Freeland told India Atwal invite was 'an honest mistake'
Published Sunday, March 11, 2018 7:00AM EDT
OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told her Indian counterpart that Jaspal Atwal’s invitation to an event during the government's official trip to India in February was "an honest mistake."
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 Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and members of the Liberal government.
Once the news came out, the Canadian government withdrew Atwal's name from the guest list for a second event in India, at the Canadian High Commissioner to India’s residence in Delhi.
Freeland said she met with the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj the day of the Delhi event.
"I started off the meeting by saying to her that it had been an honest mistake and that the invitation had been withdrawn," Freeland told CTV Question Period host Evan Solomon.
"I felt it was incumbent on me to explain to her Canada’s thinking behind this invitation. It was important for her to hear, directly from me, that this was a person that in the view of the government of Canada had no business being at that reception," Freeland said.
"What was good about that meeting was that she was very understanding. I also said to her that it was noteworthy that Mr. Atwal had been able to travel to India."
When pressed on whether she stands behind the theory that a government official -- the prime minister’s National Security Adviser -- suggested in a media briefing that factions in the Indian government may have tried to damage Trudeau’s trip, Freeland offered compliments to Canada’s public service.
"Our government really believes in the rectitude and in the strength of our public service, and we will always listen to our public service, and listen to the advice and the counsel that they give us," she said.
On March 8, appearing alongside his lawyer, Atwal read a statement saying he is apologetic for the "embarrassment" his attendance at the one event caused to both countries.
Atwal said he didn't think his attendance would be an issue because he has travelled to India a few times in the last few years, on visas provided by the Indian government.
Speaking to the so-called rogue elements theory -- 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.
Atwal 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.
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.
Minister Freeland had a rich discussion with #India’s Minister of External Affairs, @SushmaSwaraj, and addressed key #security and multilateral issues, such as #WomenPeaceSecurity, counter-terrorism and #trade, as well as #NorthKorea, #Myanmar and #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/JtM9HNHtnv— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) February 22, 2018