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Man at centre of Trudeau dinner-invite controversy has habit of turning up at political events

Sophie Trudeau and Jaspal Atwal pictured in Mumbai Feb. 20. The Trudeaus attended a business and cultural event in the city that evening celebrating Indian cinema.

A man convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister after, as a judge described, stalking him like a hunter through the forest has had a habit of turning up at political events, to the eventual embarrassment of his hosts.

Jaspal Atwal was one of four extremists pushing for an independent Sikh state on the Indian subcontinent who, in 1986, participated in the shooting of politician Malkiat Singh Sidhu, who was ambushed while driving to a family wedding on Vancouver Island.

Mr. Sidhu survived the attempted assassination and Mr. Atwal and the others, all members of the International Sikh Youth Federation, were convicted of attempted murder by a jury that deliberated for less than three hours.

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"They tracked and [stalked] Mr. Sidhu as a hunter would [stalk] his quarry," B.C. Supreme Court Justice Howard Callaghan said in his ruling years ago. "It was a cowardly and heinous attack on a man they did not personally know, not for personal gain, but as a result of some belief or impression that by so doing they were advancing a political cause deemed important to these four individuals."

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Mr. Atwal was sentenced to 20 years for his role and, upon his release, became politically active in Metro Vancouver's South Asian community.

This week, photos taken of him with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife at an event in Mumbai, coupled with his invitation to be a guest of Canada's High Commission in India, prompted a storm of controversy and questions during an official trip already facing geopolitical headwinds.

Mr. Trudeau is not the first politician to face pointed questions over the presence of Mr. Atwal.

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In 2012, BC Liberal premier Christy Clark had to explain how Mr. Atwal, then a member at large for one of her party's riding associations in Surrey, had got an invitation to her government's budget speech.

"He shouldn't have been here. So in future, we're going to have much more scrutiny on this list between us and the Speaker's office," Ms. Clark told the media after another guest – a regional director for the B.C. party – made a last-minute request for an invitation for Mr. Atwal that got him into her orbit.

As Mr. Trudeau could have learned of the Atwal effect from Ms. Clark, the B.C. premier could have learned from Don Bell who, as Liberal MP for North Vancouver, previously found himself in the spotlight for reaching out to the Indian consul-general to try and get Mr. Atwal a visa to visit India.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the B.C. Liberal Party said Mr. Atwal is not a member, while a counterpart with the federal Liberals, which has no affiliation to the provincial party of the same name, said they do not disclose the personal information of members.

Attempts to reach Mr. Atwal by phone and social media were unsuccessful on Thursday. Media reports have linked him to an online radio station based in Surrey, but an official there denied any association with Mr. Atwal.

Dave Hayer, a three-term provincial Liberal politician who retired in 2013, said Mr. Atwal came to his Surrey constituency office some time in the 2000s to tell his MLA, after serving his time, that he was no longer an extremist. "He told me at that time he has paid the price for the crimes he had committed," Mr. Hayer said Thursday. "He said 'I made a mistake.' "

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In 2010, Mr. Atwal was found guilty by a B.C. Supreme Court judge of participating in a stolen car ring along with two dozen other defendants, including his son. Mr. Atwal, the judge found, helped resell stolen vehicles while working at a car dealership.

Two years later, Mr. Atwal, his father and another man sued a local radio-station owner and five others for allegedly being defamed during broadcasts on Radio India, a Punjabi-language station based in Surrey. After those broadcasts had aired, Mr. Atwal's father was shot in the leg outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Surrey while attending a wedding.

In recent years, Mr. Hayer said that Mr. Atwal has been a regular at events in the Vancouver region's Indo-Canadian community.

"Almost every person who is active in the community and is involved in politics knows the history of Mr. Atwal and that he spent almost 20 years in jail," said Mr. Hayer, whose father became the only journalist ever to be killed in Canada for his work when he was fatally shot in 1998 at his home in Surrey after years of coverage of the unsolved Air India terrorist case.

Mr. Hayer said the Sikh extremism that Mr. Atwal once subscribed to is now incredibly rare among Canada's sizable South Asian population.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says B.C. MP Randeep Sarai is taking 'full responsibility' for inviting Jaspal Atwal to receptions in Delhi, India. Atwal was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986. The Canadian Press
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