AFTER having been subjected to all kind of slanted and sensational media coverage in regard to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s India visit last month, media personality Jaspal Atwal of Surrey on Thursday addressed the mainstream media in Vancouver to deal with the controversy. He was accompanied by his lawyer, Rishi T. Gill.
The craze for sensationalism was best reflected when in spite of Gill having made it clear that Atwal would not be taking any questions and that he would be handling any queries, a TV reporter still caused unpleasantness by breaking the rule.
This was Atwal’s statement:
ALMOST 40 years ago, I, like many other Sikhs, became caught up in a movement supporting an independent Sikh nation.
While nothing can excuse my conduct, I can only say that during that time in the early 1980’s I reacted to the Indian Army storming the Golden Temple in Amritsar in a way that has caused much pain to many individuals.
Thirty-two years ago, in 1986, I committed great violence to a Minister of State from India who was making a personal visit to British Columbia. I was convicted of attempted murder in 1987. I have nothing but regret and remorse for my actions and the suffering I caused to the victim. What I did was desctribed as an act of terror by the Judge who dealt with the court’s conclusions.
In 1987, I was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
After serving approximately 5 years of my sentence, I was granted day parole.
I deserved the punishment I received, and I have done my best to redeem myself and to become someone who contributes to Canada and the Indian community.
I am now almost 63 years old. I am a husband, a father and a grandfather.
I again renounce any form of terrorism. I do not advocate in any sense for an independent Sikh nation. I, like the vast majority of Sikhs who once advocated for this cause, have reconciled with the nation of India. India has also has been reconciling with these same Sikhs who once sought independence. Canada is my home. India is my homeland. I am very proud to be a Canadian of Indian heritage.
I have been active in the Indian community in Canada. I have done my best to give back and to take on a leadership role where necessary and to help where I am needed. I have engaged with the political process and have tried to make sure the needs of my community were addressed.
I have met many politicians who have wanted to reach out to the Indian community. I have assisted with making sure the Indian community was able to communicate with politicians. I have acted this way whether the politicians were from the NDP, Liberals or Conservatives. I have met and been photographed with many politicians, from all parties.
I have visited India numerous times since my release from custody. Most recently, in 2017 and 2018.
I visited India 2 times in 2017 and once so far in 2018. Each time I have visited India I was given a visa by the Indian government. At all times I visited India lawfully and with the full permission of the Indian government. There were no restrictions placed on me by Canada so that I could not travel.
In late December and early January of this year I made plans to once again travel to India. Before leaving Vancouver, I reached out to Mr. [Randeep] Sarai [MP for Surrey Centre] to see whether there was any possibility of attending the reception for the Prime Minister during his government visit to India.
I was eventually provided an invitation by the Canadian [High Commissioner] and attended a reception. When my attendance became the news story that brings us here today I was completely shocked and devastated.
When I asked to be considered to attend the reception I had assumed there would be no problems. No one had at any point indicated there would be any issues. On three previous occasions in 2013 and 2014 I had visited the House of Commons in Ottawa and [had] been provided with a cleared visitor pass.
In the end, I am sorry for any embarrassment this matter has caused to Canada, India, my community and my family.
However, I want to again stress that the terrible events that happened in the past are something I live with every day and take complete responsibility for.
I, just like the Sikh community and Indians generally, have moved on from the issues the divided us almost 40 years ago.
I hope we can all have the opportunity to recognize our faults and take responsibility for our actions that caused harm. I hope we can all do our best to correct our behaviour and become contributing members of society.
Thank you for your time today. My lawyer will answer any further questions. If he is not able to answer a specific question I will do my best to provide a proper and clear response shortly.