Former B.C.premier slams Trudeau dinner invite for attempted murderer
Ujjal Dosanjh accused would-be assassin of trying to kill him too in 1985, but Jaspar Atwal tells Metro it wasn't him
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Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh didn't mince words when he learned Jaspal Atwal had been invited to dine with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India.
"He made an attempt on my life," Dosanjh alleged in a phone interview on Wednesday. The vocal opponent of Sikh extremism was severely beaten in an underground parking lot in 1985, an attack which left him hospitalized with a damaged hand and stitches to his head.
But charges against Atwal were eventually dropped. However, a year later, Atwal shot a visiting Punjabi minister in Gold River, B.C. — an assassination attempt for which he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail.
"He had ... an iron bar with a bolt at the end of it; both his arms lifted to strike me with the bolt," Dosanjh alleged. "He struck me several times … then he ran away."
Canada's High Commission has now cancelled its official dinner invitation to Atwal, once a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a separatist group outlawed in Canada under counter-terrorism legislation.
Trudeau's trip to India has been marred by reports that he met a frosty reception because the government there views him as sympathetic to Sikh separatists, who want to form a sovereign homeland in northeast India known as Khalistan. India's prime minister and other high-ranking officials have refused to meet with him.
In an exclusive phone interview with Metro from New Delhi, Atwal described the furor about his Trudeau invitation “totally crazy” and Dosanjh’s allegations “totally false.”
“It’s totally lies,” the 62-year-old told Metro. “He knows the person who did it has nothing to do with me.”
He admitted that in the 1980s he was part of the International Sikh Youth Federation and the assassination attempt on the Indian minister but insisted he has long since moved on and changed his ways — including renouncing Sikh separatism through any means.
“For what I did in 1986, I have paid my time,” Atwal said, noting he served five-and-a-half years in prison for that attack. “For what I got into, I realized it was a mistake. I regretted that mistake and changed myself.... I have nothing to do with any kind of extremists now.
“Everybody has a chance to change. This is what I did, but I’m not part of it anymore. I’m not a supporter of Khalistan.”
He said that in 1984, when India used force against the Sikhs’ Golden Temple, “all the Sikhs of the world were upset,” he explained. “Yes, I got a charge for the attack on Ujjal Dosanjh but I was acquitted because that was not me. I’m not that person who assaulted him. Mr. Dosanjh is telling lies. I have nothing to do with it.”
The Surrey businessman has since appeared in a series of photographs with Liberal leaders Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Trudeau. Former B.C. Liberal premier Christy Clark came under fire after the party invited him to her 2012 budget speech.
During his current India visit, Atwal appeared in photos with several federal Liberal cabinet ministers and Trudeau's spouse, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, at a reception he was invited to Tuesday.
"They now have a convicted attempted murderer — an attempted assassin — as part of their entourage," Dosanjh lamented. "They've sent a very, very bad message."
Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted he invited Atwal to the India events, stating: "I alone facilitated his request to attend this important event. I should have exercised better judgment."
Trudeau told reporters Thursday that should not have happened.
"The individual in question never should have received an invitation," Trudeau said, "and as soon as we found out we rescinded the invitation immediately.
"Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously."
Dosanjh said the Prime Minister's Office has questions to answer about Trudeau's India visit — but also about the "mixed messages" being sent about political violence.
"The prime minister of India had expressed those concerns to Trudeau, so they were aware of the concerns before they left Canada; the Prime Minister's Office bumbled this, and the High Commission bungled the whole trip," Dosanjh said. "Politicians in Canada play this ostrich-like game and they do that under the rubric of freedom of expression.
"For politicians, the prime minister and cabinet ministers to be associating with them in the parades where they have posters of violent murderers celebrated as heroes, where people raise funds for Khalistan, that says to them the prime minister is fine with them wanting to dismember India — and for murderers to be treated as heroes."
On Wednesday, Trudeau told reporters: "We understand a diversity of views.... We will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, human rights, while being strong against hate speech or against incitement to violence or, obviously, violent extremism."
Atwal was removed from the Indian government’s own travel blacklist several months ago, suggesting the Indian government did not view him as security risk.
Senior Canadian officials refused to discuss whether or how Canadian security officials vetted Atwal. However, one source said Atwal was not removed from India’s blacklist at the behest of any Canadian government official or agency.
That source said also that Atwal is known to have met with and has “close links” to Indian diplomatic officials with the Indian consulate office in Vancouver, and is close to other Indian officials as well. The insider suggested the Indian government itself appears to have accepted that “somehow his (Atwal’s) views on the issue of an independent Khalistan have evolved” and that he is “much more comfortable with” the government of India.