OTTAWA – Jaspal Atwal, the attempted murderer who was photographed with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau at an event during the government's official trip to India in February is apologetic for the “embarrassment” it caused.
"In the end, I am sorry for any embarrassment this matter has caused to Canada, India, my community and my family," Atwal said.
Atwal, who was convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, made international headlines over his attendance at a Mumbai event attended by officials from Canada’s delegation, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife and members of the Liberal government.
"When my attendance became the news story that brings us here today I was completely shocked and devastated," he said.
Atwal said he has been "completely overwhelmed" by the political and media attention he’s received as a result.
"I don’t fault the press for the reporting, but I do want everyone to appreciate how difficult it is for a person to become the centre of international media attention," Atwal said, reading a statement next to his lawyer in Vancouver on Thursday.
Atwal refused to answer questions, referring the journalists in the room to his lawyer Rishi Gill, who challenged reporters for trying to ask his client to speak off-script.
In addition to his involvement with the Indian cabinet minister, Atwal was charged but not convicted for an 1985 attack on former Liberal cabinet minister and B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh.
Atwal said he has "nothing but regret and remorse" for his actions decades ago and the suffering he caused, and said he has since renounced Sikh nationalism.
"I deserved the punishment I received, and I have done by best to redeem myself and to become someone who contributes to Canada and the Indian community," Atwal said.
Atwal had also made the guest list for a second event in India, at the Canadian High Commissioner to India’s residence in Delhi, but that invitation was rescinded once the government became aware of Atwal's attendance at the Mumbai event.
He said he reached out to Liberal MP Randeep Sarai—who attended the trip and has since taken responsibility for inviting him-- in advance "to see whether there was any possibility of attending the reception," before receiving an invitation.
Atwal said he didn't think his attendance would be an issue, saying he has travelled to India a few times in the last few years, on visas provided by the Indian government.
Sarai issued a statement after the initial incident, apologizing for putting Atwal's name forward. He has since vacated his position as B.C. caucus chair.
During his media availability Thursday, Atwal also said that he has been politically active since leaving prison, by doing outreach for the Indian community, and has met and been photographed with Liberal, Conservative, and NDP politicians.
Last week on Parliament Hill, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was grilled over the incident in an awkward exchange with reporters, where he faced repeated requests to explain why a government official suggested in a media briefing that factions in the Indian government may have tried to damage Trudeau’s trip.
Speaking to this theory being floated – one that the Indian government has rebuffed—Atwal’s lawyer said his client went through the proper channels to be invited and denied being a security threat or having acted on anyone’s behalf.
In a statement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not comment on Atwal saying that he has met with members of his and other political parties. Instead, he said Trudeau continuing to stand behind the theory his government floated, is dishonest.
"By continuing to support a conspiracy theory that is unsupported by any proof and has been met only with denials by those alleged to be involved, Justin Trudeau is making unsubstantiated allegations to distract attention from his disastrous India trip," Scheer said.