Kanishka: Justice delayed or denied?
May 23, 2007
Appeared in the Pioneer on May 22nd. http://www.dailypioneer.com/displayit1.asp?pathit=/archives2/may2207/edits/edit3.txt
Justice denied: the Kanishka bombing of 1985
Rajeev Srinivasan on skeletons tumbling out of closets
Here are the bare facts. In 1985, Air India’s flight 182, a Boeing 747 named Kanishka, blew up over the Atlantic off Ireland en route to India, killing all 329 aboard. A time-delayed bomb in the checked luggage was the culprit. In a related incident, two Japanese baggage handlers died at Tokyo’s Narita airport when luggage on another Canada-India flight exploded.
Separatist Khalistanis were suspected of having set the bombs. But no one was convicted for murder after the longest and costliest trial in Canadian history. Only one person was convicted: Inderjeet Singh Reyat pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2003 and received a five-year sentence. The suspected ringleader, Talwinder Singh Parmar, died in India in 1992 and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s two main surviving suspects were both acquitted in March 2005.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, an enquiry commission was set up after this acquittal. John Major, a retired Supreme Court justice, has been for the last few months hearing evidence. Details are available at www.majorcomm.ca/index.asp.
For 22 years, dilatory tactics hampered the investigation. But startling new revelations have blown the covers off the whole case. There were several surprise witnesses, some quite credible (‘Revelations from the Air India inquiry’, Globe and Mail, May 17):
James Bartleman, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor and a former security official, said he saw an intelligence report saying Air India would be a target for Khalistani extremists on its next weekly flight from Canada. He passed it on to the RCMP, which did not follow up.
Serge Carignan, an ex-police dog handler, said he and his bomb-sniffer dog Arko were called in too late to examine the baggage at Montreal’s airport.
David Dalonde, a former security guard who is now an Ontario provincial police sergeant, said he heard Air India official John D’Souza gave the go-ahead to the flight to depart because further delays would be too costly even though three suitcases had been kept off the flight without passengers being asked to identify their own. (‘Cost concerned airline, probe told’, Toronto Star, May 17).
Micheal Anne MacDonald, a former federal prosecutor, said the head of the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Services) counterterrorism branch, Mel Deschenes, had to rush away from a case in LA to deal with an urgent Khalistani extremism problem in Canada days before the bombing
Graham Pinos, a former lawyer with the justice department, said he was in LA too, and Deschenes told him on July 19, 1985, four days before the bombing, that the agency’s greatest fear was Khalistani extremists bombing an Air India flight. (‘CSIS ‘knew’ of bomb plot: Air India witnesses’, cbcnews.ca, May 17).
Rick Crook, a Vancouver policeman, got wind of the plot in 1984, eight months before the bombings, and passed the tip along to a police intelligence unit in British Columbia. But the case was taken out of the hands of the Vancouver police. Nobody knows why.
The Canadians were perhaps blasé. Air India had been demanding extra security, which was dismissed as ‘Air India trying to get security at no cost’. (‘Air India seen as crying wolf’, Toronto Star, May 9). Air India sent a telex on June 1, 1985, to airport officials in Toronto, but that was not forwarded to CSIS’s threat assessment desk. The telex said in chilling detail:
“Assessment of threat received from intelligence agencies reveal the likelihood of sabotage attempts being undertaken by extremists by placing time/delay devices etc. in the aircrafts or registered baggage. It is also learnt that extremists are planning to set up suicide squads who may attempt to blow up an aircraft by smuggling explosives in the registered or carry-on baggage or any other means”.
“After the bombings, did Air India, or the Indian government, publicly say they had been denied protection? If not, why not?” wrote a Canadian journalist. Good question.
Indeed, the villain of the piece may well be the Indian government. Why, after 22 years, has no Indian government put pressure on the Canadians, despite the fact that almost all of the 329 killed were Indian citizens or Canadians of Indian origin? Why aren’t the new revelations discussed in Parliament and demarches sent to the Canadian envoy?
Why, similarly, is India not protecting people of Indian origin in Fiji, Uganda, etc? Why isn’t the government protecting Hindus who are being pointedly attacked by religious bigots in Malaysia, Ukraine, Russia, etc, whereas it is very tender towards white missionaries wreaking havoc in India?
Why isn’t the raucous media in India following the Canada story in minute detail and forcing a debate about the rights, if any, of People of Indian Origin, including those with Overseas Citizen of India status? Is that document worth the paper it’s written on?
These are painful reminders that the Indian government and media regularly practice apartheid, violating constitutional guarantees of equal treatment by discriminating against certain groups of people. This was clearly articulated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he declared India’s resources available preferentially to certain privileged groups.
It may well be that the Canadians were Keystone Cops, “too dumb to prevent the bombings, they were smart enough to cover up their own incompetence – and that of their colleagues – for over 20 years.” (‘Air India 182: New Questions’, The Tyee, May 18, 2007). They are being lambasted for the failure to recognize the seriousness of the threat of terrorism, in their hazy fog of multiculturalism, and perhaps a touch of racism as well. There was, after all, the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, when would-be Indian immigrants were prevented from landing in Vancouver simply because of their race, despite being British subjects at the time.
But the Canadians are facing up to the results of their folly, and courageously attempting to get to the truth of the matter even if it is justice delayed. Indeed, the net result of this may well be a lawsuit by the survivors, demanding three billion dollars in compensation from the Canadians. There is the precedent of the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, wherein the Americans extracted billions from Libya.
This is more than can be said for the Indian government, which alienated Sikhs in the first place, turning the most patriotic of Indians into enemies of the State. And now, after all these years, it is unpardonable to turn a blind eye to the sorrow of those who lost their loved ones. The Bharati Mukherjee short story, The Management of Grief, an elegy for the innocent lives lost, moves one to demand of the Indian government: Never again! Never again shall you play God with the lives of Indians.
Text 1099 words, 18th May 2007