Claim of Indian interference in Trudeau event ‘dangerously irresponsible': Andrew Scheer
The Conservative leader challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to either back up the anonymous claim or renounce it.
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OTTAWA—The suggestion by a senior government official that rogue political elements in India were behind the invitation of a Sikh extremist to an event with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “dangerously irresponsible” and risks eroding diplomatic ties, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says.
Scheer criticized the government’s damage control efforts that saw unnamed officials — perhaps one or more — suggest in some news reports that officials in India were somehow behind the embarrassing invitation of a convicted Sikh extremist, Jaspal Atwal, to an event with Trudeau during his India visit.
Even as Trudeau and his family were winging their way home Saturday from their weeklong visit to India, the political reverberations of the star-crossed trip were still being felt.
Scheer challenged the prime minister to either back up the anonymous claim or renounce it.
“I believe the prime minister either needs to substantiate these claims, that elements within the Indian government have played an active role in embarrassing our prime minister, or he needs to disavow these statements,” Scheer told the Star in an interview Saturday.
“The implications of saying that elements in the Indian government have played a role in this are profound.”
Trudeau and his political delegation were already facing questions about an India trip that appeared light on substance and heavy on photo ops when news emerged that Atwal had been invited to Mumbai event with Trudeau.
Atwal was sentenced with three others to 20 years in prison after a Canadian jury convicted them of attempted murder in the 1986 shooting of an Indian cabinet minister who travelled to B.C. for a wedding, a sentence upheld by an appeal court.
There was already concern in India over Trudeau’s trip, and the view among some there is that he’s sympathetic to Sikh separatists among his voter base in Canada. News of Atwal’s invitation only heightened those concerns.
The Canadian government rescinded the invite and scrambled to contain the fallout.
British Columbia Liberal MP Randeep Sarai (Surrey Centre) took the blame, saying the invitation was his responsibility.
And as part of the damage control, a senior government official then suggested to some Canadian media outlets, including CBC News and Global News, that political elements in India may have had a hand in Atwal’s invitation in a deliberate bid to make the Canadian government appear sympathetic to Sikh extremism.
The Star also talked to sources about the circumstances around Atwal’s invitation but that same claim was not laid out in those conversations.
However, as the Star reported, a senior government official said Atwal had been taken off a blacklist of people banned by India from entering the country by the Indian government, and not at the behest of Canada.
Scheer charged that the official was levelling a “very serious allegation” and the government now has an obligation to back it up.
“Either there are reasons for Canadians to be very concerned and obviously the prime minister and other officials have known about this for some time, in which case I think it needs to be expounded upon and Parliament needs to be advised,” Scheer said.
“Or this is a wild accusation, not based on facts, in which case the prime minister has allowed a major diplomatic incident to happen.”
Indeed, media outlets in India noted that the Canadian explanation was not well-received.
The Times of India savaged the trip, calling it a “disaster that has little parallel in India’s recent diplomatic history.”
And it singled out this allegation as among the serious missteps that could have diplomatic repercussions.
“On Saturday, Indian government officials were angry at suggestions by Canadian officials that India was responsible for Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal getting a visa to India and used his presence to embarrass Trudeau,” the newspaper wrote.
Instead, the Times noted that the Atwal invite “was part of a number of Trudeau’s own events that did not involve the Indian government at all.”
The Conservatives were already seeking an emergency meeting of a Commons’ public safety and security committee to review the Privy Council Office’s screening practices.
Scheer said that the Prime Minister’s Office has a hand in vetting invitations to any event involving the prime minister. In Atwal’s case, either vetting wasn’t done, or it was done and a political decision was made to allow Atwal to attend anyway, he said.
“Either one of those answers is very troubling.”
Files from Tonda MacCharles and Alex Ballingall