World Sikh Organization founding president categorically rejects that his group ever paid Jaspal Atwal's legal bills

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      The World Sikh Organization of Canada prides itself on advocating for the human rights of Canadians "irrespective of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and social and economic status".

      The founding president, Gian Singh Sandhu, told the Straight in a recent interview in North Delta that the WSO has taken up cases in the courts for Muslims, as well as for the Jewish and Catholic communities.

      The WSO was also an intervenor in the recent Supreme Court of Canada case involving Trinity Western University.

      So it came as a surprise to Sandhu, an Order of B.C. recipient, when a convicted terrorist claimed that his legal bills in one case were paid by the WSO.

      Jaspal Atwal made the allegation in a lengthy interview in a Surrey magazine called Metanoia.

      He purported that this came when he was acquitted in a savage 1985 beating of lawyer Ujjal Dosanjh, who became premier 15 years later.

      Sandhu insisted to the Straight that Atwal's statement was completely untrue.

      "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."

      Atwal was represented by lawyer David Gibbons, who died in 2004.

      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.

      Atwal was convicted of attempted murder of a visiting Punjabi cabinet minister in the 1980s.

      He received a 20-year prison sentence and was paroled after five-and-a-half years behind bars.

      Jaspal Atwal told his life story in a 10-page interview in a Surrey magazine called Metanoia.

      Atwal was back in the news earlier this year when he was photographed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie, in Mumbai.

      Atwal's name also appeared on the guest list for a dinner with the Trudeaus at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi, making him, for a while, one of the most famous Sikhs in Canada.

      Trudeau's national security adviser later told journalists that "rogue elements" within the Indian government disseminated misleading information to discredit Canadian institutions.

      Sandhu's memoir, An Uncommon Road: How Canadian Sikhs Struggled Out of the Fringes and Into the Mainstream, explained in detail how the Sikh community was frequently smeared in the media and by some Conservative politicians in the 1980s and early 1990s.

      He maintained in the book that the WSO also advanced its agenda through peaceful means, but that didn't stop some of its opponents from trying to link it to terrorists.

      "Particularly disturbing was an emerging motif in stories conflating support for an independent Khalistan with the pejorative catch-all 'extremist.' The nightly news wasn't the only place this was happening," Sandhu writes. "Many non-Sikhs seemed to regard support for an independent Sikh nation as a classic ipso facto: 'If one is for Khalistan, then one is necessarily an extremist,' a logical fallacy that often went unchecked and inflicted enormous damage on our community and our cause."

      In the book, Sandhu also highlights similarities between tenets of the Sikh faith and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      That's because his faith, like the charter, strongly endorses freedom of religion and equality of all people regardless of their station in life.

      "The charter really tells me what being a Sikh is all about," Sandhu told the Straight.