Had it just been the snickering from the usual suspects about his clothes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likely would have ended his week in India with little political damage and possibly even a bump in popularity in Canada’s large Indian diaspora.
But some bad press turned worse, much worse, when it emerged that a man convicted of what a Canadian judge called “an act of terrorism” — an attempt in 1986 to assassinate an Indian politician visiting Vancouver Island — showed up at a Trudeau event in Mumbai, invited there by a B.C. Liberal MP.
And then “worse” turned to “farce” when the PMO trotted out one of the most senior members of the civil service, someone who is one of the handful of bureaucrats privy to literally all the secrets of our national security agencies, to engage in frantic damage control,
WATCH: After a rocky visit, Justin Trudeau met his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. But will it be enough to smooth over a week of controversies? Abigail Bimman reports.
After insisting that any journalist who wanted to listen to what this individual had to say could not name this person, the government tasked the bureaucrat with peddling what must be one of the most bizarre conspiracy theories ever advanced by a Canadian government: That Jaspal Atwal, the terrorist invited by the Liberals to Mumbai, may have been planted there by the Indian government or maybe by Indian security agencies or perhaps by factions in the Indian government. Whatever that means.
In other words, it was the Indian government who had successfully set out to make their guest, the Canadian prime minister, look like a fool when it came to his position on Sikh extremism.
And this was the spin Trudeau’s government was offering up while Trudeau himself was still in India, hours before he was to meet Narendra Modi, the prime minister of the government that Canada’s “senior government official” thinks was trying to show up Canada’s PM.
This individual, in describing the theory, couched every possibility with words like “maybe” and “possibly,” yet offered no proof or evidence of any allegation and did all of this from behind the cloak of anonymity.
Global News, like most other news organizations accredited to Parliament Hill, knows who this individual is that made these allegations, and it is only out of respect for the position this individual holds that one is forced to at least take the allegation seriously if only for long enough to dismiss it as folly.
Because, among other things, in order to have this theory work — to accept the idea that some third party in India arranged Atwal to be present at the PM’s Mumbai event — one has to accept the idea that Randeep Sarai, the member of Parliament for Surrey Centre, was in on the scam.
Sarai has refused to answer questions about his role in this affair but we do know that Atwal was on the invitation list for two Mumbai events at Sarai’s request. So, to come back to our conspiracy theory, Indian agents looking to show up Trudeau had to somehow convince Sarai to be their willing stooge and issue the invitations to Atwal.
Secondly, we must believe that Sarai happily took it upon himself to recommend Atwal for an invitation with no clue about his background, despite articles in the Vancouver Sun as recently as 2012 about Atwal’s criminal connections and Liberal background — articles that forced other Liberals to resign their positions with local constituency associations.
That Sarai, a lawyer and real estate developer, who described himself prior to his election as active in electoral politics “at all levels” and who was called upon by local media outlets in Surrey to talk about regional politics, did not ever run into Atwal is impossible to accept.
What we should accept is the briefest of explanations Sarai offered in his only written statement so far on the matter: “I alone facilitated his request to attend this important event. I should have exercised better judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”
It was Sarai. Acting by himself. He goofed up.
And in any event, what would India have possibly gained using Atwal to embarrass Trudeau?
Stephanie Carvin, a national security analyst and professor at Carleton University, argued on Twitter that a bad state visit for Trudeau does India just as much harm as it might do to Canada’s prime minister.
“This was an opportunity to get Canada to lean away from rival China at a time of high Sino-Indo tensions,” Carvin wrote on Twitter. “Yes, Trudeau looks pretty silly in his outfits. The Atwal invite was a mind-boggling dumb political blunder. But if this ends bad, I’m not sure India gains anything out of it, even if they think they are sending a stern message. It’s lose-lose when eyes should be focused on China.”
No means, no motive. Sorry, but our “senior government official” should have simply explained what role Canadian national security agencies had in vetting Atwal prior to his attendance at the Mumbai events. (The answer was: None.)
And so, there was Trudeau, in his final press conference of the week in New Delhi, hours after meeting Modi, taking questions about why he believes his hosts tried to make him look bad.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger Bengal bungle.
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