's Jaspal Atwal affair. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

The Indian government is denying any involvement in last week's embarrassing invitation of a would-be political assassin to a formal dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In a background briefing arranged by the Prime Minister's Office, a senior government official with knowledge of the prime minister's security protocols suggested to reporters that an invitation to Jaspal Atwal was arranged by factions within the Indian government to make the Canadian government appear sympathetic to Sikh extremism.

The Conservatives later identified the official as Trudeau's national security adviser Daniel Jean.

"As we know it, here are the facts," deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt said in question period Wednesday. "Daniel Jean, on his own, called together members of the press gallery travelling with the prime minister in India to tell them that it was factions within the Indian government that were sabotaging the prime minister's trip."

Raitt asked Trudeau what his diplomatic response would be to India rejecting the notion that it engineered the Atwal affair.

"Since the member opposite has used the name of Daniel Jean, I will think it's important to remind them all that Daniel is a distinguished public servant who has served governments, regardless of their political stripe, for over 35 years," Trudeau replied.

"In fact, I'd remind the member opposite that the previous Conservative government so valued Mr. Jean's service that they chose him to represent Canada when he addressed the UN General Assembly." 

Atwal was a member of an illegal Sikh separatist group and was convicted of attempting to assassinate Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986. He was also charged — but not convicted — in the 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, who later became B.C. premier and a federal Liberal cabinet minister.

Canadian Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi was photographed with Atwal in Mumbai on Feb. 20. (Contributor's name withheld by request)

Trudeau stood by the government source in the House of Commons on Tuesday, after getting pummelled by questions from the opposition benches.

Embattled MP resigns as Pacific caucus chair 

India, apparently, was also watching.

"We have seen the recent exchange in the Parliament of Canada regarding two invitations issued to Jaspal Atwal by the Canadian high commissioner, for functions hosted in honour of the Canadian Prime Minister in India," said Raveesh Kumar, an official spokesperson for the Indian government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question from Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer about Jaspal Atwal's alleged connections with Indian state intelligence 0:54

"Let me categorically state that the government of India, including the security agencies, had nothing to do with the presence of Jaspal Atwal at the event hosted by the Canadian high commissioner in Mumbai or the invitation issued to him for the Canadian high commissioner's reception in New Delhi. Any suggestion to the contrary is baseless and unacceptable."

Atwal attended at least one event tied to the Trudeau visit at which he was photographed with the prime minister's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi. Another invitation was rescinded soon after reports of it leaked out.

Atwal's invitation came through B.C. Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who put the former member of a banned extremist group on the guest list for a dinner at the Canadian High Commission in India.

Sarai resigned as chair of his party's Pacific caucus late Tuesday.

He told reporters that he didn't know Atwal all that well, "but he's around."

Randeep Sarai on Jaspal Atwal 0:32

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