PHOTOS: A screenshot of what looks like a video of the controversial snapshot of Jaspal Atwal and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, grabbed from Twitter. The ownership of the photo is attributed variously, usually to the last place someone saw it. What does seem clear is that Mr. Atwal was almost as assiduous about having his photo taken with Canadian politicians as is your blogger. What do you want to bet there are more, including some with Conservatives, waiting to surface? Below: Former Conservative PM Stephen Harper, accompanied by a partially obscured and properly deferential Jason Kenney, greeting Kurdish leaders in Iraq in 2015. (Photo: Prime Minister’s Office.) Below that: Another photo of Mr. Trudeau accompanied by Amarjeet Sohi, MP for Edmonton Mill Woods and minister of infrastructure, in India. (Photo: Justin Trudeau Twitter account.)

The embarrassing case of Jaspal Atwal, the unwanted Mumbai dinner guest, suggests the Trudeau Government has a problem with terrorists.

Mr. Atwal is the Sikh extremist who served prison time in Canada for attempting to murder a visiting Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986. He was invited to attend a dinner in Mumbai hosted by the Canadian High Commission during the recent Indian visit of our resplendent prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Mr. Atwal was disinvited as soon his history became known, but not before he managed to appear in a photograph with the PM’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Considerable bad press was generated for Mr. Trudeau and Canada’s Liberal government.

A B.C. Liberal MP has now fallen on his sword, metaphorically speaking, taking responsibility for the blunder. This has persuaded no one, of course, that the blame doesn’t belong elsewhere, presumably in the Prime Minister’s Office.

This, along with Mr. Trudeau’s sartorial extravagances, led many pundits to describe his mission to India as a disaster, even a catastrophe. It might be right and just if that were so. But don’t count on that being the way it works out.

The fact is, yes, the Trudeau Government has a problem with bad actors abroad, including some outright terrorists. But it’s not just the Trudeau Government.

Recent Canadian governments of both the Liberal and Conservative persuasions have consorted with unsavoury characters, and will continue to do so.

This means that while the Conservative Opposition will understandably try to squeeze some short-term political gain from Mr. Trudeau’s embarrassment, it and the media are unlikely to dig deeply into why this sort of thing occurs.

Canada’s habit of playing footsie with extremists and their supporters happens for two reasons: domestic politics and geopolitics, sometimes a combination of both.   

Geopolitics, in the case of both Liberal and Conservative governments, usually means carrying water for the Republic next door. And the United States has been none too fastidious in the way it distinguishes between the bad terrorists it targets in its so called Global War on Terror and the “relatively moderate rebels” it arms and supports to help its various geostrategic regime-change projects.

For example, in Syria, where the United States has long desired regime change, it has covertly armed a branch of Al-Qaeda, the organization it accused of attacking the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, the U.S. relationship with the so-called Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq is murkier, but there’s plenty of evidence there is a relationship of some sort. Consider the strangely passive approach the U.S. Air Force took when ISIS could be used to put pressure on the Syrian government, and the USAF’s “accidental” bombing of Syrian troops as ISIS fighters waited unmolested nearby to fill the gap. Lately, there are reports defeated ISIS commanders from Iraq are turning up in Afghanistan. If true, they didn’t go commercial!

On the domestic political front, meanwhile, Canada is a country of immigrants with multiple large diaspora populations. Whether these Canadians come from European countries like Ireland or Ukraine, or from Asian ones like India, it is inevitable that political conflicts from away will find expression here.

As long as large groups in Canada with ties to their home countries can mobilize blocks of voters in the service of political parties, the temptation for Canadian governments to get too close to extremist factions in those communities will be overpowering.

All we can ask is for our governments and security agencies is to deal with them judiciously – say, by not appointing a foreign minister with strong historical family ties to a foreign government supported by fascist sympathizers engaged in a civil war with their fellow citizens.

This is why, notwithstanding Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s recent rhetoric about Mr. Trudeau’s Indian junket, we can expect the Tories not to push too hard.

Cozy relationships with extremist factions in expatriate communities from Punjab, Tamil Sri Lanka, Western Ukraine, Latin America and Iraqi Kurdistan are nothing new for Canadian political parties, or Canadian governments.

Jason Kenney would be the man to ask about how that worked under the Conservatives. After all, the Alberta Opposition Leader was the Harper Government’s successful point man on wooing immigrant community votes.

Mr. Kenney certainly showed up in the Kurdish region of Iraq in 2015 and posed for controversial photos under the Kurds’ sunburst flag with his mentor Stephen Harper, then the prime minister. This annoyed the governments of both Iraq and Turkey, the latter our NATO ally.

And who can forget how the National Post, Pravda of the Harper Government, functioned as a virtual recruiting agency for Canadian mercenaries to serve the Kurdish cause?

At least in the case of Sikh separatism in India, there are influential and articulate members of both sides of the debate over an independent “Khalistan,” so we have a better chance of properly understanding the issue. No one is using “national security” to hide the facts.

But if Indian officials distrust Canada’s assurances it has no sympathy with Khalistan, perhaps our military support for the Kurds and our recognition of Kosovo separation from Serbia in 2008 contribute to that. Knee-jerk loyalty to American regime change projects drove both, but they were nevertheless strange policies to be taken up by a country that has its own challenges with national unity.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Atwal embarrassment, Canadian officials were in full damage-control mode, with everyone from the PMO down suggesting the cock-up was someone else’s fault.

