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Politics Prime Minister’s Office responsible for inviting Jaspal Atwal to events in India: Report

The Prime Minister’s Office was responsible for inviting Jaspal Atwal to two events featuring Justin Trudeau in India this year, while the RCMP failed to transmit information about the B.C. man’s criminal record throughout the police force and to other relevant agencies before the first event, a report has found.

With access to classified documents and high-ranking officials, the new National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) put together a scathing report into the planning of the high-stakes visit last February that turned into a political crisis for the Liberal government.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Jaspal Atwal pictured in Mumbai on Feb. 20.

“The RCMP had information that Mr. Atwal had a serious criminal record and a history of involvement in violent acts, issues which should have been identified as security risks to the Prime Minister and his delegation. The RCMP recognizes that it erred in not providing that information to the Prime Minister’s Protective Detail,” the report said.

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The heavily redacted report released on Monday said the PMO decided on Feb. 10 to issue 423 additional invitations to events with the Prime Minister in Mumbai on Feb. 20 and Delhi two days later. Among the people invited was Mr. Atwal, a B.C. man convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986.

The report said there was no systematic vetting of the guest list. Still, RCMP officials in Ottawa went over invitations and became aware on Feb. 13 of Mr. Atwal’s criminal record, but did not notify their team on the ground in India, the report said.

Mr. Atwal’s presence at the Mumbai event alongside MPs, ministers, the Prime Minister and his wife created a furor across the country. His invitation to a second event featuring Mr. Trudeau in Delhi was rescinded ahead of time.

Over all, 1,100 people were invited to the Mumbai event and 400 attended, while 2,500 people received an invitation to the Delhi event and 800 attended. After the Mumbai event, the report said that an RCMP official in India expressed his concerns with Mr. Atwal’s presence, stating " … this man[‘s] presen[ce] significantly increased the risks to the [Prime Minister and family] and others in the room.”

The report into the India trip is the first one tabled by NSICOP, a committee that was created by the Liberal government to offer parliamentary oversight of Canada’s national-security agency.

Under the legislation that created the committee, the PMO has final say over how much of the report can be publicly released without damaging national security, defence or international relations. The opposition parties said the 50-page redacted report leaves Canadians with more questions than answers about Mr. Trudeau’s India trip.

“The Prime Minister’s Office … has gone through this with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that no information that they wanted kept silent was released,” Conservative Party Whip Mark Strahl said to reporters. “It’s just another disappointment that goes along with the fiasco that was the India trip.”

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NDP MP Nathan Cullen also sounded the alarm over the redactions, particularly the PMO’s decision to withhold findings about allegations of foreign interference in the India trip.

“I’m not sure anyone can walk away from this experience saying that the committee, as it is right now, is performing its function,” Mr. Cullen said.

The Prime Minister’s Office denied any political interference in the removal of sensitive information in the public report, saying the process was overseen by civil servants.

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, who was photographed alongside Mr. Atwal at the Mumbai event, said the government will carefully review the report.

“We trust the authorities – RCMP, CSIS and others – who have been involved in compiling this report and as we get the chance to look at it, we will be responding in the appropriate way,” Mr. Sohi said.

In its report, the NSICOP recommended an interdepartmental review of the lessons learned after the India trip, as well as greater co-ordination between agencies ahead of international visits by the Prime Minister.

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“The Government should develop and implement a consistent method of conducting background checks by all organizations involved in the development of proposed guest lists for foreign events with the Prime Minister,” the report said.

The Prime Minister’s trip came at a time of fraught relations between Canada and India, in particular over the handling of Sikh extremists in Canada. According to documents prepared ahead of time by the Privy Council Office, one of the key objectives of the visit was “to bring the Canada-India bilateral relationship back onto a positive footing.”

The government’s national security adviser at the time, Daniel Jean, worked with the PMO to organize a background briefing with select reporters to deal with the backlash over the presence of Mr. Atwal at the Mumbai event. Mr. Jean suggested rogue elements in India were to blame for Mr. Atwal’s appearance.

The NSICOP report criticized Mr. Jean’s handling of the matter, including his failure to inform his counterparts in other agencies about his planned statements. Still, the report said Mr. Jean had spoken ahead of time to Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts.

“[Mr. Jean’s] stated concern that foreign actors were undermining the reputation of ‘respected public institutions’ is understandable. However, the Committee learned that [Mr. Jean] did not notify any senior official from the RCMP, CSIS or Global Affairs Canada that he intended to brief journalists, and each of [the agencies] denied in testimony that they had concerns about reputational damage at that time or thereafter,” the report said.

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