Just when you might have thought things couldn’t get any worse for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his overseas trip, they do just that.
This time, it was an invitation to a convicted terrorist from one of the MPs travelling with Trudeau on his trip, that has drawn widespread criticism.
Jaspal Atwal, a convicted former member of an illegal Sikh separatist group, was invited to dine with Trudeau at a formal event hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner Thursday in Delhi.
The invitation was rescinded after CBC News asked the Prime Minister’s Office about it Wednesday.
As the story made headlines in the Indian media, Trudeau was forced to respond.
“Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously,” the prime minister said. “The individual in question never should have received an invitation and, as soon as we found out, we rescinded the invitation immediately. The member of parliament who included this individual has, and will, assume full responsibility for his actions.”
Atwal was convicted for 1986 attempt to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement about the terrorist’s invitation that it is “looking into how this occurred. That said, it’s important to be clear that this individual is not part of the official delegation to the PM’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.”
CBC News reports that Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai submitted Atwal’s name to the High Commissioner to be added to the guest list for the dinner-reception. The Vancouver-born Sarai is one of 14 MPs travelling with Trudeau on his official visit.
Atwal has already attended at least one event tied to the Trudeau visit.
But how does such a serious security breach happen? The Prime Minister’s Office said it would not comment on security matters. Whether it comments or not, the Prime Minister’s Office needs to do something about its security protocols.
The convicted terrorist who received the invitation was also charged, but acquitted, in a 1985 attack on former Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh.
“It shocked me that you would have people like that accompany MPs who would know better,” Dosanjh told CTV News on Thursday.
The RCMP and CSIS also did not run a background check on Atwal. Sources say both agencies are limited by privacy laws and don’t have a mandate to automatically check names — unlike the U.S. Secret Service, which looks into the background of anyone near the president.
Phil Gursky, a former CSIS analyst, says that in the case of Atwal, a simple Google search would have sufficed.
“You don’t need CSIS or the RCMP to tell you that this guy’s got a past,” Gursky said.
But really, who should bear the responsibility for such a glaring mistake?
“Ultimately it’s up to the Prime Minister’s Office to determine who gets on a trip and who doesn’t,” former Conservative staffer Garry Keller told CTV’s Power Play.
So, just add this to the list of disasters on this prime minister’s India trip.
The National Post outlined six things that have gone wrong so far, and one of those was inviting this convicted terrorist to dinner.
Global News summed it up this way:
“The invitation was the latest blunder in Trudeau’s eight-day visit, which has included everything from criticism of his colourful wardrobe to questions about whether his government is sufficiently critical of Sikh extremists.”
Stephen D. James is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Stephen has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.