Former employees and anonymous sources within Canada’s security services worked feverishly to insist there was nothing they could have done to prevent the embarrassment. This is baloney, of course.

Still, in terms of the political consequences, it’s the PMO that will have to wear the egg on its face.

Given that political reality, others were naturally in full damage-maximization mode.

The Toronto Star gave ample space to Mr. Scheer’s claim it was “dangerously irresponsible” to suggest Indian officials knowingly allowed Mr. Atwal to enter their country after years of banning him. “The implications of saying that elements in the Indian government have played a role in this are profound,” he huffed.

But if anything, one imagines, the Indian government is delighted with the short-term advantage it has gained in its dealings with Canada – a fact that lends credence to our government’s leaked damage-control theory.

Regardless, the Star, which seems to have been excluded from the original scoop, quoted the Times of India saying, “Justin Trudeau’s visit was a disaster that has little parallel.”

The Toronto newspaper, however, omitted to tell its readers that the Times took an optimistic view of the affair, concluding in the same sentence that it “may have provided the opportunity to reset relations between Canada and India.”

In terms of realpolitik, it’s hard to see much real danger here. The ties between Canada and India are too deep for that.

Embarrassing for the PMO and the security agencies? Certainly, and properly so. The long-term political consequences for Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals, though, are unlikely to be serious.

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  1. re: ‘ The long-term political consequences for Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals, though, are unlikely to be serious.”

    This is the case in large part because the reporting and headlines were exaggerating and/or misleading about the Indian reaction. MSM in the bag for conservative commentators. No fan of Trudeau/Libs but the PostMedia news/editorial coverage has been the equivalent of a Pravda of conservative attacks on Trudeau:

  2. Despite most of Canadian media going all in on Trudeau’s failure… e.g. PostMedia’s barrage of ‘Trudeau is an idiot’… coverage by observers of India’s politics are not bending…

    excerpt: ‘Justin Trudeau won’t leave India feeling dejected or snubbed – au contraire, his main aim was to learn more about the background of Canadian Sikhs. The rise of Jagmeet Singh is a bigger concern for the Canadian PM than the Indian media. Instead it is India that has lost out from this cackhanded diplomacy. It could have used this opportunity to mend fences with Sikhs and grow trade with Canada but it has done neither.’

  3. Personally, I don’t have a problem with what Trudeau was wearing on his trip to India. He can wear what he wants, India is a relatively free country as is Canada. However the outrage, primarily by conservatives and their reliable media mouthpieces, does illustrate a couple of things that are less flattering of them than Trudeau. First, is their petty mindedness and mean spiritedness that some us had hoped might have diminished somewhat after Harper left. There are many important issues to discuss in politics, but on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being most important), the Prime MInisters attire in India ranks about 100 for most voters. Second is that the conservative partisans can not hide their contempt for dislike for Trudeau – they still believe Harper’s line “he is not ready” or he is a lightweight, so they attack things like this to try prove their point. Of course they conveniently forget that even buttoned down Harper liked to play dress up on occasion. However, his photo op’s were with the military in Afghanistan or at the Calgary Stampede, where ironically he looked less comfortable as a cowboy than Trudeau did in India. Of course the Toronto born and raised Harper was about as much of a real cowboy as Trudeau is a real Bollywood star.

    Yes, the India trip was odd, it had a sort of waiting for Godot aspect to it. However, it is not clear Trudeau is to blame for that and it would seem churlish to suggest he not try enjoy himself while waiting. India is a huge country, with a lot going on so they probably do not drop everything like some places do, just because a popular Prime Minister from a mid sized nice western country is in town. Maybe the setting of the Federal budget date, also complicated the schedule, who knows.

    The only thing that we should really wonder about is the former terrorist who keeps on popping up everywhere. Presumably this guy did his time for the crimes he committed over 20 years ago and his main interest now seems to getting his picture taken with politicians, an unusual but harmless past time. .I gather he was banned from India for a while year ago and then unbanned more recently, so perhaps the Government of India cares less about him than some in the Canadian media. He does seem to be more of a Forest Gump character than a Bin Laden type. Lost in the outrage, the party he was invited to wasn’t some small intimate affair, but had around 800 guests. Perhaps we will have to add a new category to the definition of a Canadian political scandal involving no sex and no money – one involving no real serious terrorist threat.

    Overall the India outrage was much a do about little.

  4. Can’t the Conservative Right Wing (Preston Manning & friends) who destroyed the PC Party of Canada and in Alberta get out of politics and just preach their religion to their friends. Canada and Alberta needs a Progressive Conservative Party and a Liberal Party to keep democracy stable in Canada as well as in Alberta.

    Canadian and Alberta voters need to understand that every time you get annoyed at Justin Trudeau and the way he manages the country all you need to do is listen to the radio and Charles Adler rant about him or read articles by Lorne Gunter and Rick Bell from the Edmonton Sun (who formerly worked at the Alberta Report, and helped Ted Byfield run the Alberta Report into the ditch, or read anything written by Colby Cosh or Ezra Levant and soon you will realize the propaganda and hate these clowns spread about their own political/religious views trying to scare the general population to their side or views. Their type of viewpoints do nothing to keep Canada’s Democracy in order and has probably caused issues with Democracy in Canada.

  5. As the token right-wing commenter here can I at least suggest that maybe we can all agree it is time for Trudeau to start providing some substance and seriousness, and cut back on the selfies and tweets and photo-ops.

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