New Delhi, February 22 (The Hindu/India Today): Jaspal Atwal, an Indian-origin businessman with ties to the Khalistan movement, has become the new thorn in the relationship between India and Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s rubbing shoulders with Atwal brazenly has rekindled the debate on Trudeau’s stand on the pro-Khalistan movement in Canada..
Currently, Atwal is associated with Media Wave Communications that runs a Surrey-based online radio station. But he was formerly associated with the banned Sikh separatists outfit International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), notorious for the 1985 Air India bombing.
The ISYF seeks to establish a separate country for the Sikhs of India called Khalistan. India declared the ISYF as a terrorist outfit and banned it under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 2001. The outfit is also banned in Canada, United Kingdom and USA, which have sizable Sikh populations.
Atwal was one of four men convicted for ambushing and shooting Punjab Minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986. Sidhu was attacked near Gold River on Vancouver Island when he was on a private trip to Canada to attend his nephew’s wedding. Though Sidhu survived, he was assassinated five years later in Moga, Punjab.
The trial court convicted, Atwal, Jasbir Singh Atwal, Armajit Singh Dhindsa and Sukhdial Singh Gill and sentenced them to 20 years’ imprisonment. The trial court termed the murder attempt as “act of terrorism.”
The verdict was overturned in the appeal and the four men didn’t serve their prison terms. Atwal later admitted to the parole board that he was the shooter that day, reported Vancouver Sun.
The CBC News also reported that Atwal had been convicted in an automobile fraud case, and was charged, but not convicted, in a 1985 near-fatal attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, an opponent of the Sikh separatist movement who later became Premier of British Columbia.
The Canadian PMO clarified that Atwal was not part of official delegation for the Prime Minister’s visit to India, nor was he invited by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“As is the case with international trips, individuals sometimes travel on their own to the location of the visit,” a media release stated.
Atwal told Vancouver Sun that he traveled to India on his own on February 11.
The Ministry of External Affairs has not responded yet on how Atwal was granted a visa, despite being charged with a former State Minister’s murder attempt.
Atwal was photographed with his wife Sophie Trudeau at an event in Mumbai on February 20.
Multiple Canadian media outlets carried photographs showing Atwal, who was convicted of attempting to murder a former minister of the state of Punjab, standing along with Sophie Trudeau.
They also reported that he had also been extended an invitation to a dinner organised for Justin Trudeau at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
News agency ANI published the same photos and confirmed the existence of a dinner invite. However, the invite was later cancelled.
Soon after photos showing Atwal with Sophie Trudeau surfaced, a Canadian journalist tweeted a picture of the convicted Khalistani terrorist with Justin Trudeau.
In the photo, Trudeau had long hair, which the journalist said suggested a longer association between the Canadian PM and Atwal.
Jaspal Atwal was convicted of the attempted murder of Punjab minister, Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island in 1986, he was one of four men who ambushed & shot at Sidhu’s car.
Atwal, a former member of the banned militant group International Sikh Youth Federation, was found guilty for attempting to murder Malkiat Singh Sidhu, the then Punjab planning minister, in 1986.
The International Sikh Youth Federation aims to establish an independent homeland for the Sikhs of India in Khalistan.
Jaspal Atwal’s photograph with Sophie Trudeau comes at time when questions are being raised in India over Justin Truduea’s perceived ‘softness’ in dealing with pro-Khalistani groups.
In his meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Trudeau is reported to have said that his government does not support violent extremism of any kind.
(The featured picture at the top shows Jaspal Atwal (circled) with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau)