Politics

RCMP knew about Atwal's invitation earlier than previously revealed

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were aware far earlier than previously revealed that a man once convicted of attempted murder had been invited to a reception in India with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

RCMP initially told Parliament it only learned of invitation once news broke

The RCMP has revealed it learned Jaspal Atwal had been invited to a reception with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shortly after an Indian film industry reception in Mumbai where he posed for a picture with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. (Supplied by Jaspal Atwal)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were aware far earlier than previously revealed that a man once convicted of attempted murder had been invited to a reception in India with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In a document quietly tabled in Parliament Monday, the government said the RCMP first learned on Feb. 20 that Jaspal Atwal had been invited to two receptions during the prime minister's trip to India.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and prominent Liberals posed for photos with Atwal at the first reception in Mumbai, touching off a scandal that clouded Trudeau's India trip and provided weeks of question period material to the opposition Conservatives.

"Following additional review, the RCMP can confirm that it became aware of the invitation to Mr. Atwal to attend the February 22, 2018 reception in New Delhi on Tuesday, February 20, 2018," says the updated answer to a question placed on the order paper by a Conservative MP.

"This was after the reception in Mumbai and before the New Delhi reception.

"This information differs from that which RCMP National Headquarters (NHQ) provided to the Privy Council Office when queried about knowledge of the invitation to Mr. Atwal."

Clashing timelines

Initially, the RCMP told Parliament that it only learned of Atwal's invitations on Feb. 22. 

The RCMP said it is responsible for providing security for the prime minister but "has never been specifically mandated to vet or accredit invited guests at functions hosted in Canada or abroad."

RCMP spokesman Harold Pfleiderer refused Tuesday to say how the RCMP was made aware of Atwal's invitations.

The government says the RCMP only advised the Privy Council Office of the new information on April 17.

On April 16, the prime minister's National Security Adviser Daniel Jean told a Parliamentary committee that the government first learned of Atwal's invitations on Feb. 21, after the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) advised him of information it had received from a source at 8 a.m.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains is seen here with Jaspal Atwal at the Feb. 20 event in Mumbai. (Supplied by Jaspal Atwal)

He said he then shared the information with "relevant officials" in the PCO and the Prime Minister's Office.

Later on Feb. 21, CBC News broke the news that Atwal — once convicted of trying to murder Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986 — had been invited to the two receptions. Atwal was also charged — but not convicted — in connection with a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, who opposed the Sikh separatist movement.

For years, Atwal was on an Indian government blacklist of people barred from the country. He has since been removed from the list.

When the news broke of Atwal's invitation, Trudeau said officials acted as soon as they learned of it.

It's a 'shambles', says critic

"Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously," he told the reporters accompanying him on the trip to India. "The individual in question never should have received an invitation and, as soon as we found out, we rescinded the invitation immediately."

Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic Erin O'Toole said the new information raises questions about what officials in the Prime Minister's Office knew and when they knew it.

"My suspicion is that the RCMP would have learned that and would have sent it to the PM's (protective) detail and the PMO, the tour team probably at least, or chief of staff," he said.

O'Toole said he would like to see a detailed timeline from each agency outlining when they learned of Atwal's invitations and what they did with the information.

He said the information also raises questions about how Trudeau's government handles security

"It showcases once again the PMO's willingness to not treat security and diplomatic issues seriously."

New Democrat Public Safety Critic Matthew Dubé said the situation appears to be confused, with the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

"The Prime Minister's Office needs to be accountable for this whole mess. The word that comes to mind is 'shambles'. Someone has to explain why there's a problem and the dates don't line up."

Dubé said he doesn't believe the RCMP set out to deliberately mislead Parliament.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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