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Editorials Globe editorial: Trudeau’s error ends with poor vetting of a guest list

Justin Trudeau is facing intense criticism over the fact that Jaspal Atwal, a former violent extremist and convicted criminal, was invited to take part in two events during the Prime Minister's recent trip to India.

That criticism is largely merited. Mr. Trudeau has passed the buck on this issue. He first blamed a Liberal MP for inviting Mr. Atwal to a Canadian government reception, as well as a high-level dinner (the dinner invitation was rescinded), during his week-long tour of India.

Then, back home in Ottawa during Question Period, he supported the contention of an anonymous senior government official who told reporters that unnamed "factions" in India were behind efforts to embarrass him.

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Nonsense. The hard fact is that, if this government knew how to properly vet a guest list, no one would be talking about Mr. Atwal.

It is fair to argue, though, that some of the backlash here and in India has been overblown for political reasons.

Mr. Atwal is a former Sikh extremist who was convicted of the attempted murder of a visiting Indian cabinet minister in Canada in 1986. He was sentenced to 20 years but released after five. He says he no longer supports Sikh independence, and has since flirted with grassroots politics in British Columbia. At least one politician has vouched for his rehabilitation.

Not even India considers him a threat anymore. According to the Times of India, Mr. Atwal was taken off the country's "blacklist" of Sikh extremists last summer, based on "intelligence reports and activities of the person concerned."

It is telling that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn't make a big deal out of the Atwal gaffe. On the contrary, he helped Mr. Trudeau end his trip on a high note by giving him a warm welcome and treating him like a valued friend.

And yet the opposition is portraying Mr. Atwal as a security threat and unapologetic terrorist, while some in India are playing his clumsy presence in Mr. Trudeau's entourage as proof that Canada is soft on Sikh nationalism.

None of those allegations is borne out by the facts. Mr. Atwal should not be on any politician's guest list, but neither is he evidence of a deeper scandal.

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