Jaspal Atwal, a convicted Sikh terrorist, has apologised for the “embarrassment” he caused to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and India by attending an event during his visit to Mumbai and asserted that he no longer supported the Sikh independence movement.
The controversy surrounding Atwal erupted last month after he was photographed with Trudeau’s wife Sophie Gregoire and other senior officials at the event in Mumbai as part of Trudeau’s first state visit to India.
He was also invited to the dinner reception at the residence of the Canadian high commissioner in Delhi during Trudeau’s week-long visit. The invitation was later withdrawn.
Atwal, 62, was a Sikh separatist active in the banned International Sikh Youth Federation when he was convicted for attempting to murder Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in Vancouver in 1986. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail. He was released on parole in the early 1990s.
After several days of silence, Atwal finally addressed the situation at his lawyer’s office in Vancouver on Thursday.
Reading from a prepared statement, he said he was “shocked and devastated” when controversy exploded over his attendance at the event.
“I had assumed there would be no problem. No one at any point indicated there would be any issue,” said Atwal.
“I am sorry for the embarrassment this matter has caused to Canada, India, my community and family and friends,” Atwal was quoted as saying by the Star.com.
Atwal said he has “nothing but regret and remorse” for his role in the 1986 attack on Sidhu, adding he is no longer a supporter of the Sikh independence movement.
“I, like the vast majority of Sikhs who once advocated for this cause, have reconciled with the nation of India,” he was quoted as saying by CBC News.
“I have nothing but regret and remorse for my actions and the suffering I caused to the victim. What I did was described as an act of terror by the judge who dealt with this matter. I accept full responsibility. I do not disagree with the court’s conclusions,” he said.
According to the Vancouver Sun, Atwal was also charged but acquitted in the 1985 beating of Ujjal Dosanjh, a vocal opponent of Sikh extremism who later became British Columbia premier and a federal Cabinet minister.
Meanwhile, Indian-origin Liberal MP Randeep Sarai said in a statement that he was responsible for the invitation to Atwal.
Atwal told reporters that he was travelling to India this year, and asked Sarai if he could attend an event with Canadian politicians during Trudeau’s visit.
“I was eventually provided invitation by the Canadian ambassador and attended a reception,” Atwal said.
He also said that he has associated with politicians from Canada’s three major political parties.
Atwal’s lawyer, Rishi Gill, did not allow reporters to ask his client questions during yesterday’s press conference, the Star.com reported.
Atwal never illegally entered India and has visited a number of times since his release from prison, Gill said.
Gill said Atwal went through the “proper channels” to get an invitation to the event, adding those who feign ignorance about his criminal past are being disingenuous.
“He was a political embarrassment to the prime minister, that’s obviously accepted ... but let’s make sure this is on the record -- Mr Atwal presents absolutely no security threat to this country or any other country,” Gill added.
Atwal said this was not his first visit to India since his release from custody, adding he travelled to his homeland twice in 2017 and received a visa from the Indian government without trouble.
“At all times I visited India lawfully and with the full permission of the Indian government,” he claimed.
Opposition parties in Ottawa have also demanded an explanation after reports emerged that an unnamed Canadian official blamed factions in the Indian government for Atwal’s presence at the event -- a claim that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called “a conspiracy theory that is unsupported by any proof,” the report said.
Sarai has also apologised for inviting Atwal and has resigned as the Liberal Party’s Pacific caucus chair.