Foreign Affairs Minister told India Atwal invite was ‘an honest mistake’

Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister told her Indian counterpart that Jaspal Atwal’s invitation to an event during the government’s official trip to India in February was “an honest mistake.”

Freeland said she met with the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj the day of the Delhi event.

She said, “I started off the meeting by saying to her that it had been an honest mistake and that the invitation had been withdrawn.”

“I felt it was incumbent on me to explain to her Canada’s thinking behind this invitation. It was important for her to hear, directly from me, that this was a person that in the view of the government of Canada had no business being at that reception.”

“What was good about that meeting was that she was very understanding. I also said to her that it was noteworthy that Mr. Atwal had been able to travel to India.”

Atwal, who was convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, made international headlines over his attendance at a Mumbai event attended by officials from Canada’s delegation, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and members of the Liberal government.

Once the news came out, the Canadian government withdrew Atwal’s name from the guest list for a second event in India, at the Canadian High Commissioner to India’s residence in Delhi.

On March 8, appearing alongside his lawyer, Atwal read a statement saying he is apologetic for the “embarrassment” his attendance at the one event caused to both countries.

Atwal said he reached out to Liberal MP Randeep Sarai — who attended the trip and has since taken responsibility for inviting him — in advance “to see whether there was any possibility of attending the reception,” before receiving an invitation.

Sarai issued a statement after the initial incident, apologizing for putting Atwal’s name forward. He has since vacated his position as B.C. caucus chair.