After photos surfaced of him with a former Indian politican with links to an international drug cartel, Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux admits he met and spoke with the man, but did so without knowing who he was.
The photos were taken at a reception at the residence of Canada's high commissioner to India during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to the country last month. They have resulted in the local Liberal MP being swept up into the controversy about the infamous trip.
The diplomatic visit sparked backlash and criticism after it came to light that Jaspal Atwal – who was convicted of the 1986 politically motivated attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister in Vancouver — was invited, then un-invited, to a gathering attended by Trudeau.
On Tuesday, Christie Blatchford, a columnist with the National Post, wrote that Lamoureux – alongside Surrey, B.C., MP Randeep Sarai — posed for photos with former Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia.
Majithia is currently under investigation for his alleged role in an international money laundering scheme and connections with Canadian drug dealers. (He has repeatedly denied any involvement in criminal activity).
Sarai, meanwhile, is engulfed in controversy after he was accused of being responsible for inviting Atwal to events on the trip (photos of the MP with the convicted attempted-murderer have previously surfaced in the news).
When reached for comment Wednesday, Lamoureux says he had no idea who Majithia was prior to the publication of Blatchford’s column.
In addition, he repeatedly blasted the veteran columnist’s reporting as "garbage" after she quoted unnamed sources who said heavy drinking made the event’s atmosphere more like "spring break" than a diplomatic gathering.
"I’m disappointed with (the column). I literally met with hundreds of people. I suspect there must be hundreds of pictures of me with people I was meeting. I had no idea who the guy was at all," Lamoureux told the Free Press.
"It’s not humanly possible for me to know the background, let alone names, of all the people I met with, because there were just so many of them."
On Feb. 22, Majithia posted photos to his social media account, showing him sitting on a couch with Lamoureux and Sarai. He claimed the three "discussed ways (and) means for more people to people interaction to strengthen ties between Punjab (and) Canada."
Lamoureux admits it’s likely the three of them would have discussed that topic, but only because those are the issues he discussed with everyone he met during the trip.
"What I would have said to him, I would have said to everyone else who would have given me their ear," he said.
Blatchford’s column (titled Gatecrashers and a run on the Crown Royal: The other screw-ups on Trudeau's India Trip) claimed the gathering featured party-crashers, an argument at the enterance and so much heavy drinking the bar ran out of Crown Royal within the first hour.When asked to respond to Blatchford's characterization of the gathering's atmosphere, Lamoureux said, "It's garbage. I was there. It's absolute, total garbage.""Now, admittedly, I wasn't there till the wee hours of the night, but I was there for a couple hours. I wasn't drinking and I walked the whole thing and didn't experience that at all. I didn't see anyone who looked like they were overindulged and I don't think I'm that naive that I wouldn't have noticed."Lamoureux went on to say that had he known who Majithia was at the time, he woudn't have posed for a photo with him, but reiterated it would be unrealistic for him to know the names and backgrounds of everyone he met on the trip.
"I go where I've been brought or been invited. You go there, you sit there, you stand there, you meet so many people. People want pictures and you oblige them. I had no idea who it was," he said.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.