Jaspal Atwal 'shocked and devastated' by invite fallout, says he's no terrorist
Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of attempted murder for his role in an attack on an Indian politician, said today he's not a terrorist and is sorry for any "embarrassment" his invitation to an event at the Canadian High Commission in India might have caused.
When photographs surfaced of Atwal posing with Canadian officials in Mumbai, media in India and Canada asked how the convicted criminal was able to obtain a travel visa and secure invitations to formal events linked to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's official tour.
Speaking to reporters in Vancouver Thursday, Atwal said he has "nothing but regret and remorse" for his role in the 1986 attack on an Indian minister of state, adding he is no longer a supporter of the Sikh independence movement.
Atwal read from a prepared statement and refused to answer questions from reporters, leaving those to his lawyer.
"I, like the vast majority of Sikhs who once advocated for this cause, have reconciled with the nation of India," he said.
"I have nothing but regret and remorse for my actions and the suffering I caused to the victim. What I did was described as an act of terror by the judge who dealt with this matter. I accept full responsibility. I do not disagree with the court's conclusions."
Atwal was convicted of the attempted murder of Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu during a visit to Vancouver Island in 1986. He was also charged — but not convicted — in a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, who later became B.C. premier and a federal Liberal cabinet minister. More recently, he was found liable in an automobile fraud case.
Atwal said he has been active in Indo-Canadian politics for years — meeting with Liberal, Conservative and NDP politicians alike — and visited Parliament Hill three times in 2013 and 2014.
"I have met and been photographed with many politicians, from all parties," he said. "I have met many politicians who have wanted to reach out to the Indian community. I have had assisted with making sure the Indian community was able to communicate with politicians."
Atwal said he reached out to Liberal MP Randeep Sarai before the trip to India, asking if he could secure an invitation to the official reception with Trudeau at the Canadian High Commission. He said he "assumed there would be no problems" with his presence at the event.
"When my attendance became the news story that brings us here today, I was completely shocked and devastated," he said.
Atwal's lawyer, Rishi Gill, said his client went through the "proper channels" to get an invitation to the event, adding those who feign ignorance about his criminal past are being disingenuous.
"He assumed he was vetted appropriately. He has not hid who he is. If you Google Mr. Atwal, you will find information about him," Gill said.
"He was a political embarrassment to the prime minister, that's obviously accepted ... but let's make sure this is on the record — Mr. Atwal presents absolutely no security threat to this country or any other country."
Sarai has since apologized for inviting Atwal and has resigned as the Liberals' Pacific caucus chair.
Atwal said this was not his first visit to India since his release from custody, adding he travelled to his homeland twice in 2017 and received a visa from the Indian government without trouble.
"At all times I visited India lawfully and with the full permission of the Indian government," he said.
A senior government official with knowledge of the prime minister's security protocols suggested to reporters in a background briefing, arranged by the Prime Minister's Office, that Atwal's invitations were arranged by factions within the Indian government.
Conservatives later identified the official as Daniel Jean, Trudeau's national security adviser.
When asked about the notion that his client had been invited by rogue elements in the Indian government, Gill said he'd like the official who made that suggestion to go on the record with formal accusations.
"Mr. Atwal at no point has considered himself, or been approached in such a fashion by any Indian representative, that he would act as an agent of some sort. There was some bandying about of the word informant — that is not correct, he absolutely denies that," he said.
With files from the CBC's Idil Mussa