The Liberal Government fraternizing in India this week with a high-profile Indo-Canadian convicted years ago of attempt murder has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Rightly so. It is shocking that Jaspal Atwal, a businessman from Surrey, B.C. who was once an extremist for Sikh separatism who was convicted of attempt murder, appears in a photograph taken in Mumbai with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi. Worse still, Atwal was invited to an official dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s Residence in Delhi, and then, when the story broke, un-invited. Appropriately so.
I agree with the domestic and international press that both were serious diplomatic gaffes which the Trudeau government should have avoided. Canada, of all countries, should not be seen, or perceived to be seen, as supporting separatist aspirations anywhere abroad.
Smelling fresh blood, The National Post ran several background stories Friday and Saturday on Jaspal Atwal. Christie Blatchford and John Ivison provide alarming details of his early membership in the International Sikh Youth Federation, which Canada banned as a terrorist group in 2003. The federation’s objective was separatism for Khalistan which John Ivison says is “the would-be Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab.”
Atwal has a very serious record of criminal activity in Canada, promoting separatism in his homeland. In 1985, Atwal was charged with a vicious near-fatal attack on prominent B.C. politician Ujjal Dosanjh, who publicly opposed Khalistan separatism. Although Atwal was later acquitted in court, Dosanjh remains convinced that Atwal was his attacker.
In 1987, a B.C. court convicted Atwal and three others of attempting to assassinate a visiting Indian state cabinet minister who was attending a family wedding on Vancouver Island. Atwal was sentenced to twenty years in jail, a sentence upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 1990. He actually served five years in prison before he was paroled. All this was in the context of the extreme Sikh terrorism, which included the worst mass murder in Canadian history, the 1985 Air India Flight 182 bombing which killed 329 people over Ireland. Sikh terrorists based in British Columbia planted the bomb which took down the airplane.
Atwal’s assertion that he has been rehabilitated from his youthful lawlessness is belied by his recent criminal record. In 2010, while working as a car salesman, Atwal was convicted of an elaborate automobile fraud against the B.C. Insurance Corporation. Two years later, his appeal against that conviction was denied. Under the current rule for pardons (ten years) imposed by the Harper government, he may not yet be eligible for a “pardon.”
In the face of his criminal record, his close ties with the Liberal party are cause for concern. Maura Forrest in The Post catalogued Atwal’s relationship with both the provincial and federal party. He was an executive member of a federal Liberal riding association in Surrey from at least 2011. He was invited to watch the budget speech in the B.C. legislature in 2012. He attended many fundraisers for the Liberals. He has been photographed with Michael Ignatieff, Justin Trudeau, Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, and Brampton Liberal MP Sonia Sidhu. B.C. Liberal MP Randeep Sarai admitted that he facilitated Atwal’s request to attend the High Commissioner’s event, actions which Trudeau has now said he will investigate further. Apparently, Atwal had been on a list of extremists banned from entry into India. Yet here he was, admitted to India and intimately interacting with the Canadian delegation.
How embarrassing for Trudeau, the government and our country. It is almost as chilling as the picture of the Queen in the company of Colonel Russell Williams, a photo taken before Williams later pleaded guilty to multiple counts of first degree murder. At least, Williams’ crimes were not yet known; the Liberals have no such excuse about Atwal’s history.
The incident raises all sorts of very serious questions. Why was Atwal not vetted by officials at Global Affairs, ISIS, CSIS, or other Canadian intelligence and security? How is it that India lifted the ban against his admission to the country? How is it that the Liberals have been so close to him in recent years?
Maybe this will be a lesson for all Canada’s political parties. They cozy up to anyone for political purposes at their peril. If sexual misconduct is a no-no, surely an existing criminal record and a history of extremism and fraud should also raise a red flag. The pursuit of votes must not come by compromising Canadian values nor, more importantly, safety and security.
This incident is also a useful reminder to all Canadians, and particularly to newcomers to the country who may not know the details of our history, that violent extremism in Canada did not start with the Islamofacist jihadists we fear today.
When I was growing up in British Columbia in the 1950s, the radical Sons of Freedom Doukhobors, a religious sect from Russia who settled in the B.C. interior, bombed electricity power lines in the province and their women demonstrated in public places in the nude, against compulsory public education among other things. The B.C. government responded by arresting the bombers and rounding up their children to make them attend school. I don’t know if they had residential schools for Doukhobor kids; the topic would be worth some research.
During the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec prompted the growth of the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), a Marxist, paramilitary separatist group which used violence to promote its aims. In 1969, the FLQ bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange causing massive destruction and seriously injuring 27 people. The group set off a further series of bombs over the summer which culminated in their bombing the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. In October 1970, they kidnapped Quebec Deputy Leader and Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte, whose body was later found in the trunk of his car. This began the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Trudeau the elder invoked the War Measures Act, to the horror of civil libertarians across the country.
When I was a judge sitting in Scarborough from 1995-1999, Tamil gangs, who brought their civil war from back home with them when they immigrated to Canada, plagued the community. Rival gangs were before the courts on many charges. I remember the day when one gang leader, charged with many crimes of violence, attended court with a can of gasoline under his arm. He apparently intended to immolate himself in the court room. When he was stopped by the strict airport-like security set up at the courthouse door, he threw the can of gasoline across the corridor, causing the building to be evacuated. He later received nine months in custody for charges arising out of that incident. This violence ended only after vigorous prosecutions and the intense involvement of the law-abiding Tamil community.
If Sikh separatist extremism is on the rise (who knew?), then it behooves all of us to make sure that we are not seen to be soft on violent extremism, either at home or elsewhere in the world. All politicians should take note.