It isn’t that Atwal suddenly popped up among the prime minister’s retinue, uninvited, with no prior history of involvement with the federal Liberals. It’s that he was invited, and that he was invited precisely because of his connections with the party....
Suppose the president of France were to visit Canada. Suppose he were of a party whose followers included supporters of Quebec’s secession from Canada. Suppose the purpose of the trip was, in part, to set to rest Canadian fears that the government of France was, at the very least, insufficiently supportive of the unity and integrity of Canada.
Now suppose, the French embassy put on an official dinner for the president. And suppose among those invited was Paul Rose (if he were still alive), the FLQ terrorist convicted in the murder of Pierre Laporte. Suppose, indeed, that he had appeared at an official event earlier in the trip, where he posed for photographs with smiling French cabinet members.
Finally, suppose the French president pranced around the country in a series of designer lumberjack jackets, and you have some sense of the catastrophe that has become of Justin Trudeau’s trip to India.
Actually, the analogy is incomplete. To really capture the enormity of the Trudeau government having been caught consorting with Jaspal Atwal, a former member of a banned Sikh terrorist group convicted in the 1986 attempted murder of a visiting Indian cabinet minister in Vancouver, you’d have to suppose Rose were not a resident of Canada but of France, and that, notwithstanding his record as a terrorist, he was welcomed as an active member of the president’s party.
That begins to put this affair in its proper context. It isn’t that Atwal suddenly popped up among the prime minister’s retinue, uninvited, with no prior history of involvement with the federal Liberals. It’s that he was invited, and that he was invited precisely because of his connections with the party.
Atwal has a history of involvement with previous politicians, such as posing with former Liberal party interim leader Bob Rae and others in this photo. POSTMEDIA ARCHIVE
It doesn’t take much searching to find Atwal posing for photographs with prominent Liberals, including its former and present leaders, or to discover that he was a member of the executive of the Fleetwood-Port Kells riding association in Surrey, B.C. Atwal, then, would not have been unknown to senior Liberals; neither would his violent past. (Indeed, among his alleged victims was a former Liberal cabinet minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, who accuses him to this day of beating him over the head with a metal pipe, though Atwal was acquitted of the charge in court.)
Neither is he the only Sikh separatist, extreme or otherwise, to find a haven within the party, or to whom the party has catered: witness the prime minister’s attendance at a Toronto event earlier this year featuring flags of Sikh separatism and posters of the extremist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. It isn’t that the government actively supports Sikh separatism. It’s that, for political reasons, the Liberal party has been willing to look the other way at those who do; to appear, if not sympathetic to, than at least indulgent of their cause, if that were required to attract their votes, their money and their organizational muscle.
The novelty here is only that they did it on Indian soil. On an official visit with the prime minister. While he was attempting to reassure Indian officials that their concerns about his government;were groundless. One wants to believe this was mere incompetence. But alas, a disaster of this scale could only have been on purpose.
Atwal, left, posted this photo of himself with Trudeau and another man to his Facebook page in January, 2013. JASPAL ATWAL/FACEBOOK
When the story broke the blame was first fixed on the High Commission to India, the organizers of the dinner. But it is impossible: impossible that officials there would have invited Atwal had they known about his past, and impossible that they could not have known.
Eventually a hapless Liberal backbencher, Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai, was produced to claim “full responsibility” for the invitation: “I alone facilitated” it, his statement read. The prime minister followed by graciously accepting the MP’s acceptance of responsibility.
But this, too, is absurd. The MP may have been the one to invite him. But it is impossible that he could have been added to the guest list for such a high-stakes event solely on his say-so. As anyone close to these things will tell you, it could only have been with the concurrence of the prime minister’s office.
And even if, by some colossal misadventure, this were the truth — if an obscure backbench MP put forward the name of a convicted terrorist, and no one bothered to check — where did the MP get the idea to invite him? Why did he imagine this would meet with approval? Answer: because there was nothing that unusual about it. The culture and values of an organization are set at the top. If those lower down act on them, that is the responsibility of their leader, who ought to accept it on his own behalf, not others’.
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But accepting responsibility does not appear to be among this government’s, or this prime minister’s, values. Instead, in a final attempt to shift the blame, a “senior government source” was sent out to brief reporters that this was somehow the work of the Indian government. How, it was asked, was Atwal even admitted to India, given his record?
It’s a good question, though not one to which the only possible answer is “as part of an elaborate plot to make the Canadian government look soft on terrorism.” As Postmedia’s Kim Bolan has reported, Atwal’s criminal record has not prevented him from being admitted to India in the past.
But again: even if this were true — even if “rogue elements” within the Indian government laid a trap for the Trudeau government, making Atwal available in case he should happen to be invited to an official dinner with the prime minister (deep breath) to expose his government’s separatist sympathies and (deep breath) prevent relations between the two countries from warming — or whatever the plot is supposed to involve — what required anyone on the government’s side to take the bait?
Did the Indians invite him? No. Did they intervene to prevent anyone from vetting the list? No. This is on Trudeau’s people, and on Trudeau himself, in whatever mix of recklessness and ineptitude may have been responsible: another foreign-policy debacle to add to this government’s growing and impressive pile. Avec moi le deluge.