Goodale grilled about Atwal affair on Parliament Hill
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was grilled over the Jaspal Atwal affair in an awkward exchange with reporters Thursday that ended with him nearly crossing paths with the Liberal MP who claimed responsibility for inviting the attempted murderer to events with the prime minister in India.
After testifying at a House of Commons national security committee on an unrelated matter, Goodale faced repeated requests from reporters to explain why a government official suggested in a media briefing that factions in the Indian government may have tried to sabotage Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's trip to India in February.
Jaspal Atwal -- a B.C. Sikh convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 -- attended a reception in Mumbai, where he was photographed with Trudeau's wife while the prime minister and his family visited India. Atwal was also supposed to attend a reception in New Delhi, but his invitation was rescinded once his criminal background was revealed.
In a background briefing arranged by the Prime Minister's Office, a government official last week suggested that Atwal's presence may have been was arranged by factions within the Indian government who wanted to sabotage Trudeau’s visit.
But a Liberal backbencher, B.C. MP Randeep Sarai, had already taken responsibility for inviting Atwal to the events in India and said he should have exercised better judgement.
When Goodale was asked Thursday why the government official suggested that “rogue factions” in India may be behind the Atwal affair, the public safety minister repeatedly referred to “classified” material.
“You’re asking me to wade in to details of classified material…I cannot do that,” he said.
When reporters asked how something the media were briefed on could be classified, Goodale didn’t give a clear answer. He also gave no clear answers when asked how the Atwal affair could be both the result of factions within India and Sarai’s self-declared mistake.
As Goodale walked away from reporters, Sarai himself turned up behind the media scrum, heading for the same elevator.
Sarai did not answer any questions about his involvement in the Atwal affair.
Trudeau, who was in Montreal Thursday to promote the federal budget, appeared to lay the blame for the matter on Sarai, but also continued to lend credence to the theory put forward in last week’s media briefing.
"The individual in question never should have received an invitation, and the member of Parliament responsible for extending that invitation has taken responsibility and apologized for it," Trudeau told reporters.
"On top of that, I continue to trust and support our national security agencies and officials, and when they highlight that there are concerns around a particular issue, I trust them and I believe them."
With files from The Canadian Press