POLITICS
04/13/2018 14:24 EDT | Updated 04/13/2018 14:50 EDT

Conservatives Duped By False Story About Cancelled Bilateral Meeting

The difference two phone calls can make.

AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands before a meeting at Hyderabad house in New Delhi on Feb. 23, 2018.

OTTAWA — The Indian High Commission says a story being used by Conservatives to attack the federal government over the Jaspal Atwal affair is false.

International media reports claimed a bilateral meeting between India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was scrapped as a result of waning relations after the prime minister's first official visit to India earlier this year.

The stories cite "highly placed Indian officials" who claimed Swaraj cancelled an April bilateral meeting scheduled after the two met in February.

"There was no meeting scheduled between External Affairs Minister of India and her Canadian counterpart in Ottawa," Indian High Commission press secretary Sunil Kumar Sharma wrote in an email Friday.

Freeland's office also said the report is not true and that "no such meeting was in the works."

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used the report Thursday to continue hammering Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for Atwal's appearance at government events during the trip.

Atwal was convicted of attempted murder in 1987 after shooting an Indian cabinet minister who was visiting Canada to attend a wedding in British Columbia.

Though Trudeau's wardrobe had already attracted international ridicule, the controversy surrounding the trip picked up traction after a senior official briefed media and pinned blame over Atwal's invite on factions in the Indian government. India denied any involvement in the scandal.

That senior official was later revealed by the Conservatives to be the prime minister's national security adviser Daniel Jean.

"It is clear from the cancellation of this month's meeting between India's External Affairs Minister and Minister Freeland that diplomatic relations between our two countries are at an all-time low," Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole said in a statement Thursday.

When asked if the Durham MP still stands by his comments — in light of the report of a cancelled bilateral metering being discredited — O'Toole's office said yes.

Scheer did not respond to HuffPost Canada's request for comment.

'Fake news' and 'petty politics'

Last month, the Conservative leader's spokesman threatened to put HuffPost Canada on a media blacklist after it was the first to report that the Privy Council Office offered a briefing on India to Scheer.

"You are being lied to," Scheer's spokesperson Jake Enwright said at the time. He called the revelation of the Privy Council Office's offer "fake news."

Scheer, a former House of Commons Speaker, is a Privy Council member and has access to sensitive high-level information that most MPs do not.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stands during question period ion the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 28, 2018.

Over a series of repetitious question period exchanges last month, Tories claimed the government was complicit in a "cover-up" for its reluctance to send Jean to committee over the issue. The Liberals in turn accused Scheer of playing "petty politics" with his reluctance to accept the Privy Council Office's offer of a briefing.

Jean to appear before House committee

The Opposition triggered a 21-hour voting marathon last month to push the government to send Jean to committee to answer questions about the Atwal affair.

Last week, Jean offered to publicly testify before a House committee on public safety and national security. He is expected to answer questions about what he told reporters during a briefing about Atwal's presence during the trip.

According to CBC News, Atwal would also like to appear before committee. He told the broadcaster, "I am seeing all this circus going around, sick and tired with that, and I want to tell the truth."

Jean will appear before committee on Monday.

With files from Althia Raj and The Canadian Press

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