NEWS
02/21/2018 19:41 EST | Updated 02/21/2018 20:41 EST

Invitation to convicted Sikh extremist to Trudeau event in India rescinded

NEW DELHI — The prime minister’s office has rescinded an invitation to a reception in Delhi to a man who was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986.

A senior official from Justin Trudeau’s office says an invitation to Jaspal Atwal issued by the High Commission to India for Thursday's reception was a mistake and was corrected as soon as it was found out.

But the error wasn't caught until after Atwal had already attended a reception with Trudeau on Tuesday evening.

"This individual should never have been invited to any event on the program, and his invitation has been rescinded," said a spokeswoman with the Prime Minister's Office. "We are in the process of looking into how this occurred."

The spokeswoman added that Atwal is not part of the PM's official delegation to India, nor was he invited by the Prime Minister’s Office.

"As is the case with international trips, individuals sometimes travel on their own to the location of the visit." she said. 

CBC News had reported late Wednesday that Atwal attended a prime ministerial event with the Indian film industry in Mumbai, where he posed for photographs with Trudeau's wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Official wouldn't comment on the vetting process that allowed these two invitations to slip through. A spokesperson said they do not comment on matters relating to the PM's security.

The embarrassing setbacks, which raise questions about the adequacy of both security and diplomatic preparations for Trudeau's trip, come as Trudeau tries to reassure Indian political leaders that his government repudiates violent Sikh extremism.

According to CBC, Atwal was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a banned terrorist group in Canada and India, when he was convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister. He was one of four men who ambushed and shot Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986.

CBC reported that Atwal has also been convicted in an automobile fraud case and was charged, but not convicted, in connection with a savage 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a staunch opponent of the Sikh separatist movement's push for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan. Dosanjh went on to become premier of British Columbia and a federal cabinet minister.

The news of Atwal's involvement came just hours after Trudeau reassured the chief minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, that Canada supports a united India and condemns violent extremism.

Singh has in the past called four Sikh ministers in Trudeau's cabinet "Khalistani sympathizers" and last year refused to meet with one of them, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Tensions between Canada and India have risen in recent years over Indian concerns about a rise in Sikh extremism coming from some of Canada's Sikh communities. Trudeau's appearances at some Sikh events where extremist supporters also showed up caused unhappiness in India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised the issue with Trudeau several times and it likely will come up again when the two leaders meet Friday in Delhi.

After his meeting Wednesday with Singh, Trudeau reiterated his position that Canada supports a united India and absolutely condemns violence for any cause, but will not crack down on those advocating peacefully for an independent Sikh state because that is a freedom of speech issue.

"We will always stand against violent extremism, but we understand that diversity of views is one of the great strengths of Canada," Trudeau said. "I was able to make that very clear to him."