Randeep Sarai, Liberal MP for Surrey Centre. (Photo: Now-Leader).

EXCLUSIVE: B.C. MP Randeep Sarai speaks out for the first time since Atwal controversy

‘I didn’t invite the person,’ he said of Jaspal Atwal

Surrey Liberal MP Randeep Sarai has no intention of stepping down from his job now that he’s back in Surrey Centre and hoping to put Prime Minister Trudeau’s India tour fiasco behind him.

This is his first interview in Canada after returning to Surrey Thursday night. We’ve been trying find out why a Sikh extremist found guilty of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 was invited to attend a reception with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Mumbai.

This is what a “jet-lagged” Sarai had to say on that, and more, on Friday morning.

“All we did is forwarded anybody that wanted to attend,” he told the Now-Leader, “that had expressed interest in the office. We forwarded those names to, forwarded those names forward. People were excited — people were calling in the office, there was about 25 or 30 names that came in from various different industries and we forwarded those name forward.”

“I didn’t invited the person,” he said of Atwal. “He’s a media personality; he’s associated with Media Waves, the radio, and he’s there for, around everwhere. We did go on his radio pre-election, kind of during the writ period time, afterwards I’ve been on it a couple of times, he’s been around socially in the community here in Surrey for years now. I’ve seen him around but I don’t have anything beyond socially when we see him at media events or at public events, I don’t have any other relationship with him.”

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It’s not like he’s been breaking bread with Atwal, he says. “No, no, not at all.”

The request for the invitation went through Sarai’s constituency office in Surrey. “It was anybody who expressed interest to the constituency office, we forwarded those names.”

Nobody recognized Atwal’s name, given his history?

“I was eleven years old and I’m the oldest in my staff, everyone else in there is in their early twenties,” Sarai explained. “We should have vetted better, we should have been more diligent but none of us, instead of doing that we were pretty preoccupied in organizing myself, for myself to go to the visit and I just forwarded the names that I received. I take full responsibility, I’ve as you know stated that and I should have done better, I should have searched the names up and done my due diligence better.”

It’s been reported that the circumstances around Atwal’s invitation is being investigated by the National Securities Service.

Have they contacted Sarai?

“No, no, nothing with me at all yet.” If they do, he said, “I would absolutely be available to them but I haven’t heard of anything now I’ve heard they’re probably looking into this matter but I don’t, I haven’t been in contact with anybody yet.”

Sarai’s job got a little lighter after he announced on Twitter on Tuesday evening, following a meeting with the prime minister, that he is stepping down as chair of the Liberal Pacific Caucus. This was in the wake of the political maelstrom the Trudeau government has found itself in over the prime minister’s recent trip to India. Sarai had held the voluntary, unpaid caucus position since Oct. 28, 2016.

“I want to again apologize for my role in recent unfortunate events. Moving forward, I will be exercising better judgment,” Sarai tweeted on Feb. 27. “As I don’t want to distract from the good work of the Pacific Caucus, I will be stepping down as caucus chair.”

Sarai said it was his idea, not the prime minister’s, to step down from that post.

“It was absolutely my idea. I didn’t want to bring any adverse attention to it,” he said. “I felt stepping down was the best choice.”

Would he charactize this as a discipline?

“Well, no,” he said. “I wasn’t asked to step down at all. I stepped down on my own and felt it was best otherwise I would detract from the position and the good work that the Pacific Caucus has been doing.”

It’s been suggested Sarai is being scapegoated.

Asked if he is, figuratively, falling on a sword or taking one for the team, so to speak, he replied, “Look, I took full responsibility as soon as I found out that this had happened and I, you know, the name came from my office, I should have vetted them before I forwarded them, I should have looked a bit more diligently at it, I am a new, young Member of Parliament, a rookie you can say so obviously I am learning from my mistakes.”

Sarai said he wanted to set things straight with his constituents once he got back to Surrey from India and Ottawa.

“My first responsibility, I felt, was to speak to my constituents via yourself, and that’s why you’re the first person I’m calling on this. I felt I owe it to my constituents in Surrey; they need to hear from me first and that’s why I came back and decided to speak with you first.”

Sarai plans to stay the course as MP despite calls for his resignation.

“I’ve taken ownership of my mistakes, I think we’ve done great work in the riding with over $200 million brought into the riding in the last two years, everything from Simon Fraser’s expansion, the new engineering campus, to public transportation going toward, an LRT system getting the initial funding for that, getting a veterans centre. That was the first budget we got both things allocated in that, we advocated really hard…”

“A big thing about being a Member of Parliament is recognizing when you’ve made a mistake but continuing to work hard for your constituents and I promise to do that, and I have done that in the past, and I’ll continue doing that forward.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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