NEW DELHI: Reeling from a fierce backlash over his spouse Sophie Trudeau‘s photo-op with a convicted Khalistani terrorist, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today said the matter was being taken “extremely seriously”.
Trudeau, who is on his first bilateral visit to India, landed in the midst of controversy over an invitation extended to Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal for a dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s in Delhi.
The Canadian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) quickly cancelled the invite to Atwal when a row erupted over photographs that showed the terrorist alongside Trudeau’s wife Sophie at an event in Mumbai earlier this week.
“Obviously, we take this extremely seriously. He should never have received an invitation. As soon as we received the information we rescinded it, a member of Parliament had included this individual,” Trudeau told mediapersons.
Atwal, a member of the now-banned International Sikh Youth Federation, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for trying to kill the then Punjab cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986. Atwal later even confessed he was the shooter. (If he began his jail sentence in 1986, and if he served the full term, Atwal would have been released in 2006.)
The Canadian PMO categorically stated that Atwal wasn’t part of the official Canadian delegation and was in India in his private capacity.
“… it’s important to be clear that he is not part of official delegation to PM’s visit 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,” said the Canadian PMO.
The Ministry of External Affairs said it was looking into how Atwal was granted a visa, and also appreciated the Canadian PMO’s decision to revoke the invitation to Atwal.
“Canadian side has already clarified that the invitation has been withdrawn. Let us not presume things and decide how he managed to come. This is something which we are trying to find out. In due course we will be able to come up with a reason that how he managed to come in India,” spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at a press briefing.
With speculation running rife about how the pro-Khalistan terrorist got access to a high-level event, Kumar said, “This is something which should be addressed by the Canadian side. They have said that it was an oversight.”
Canadian Member of Parliament Randeep S Sarai admitted that was responsible for extending the invitation to Atwal, and apologized for doing so.
“I alone facilitated his request to attend this important event. I should have exercised better judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Sarai said in a statement, shared by Canadian journalist Abigail Bimman on Twitter.
Tensions over the Khalistan issue have marred Trudeau ‘s visit, and fueled speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was giving the cold shoulder to his Canadian counterpart.
PM Modi has been notably absent since Trudeau and his family touched down in India on Saturday evening.
Trudeau has sought to quash perceptions his administration is soft on pro-Khalistan elements, and affirmed that Canada is committed to “one united India” and his government was serious about cracking down on extremism.