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Jaspal Atwal isn’t a government agent, lawyer says

Jaspal Atwal.


The lawyer for a B.C. man convicted of attempting to kill an Indian cabinet minister who attended a reception in India with Justin Trudeau is rejecting the notion that factions within that country orchestrated the incident to embarrass the Prime Minister.

Jaspal Atwal's lawyer, Rishi Gill, said on Thursday that his client is not an agent of the Indian government nor was he approached by that government about the reception.

"He basically went to this occasion, put his name in, he assumes he was vetted appropriately, he has not hid who he was, he has not changed his name," Mr. Gill told a news conference in Vancouver, where Mr. Atwal also read a six-page prepared statement.

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"If you google Mr. Atwal, you find information about him. It's not as if the fact the events that occurred, again, almost four decades ago were not in the news."

During Mr. Trudeau's state visit last month, Mr. Atwal was photographed with the Prime Minister's wife at the reception in Mumbai. His appearance surfaced in media reports last month, with questions about how Mr. Atwal ended up the guest list overshadowing Mr. Trudeau's trip.

Convicted attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal says he’s “devastated” over the outrage caused by his invitation to events in India with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a Thursday press conference, Atwal said he requested the invite. The Canadian Press

Mr. Trudeau's national-security adviser, Daniel Jean, has suggested Mr. Atwal's presence at the reception was engineered by factions in India that want to prevent Prime Minister Narenda Modi from getting too close with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India. The Indian government has denied the claim.

Mr. Atwal, who did not take questions at the news conference, said in his statement that he had no ill intentions when he attended the reception in India and that he had renounced the political views that led to assassination attempt.

Mr. Atwal, 62, retired after working at a lumber mill and in sales, said he has visited India many times since his release from custody, most recently in 2017 and 2018, with a visa from the Indian government.

Mr. Atwal said on Thursday that, in December and January, when he was making plans to visit India, he contacted Surrey-Centre Liberal MP Randeep Serai to see if he could attend a reception for the Prime Minister in India.

"I was eventually provided an invitation by the Canadian ambassador," Mr. Atwal said, reading his statement. Mr. Serai has resigned as B.C. caucus chair over his role in the situation.

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Mr. Gill said his client likes to attend political events, and had previously met the Prime Minister and that Mr. Atwal assumed he had been vetted because he was allowed to attend the reception.

Mr. Atwal said no one suggested his presence would cause problems, and he was "shocked and devastated" by the controversy.

Last week, Conservative MPs attempted to force Mr. Trudeau's national-security adviser to explain his theory about the role of factions within India. Liberal MPs on the Commons' national security committee blocked a Conservative motion asking that Mr. Jean be summoned to testify. In 1986, Mr. Atwal, then an advocate for the movement supporting an independent Sikh nation, was involved in an attack on a minister of state from India visiting Vancouver Island. He was convicted of attempted murder, sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, and paroled after five years.

"I have nothing but regret and remorse for my actions and the suffering I caused the victim," Mr. Atwal said in his statement. "I deserved the punishment I received." He said he no longer advocates for an independent Sikh nation, and renounces terrorism.

He was also charged, but not convicted, in a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a staunch opponent of the Sikh separatist movement who later became B.C. premier and a federal Liberal cabinet minister.

In his statement, Mr. Atwal noted that he visited the House of Commons three times between 2013 and 2014 with visitors' passes. On all of those occasions, said Mr. Gill, his client was the guest of MPs. However, Mr. Gill was not able to say on Thursday who those MPs were.

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Mr. Gill said Mr. Atwal has met Mr. Trudeau on "more than one occasion," including before he was federal Liberal Leader, but they are not friends.

Chantal Gagnon, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister's Office, said Mr. Trudeau does not know Mr. Atwal.

"The Prime Minister attends hundreds of events each year and meets with tens of thousands of people."

Mr. Gill said Mr. Atwal assumed he had moved beyond his criminal past and could move among politicians as part of normal society, but that clearly is not the case. "Big surprise," he said.

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