As It Happens

Former Liberal cabinet minister blasts Trudeau over attempted murderer's Delhi dinner invite

Sikh separatist Jaspal Atwal was charged, but not convicted, in a near-fatal 1985 attack on former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh.
B.C. politician Ujjal Dosanjh was attacked and nearly killed in 1985. The man who was charged, but ultimately convicted, was invited to a reception dinner with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Delhi. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Story transcript

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh is speaking out after the man who was acquitted of beating him nearly to death three decades ago was invited to dine with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India. 

Jaspal Atwal, a former member of an illegal Sikh separatist group, was invited to a formal dinner-reception hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner on Thursday in Delhi, CBC News reports.

Atwal was convicted of the attempted murder of Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986. He was also charged, but not convicted, in a near-fatal 1985 attack on Dosanjh, a vocal opponent of the Sikh separatist movement's push for an independent state of Khalistan.

On Tuesday night in Mumbai, Atwal was photographed posing with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, as well as Canadian cabinet ministers and MPs.

Trudeau has since rescinded the invite, and Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai apologized for submitting Atwal's name to the guest list.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, about what the invite means for him personally, and for India-Canada relations more broadly. Here is part of that conversation.

What was your first reaction when you heard that Jaspal Atwal had been invited to this dinner in Delhi?

There are obviously concerns about security around the prime minister, around the delegation — and here is a man who is a convicted attempted assassin of a visiting Punjabi cabinet minister in British Columbia.

You have a trip being taken to actually remedy some of the problems with the relationship with India ... and that just adds to the problems that the relationship had to begin with.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Jaspal Atwal are pictured at what appears to be a film industry influencers event with Indian film stars in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Name withheld by request)

"Do you have no shame?" is the question you put to the prime minister.

Oh, absolutely. Do we have no shame? I mean, do we have no shame that we are taking, as part of our delegations, our receptions, the man who tried to kill an Indian cabinet minister? That's what I meant. 

And I said that the Khalistani sympathies ... have seeped deep into the veins of our political system, and I maintain that. 

Part of the reason the government of India and the Indians are mad is that Canadian politicians have never stopped — never ever stopped — going to these parades where these violent murderers like [Air India bombing mastermind] Talwinder Parmar are glorified as heroes. 

One thing I carried from India — I was born in '46, just before partition — is that India is never going to allow anyone to ever divide it again.

It's never going to happen again and Canada should get with it and understand that if it harbours anyone who wants to dismember India, India would not look kindly on it.

And that's not a threat. I mean, I'm just saying as an Indian and as a Canadian, it would look bad for an Indian-Canadian relationship. 

And if you want to trade with one of the largest economies in the world — and a democracy, to boot — then we should be more sensitive to their concerns and we should stop cavorting with these separatists who want to dismember the country.

A photograph of Atwal's invitation to attend a dinner at Canada's High Commission for Canada to India. (Name withheld upon request)

Mr. Trudeau said, and Mr. Harper has also said in the past, that people are entitled to have their views for Sikh separatism, but it's a different thing when they're part of a violent movement.

People are entitled to have their views. There's no question.

It is when the governments of the country turn a blind eye, or they themselves — through their cabinet ministers, MPs, MLAs and others — associated with the ... public activities of these groups.

That, I think, is when it becomes a problem. That has nothing to do with freedom of expression.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.