Atwal 'shocked and devastated' by controversy over PM's India tour
Published Thursday, March 8, 2018 11:17AM PST
Last Updated Thursday, March 8, 2018 6:59PM PST
The attempted assassin who sparked a national controversy after being invited to an event with Justin Trudeau in India says he has been "shocked and devastated" by the ensuing media attention.
At an appearance with his lawyer in downtown Vancouver Thursday, Jaspal Atwal read a prepared statement saying he takes full responsibility for his past – including the attempted murder of a visiting Indian official in 1986 – and now renounces terrorism in all forms.
"I have nothing but regret and remorse for my actions and the suffering I caused to the victim," said Atwal, who served several years in prison. "I have done my best to redeem myself and to become someone who contributes to Canada and the Indian community."
The retired Surrey, B.C. resident insisted he has moved on from the extremist politics that led to his terrible crime. He also said he no longer advocates for an independent Sikh nation.
"I, like the vast majority of Sikhs who once advocated for this cause, have reconciled with the nation of India," he said. "India has also been reconciling with these same Sikhs who once sought independence."
Atwal told reporters he still remains politically active doing outreach for the Indian community, however, and has previously appeared at events with NDP, Liberal and Conservative politicians without incident. He said he did not intend to cause a controversy when he asked Liberal MP Randeep Sarai for an invitation to a banquet with the Prime Minister in February.
"When my attendance became the news story that brings us here today I was completely shocked and devastated," he said. "I assumed there would be no problems. No one had at any point indicated there would be any issues."
He did not take questions after making his statement, however, and his lawyer would not explain why Atwal would not have expected to attract media attention following a headline-making appearance in the B.C. legislature six years ago.
Atwal was given an invitation to watch the unveiling of the provincial budget in 2012, and the subsequent outcry led to the resignation of a BC Liberal party staffer.
But despite Atwal's past, his lawyer Rishi Gill stressed that Atwal is no longer considered a security threat, and suggested it is "fear mongering" to continue labeling him a terrorist. India granted Atwal three entry visas last year and another in 2018, the lawyer added.
"Mr. Atwal presents no security threat to this country or any other country," Gill said. "India has let him back into the country to visit … people have to move past things."
Phil Gurski, a former strategic analyst for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he doesn't believe Atwal posed a "clear and present danger" to Trudeau during his India trip, but his past still makes him a problematic party guest.
"I think it's more of a reputational image thing," Gurski said. "It's really hard to say to the Canadian public, 'It's OK, I did that 35 years ago, I'm now a different man.' Terrorism is terrorism, and it is seen differently [than other crimes]."
The controversy erupted last month after a photo emerged of Atwal posing with the Prime Minister's wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. It remains unclear who originally leaked the image, and Atwal did not shine any further light on the issue Thursday.
"We don't know," Gill said. "Certainly somebody was trying to embarrass somebody, I'll put it that way."
Shortly after the photo became public, the Canadian government rescinded Atwal's invitation to the dinner with the Prime Minister, which he did not ultimately attend.
In his statement, Atwal apologized for any embarrassment his involvement in the tour caused.
Though Sarai has taken responsibility for Atwal’s invitation, many have demanded more accountability from the government, questioning how it was even possible that no staffers or law enforcement had raised concerns about his invitation.
For his part, Gurski told CTV News he doesn't believe it was the intelligence community's responsibility to flag Atwal as a potentially political liability.
"Anyone can Google and find out that Jaspal Atwal was involved in a terrorist act," he said. "This is a dropped ball by whoever arranged the trip. This is a dropped ball by whoever decided who to invite."
Back in the 1980s, Atwal was also charged, but not convicted, in connection with a brutal assault on former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh. Dosanjh has said he was “flabbergasted” to learn Atwal was able to receive an invitation to last month's event with Trudeau.
They should have found a bigger room. Jaspal Atwal's lawyer says Atwal will read a prepared statement but won't take questions about how he ended up at an event with the PM in Mumbai and was invited to another in New Delhi. Is this really about "setting the record straight?" pic.twitter.com/2uLWsT3DXB— David Molko (@molkoreports) March 8, 2018