"Accidental terrorist" Jaspal Atwal on ambushing Punjabi minister, prison days, saving lives, and meeting Trudeau

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      In the minds of many Canadians, Jaspal Atwal is a Sikh separatist and would-be assassin.

      According to many media commentators, Atwal never should have been on the guest list at a dinner earlier this year with the Trudeaus at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi.

      That incident caused an international uproar in February, marring the Trudeaus' trip to India.

      But in a 10-page interview in a Surrey-based publication, Atwal has shared many other aspects of his life, including two acts of heroism, and insisted that he's not an advocate for an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

      "The Khalistan movement is all collapsed," Atwal told Metanoia magazine. "Nobody wants Khalistan."

      Founded in 2008, Metanoia bills itself as a "boutique publication that caters to naturopathic medicine, business, philosophy and politics".

      Atwal also offered his version of events surrounding the ambush and attempted murder of Punjab cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu. This occurred while Sidhu was travelling on Vancouver Island to attend his nephew's wedding in 1987.

      At the time, Atwal was a 29-year-old millworker and the married father of two children. He told Metanoia that he had earlier placed his name on a list of people willing to help the Sikh cause following attacks on Sikhs in India.

      Atwal revealed that this resulted in a call from the president of the International Sikh Youth Federation.

      That, in turn, led to him running and winning the vice presidency in an election at the New Westminster gurdwara.

      "After a few days, I was called to go to a meeting at the temple," Atwal told Metanoia.

      He and three unnamed people met the ISYF president, who wanted to talk about the Punjab cabinet minister's upcoming visit. 

      Atwal claimed that he was given a handgun at this meeting and instructions to go to Tahsis on Vancouver Island with the others to pick up a rental car.

      But only one of the men at the meeting was able to accompany him.

      According to Atwal, they were joined by "two more men whom we didn't know".

      "When we caught up with the minister's vehicle close to Gold River, we overtook it and cut it off," Atwal told Metanoia. "Two of the guys in our car stepped out and started breaking the minister's car's window with a baseball bat.

      "One of the guys sitting on the passenger's side in our car shot at the minister," he continued. "The aim was to merely injure him slightly, but the minister suddenly sat up and got hit by two bullets, one close to the heart and the other under his shoulder."

      The assailants fled and were later arrested. Atwal was convicted of attempted murder and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

      He claimed that the cabinet minister's brother identified another man as the gunman. However, Atwal said that he admitted to doing this because he wanted to take "full responsibility".

      This is the opening spread of a 10-page interview with Jaspal Atwal in Metanoia magazine.

      In prison, Atwal made Indian food for other inmates, including chicken curry and lamb curry.

      He was soon transferred to a lower-security prison in Mission and after four years there, he applied for escorted passes. He received parole after five-and-a-half years in jail.

      After getting out of jail, he bought a taxi and later started selling cars at Don Carr Chevrolet in White Rock.

      "I was the top salesperson there for eight or nine years straight, selling 40 to 50 cars a month," Atwal told Metanoia.

      Atwal also talked about how he was charged and acquitted in a savage beating of former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh in 1985.

      He claimed that he was in the Victoria Drive area where Dosanjh's law office was located because he had to visit his accountant to file tax returns.

      Atwal said he recalled hearing sirens when he was at a nearby liquor store. The following day, people at his workplace were discussing the attack on Dosanjh.

      "Someone asked me if I knew about this and I replied, 'Oh that is good. I wasn't there or I would have beaten the shit out of him for talking against the Sikh community.' But I am assuming that someone who heard that I had said informed the police or Dosanjh's brother," Awal told Metanoia.

      With the help of lawyer David Gibbons, Atwal was acquitted.

      "I had nothing to do with Ujjal Dosanjh," Atwal declared in the interview. "I never beat him up."

      In addition, Atwal claimed that his legal bill in the Dosanjh case was covered by the World Sikh Organization.

      This allegation was categorically denied by WSO founding president Gian Singh Sandhu in an interview with the Straight in a coffee shop in North Delta.

      "The WSO never paid his legal fees," Sandhu said. "I was president of the organization from 1984 to 1989, so I can tell you very clearly we did not pay any of his costs."

      When asked why Atwal might make such a claim, Sandhu replied: "I have no idea. I have no idea."

      "If a person wants to tell his side of the story, that's fine with me," Sandhu added. "They've got the right to tell their story."

      However, Sandhu said that this should not extend to "trying to implicate organizations" that have not supported him and, in fact, have been on record as condemning violence.


      This famous photo of Jaspal Atwal with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was taken in Mumbai, according to Atwal.

      In an odd twist, Atwal also revealed in the interview that his maternal grandfather lived in the village of Dosanjh Kalan.

      This is hometown of Ujjal Dosanjh, and its population was only 3,883 in 2011.

      This suggests that Dosanjh's parents probably knew members of Atwal's mother's family.

      Atwal said that he went to Dosanjh Kalan to flee his abusive father. This trip came after Atwal has completed his Grade 10 exam.

      "From my mother's side, her dad's brother came to Canada in 1905," Atwal told Metanoia. "He was the supervisor of the Fraser Sawmill in New Westminster. My mom's two brothers were both in Canada. My older uncle came to Canada in 1953-54. My younger uncle came in 1969." 

      Atwal arrived in Canada on August 22, 1972, first living in the Queensborough area of New Westminster. A few days later, his uncle gave him $50 and told him to leave the house.

      Atwal claimed he didn't take the money, and with only 25 cents in his pocket, he walked to a home at 489 East 48th Street in Vancouver, where the people took him in.

      "I had only met the people who lived there once with my older uncle," Atwal said. "My mom and dad didn't know I was in Canada."

      He revealed that his grandfather was born in Malaysia and was a partner in transportation companies. The family moved to India in 1947 and his father didn't attend school.  

      In the interview, Atwal described two acts of heroism.

      In 1978, he saved a woman's life when a man was holding a knife to her neck outside the Hudson's Bay store on West Georgia Street.

      Atwal said that he jumped the guy, chased him down the street, but was himself later stabbed in the throat, generating massive media coverage.

      He also talked about rescuing a woman, man, and a dog after the boat they were in flipped over last year in Harrison Lake.

      Atwal described riding out onto the lake on his Sea-Doo, helping them until the Coast Guard showed up.

      In addition, Atwal said he has had his photograph taken with politicians other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie. He also claimed to have been photographed with former U.S. president Bill Clinton, former B.C. premier Christy Clark, and Conservative MP Mark Warawa.

      Atwal said he first met Trudeau after he was elected in 2008, picking up the future prime minister in his Hummer and driving him to the Guildford Golf & Country Club.

      Then Atwal said he was asked to pick up then Liberal leader Bob Rae from North Delta, and promptly delivered him to the same golf course.

      "I have a picture with Bob Rae, too," Atwal told Metanoia.

      The interview was conducted by Metanoia contributor Hank Leis and was edited by Rattan Mall, who is the editor of the Indo-Canadian Voice.

      Atwal is also listed as one of the contributors on the magazine's masthead.

      Recently, Atwal was charged with uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm. This issue did not come up during the interview.

      In recent years, he's been associated with Media Waves Communications, which is a Surrey-based Internet radio station.