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Justin Trudeau

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau meets Modi amid reports his office invited convicted attempted murderer to party

His week-long tour has been overshadowed by suggestions of a lukewarm reception by the government and a series of photo ops that raised eyebrows

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 2:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 10:51pm

Canadian and Indian officials scrambled to explain how a convicted Sikh extremist was invited to a New Delhi reception for Justin Trudeau, the latest misstep in the Canadian prime minister’s bumpy eight-day trip to India.

The tour has been overshadowed by suggestions of a lukewarm reception by the government and a series of photo ops featuring the Trudeau family in coordinated Indian attire that have raised eyebrows in both countries.

Trudeau on Friday met with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj after attending a guard of honour at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The latest flashpoint, a swiftly cancelled invitation by the Canadian delegation to Jaspal Atwal – convicted in 1986 of the attempted murder of an Indian politician visiting Canada – came just days after Trudeau had assured his hosts he would not support anyone trying to revive a separatist movement in India.

“The fact that an invitation, which was already extended to Mr Atwal, has been withdrawn, it basically shows [Canada] have taken into account the concerns which we have,” said Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

Atwal’s invitation was withdrawn once his links to an organisation banned in India came to light. Trudeau told reporters on Thursday that a Canadian parliamentarian on the trip had taken responsibility for the mistake.

A largely unrecognised figure in India, Atwal was a trending topic on Twitter across the subcontinent on Thursday after images of him in the company of Trudeau’s wife and other Canadian ministers surfaced online.

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The trip, partly aimed at shoring up support for Trudeau’s Liberals among the politically important ethnic vote in key regions, has also been criticised for being light on official government business.

Support from Canada’s large and concentrated South Asian community helped Trudeau’s Liberals gain power in 2015, and all three of Canada’s main parties – including the New Democratic Party, lead by Jagmeet Singh – are courting the Indo-Canadian vote ahead of the 2019 election.

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“I don’t know if Justin Trudeau thinks that international trade missions are reality television shows, but they are not,” Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer, Trudeau’s main opponent, told Reuters.

Trudeau on Tuesday cited C$1 billion (US$787 million) in deals between Canadian and Indian companies announced in Mumbai, and said the trip was “not just about political ties” but improving business and cultural ties.

On Wednesday India gave Canada a list of nine people in Canada who are suspected of trying to revive a Sikh separatist movement in the Indian state of Punjab, an aide to Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said.

During that meeting, Trudeau told Punjab leaders his country would not support anyone trying to reignite the movement for an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

“The information has been shared with them. These are part of ongoing investigations,” Singh’s media adviser, Raveen Thukral, told Reuters.

Canada is home to an influential Sikh community and Indian leaders say there are some fringe groups there that are still sympathetic to the cause of Khalistan.

Sikh militants began agitating for a separate homeland in India in the 1970s.

India’s then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, sent the military into the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for Sikhs, to flush out separatists there at the height of the revolt in 1984.

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A few months later, Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her home in Delhi.

The Sikh insurgency petered out in the 1990s.

The government in Punjab has urged Canada to act against any fringe Sikh elements trying to radicalise young people, Thukral said.

Thursday’s Atwal controversy came as the Trudeau family’s ornate traditional Indian attire raised eyebrows, with the prime minister at one point donning formal wear typically worn by bridegrooms.

“FYI we Indians don’t dress like this every day sir, not even in Bollywood,” tweeted Indian politician Omar Abdullah.

Earlier this week, Trudeau also had to fend off suggestions he had been snubbed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi tweeted a welcome to Trudeau late on Thursday, on the eve of a bilateral meeting between the two, six days after the Canadian leader arrived in the country, adding: “I hope PM @JustinTrudeau and his family had a very enjoyable stay so far.”

Reuters and Associated Press