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The Rediff Interview/Maloy Krishna Dhar
'Canada didn't take the threat seriously'
June 23, 2007
In a telephone interview from New Delhi, he told Rediff India Abroad Senior Editor Ajit Jain that he has been asked by the Air India Commission of Inquiry -- investigating the bombing of the Kanishka on June 23, 1985 -- to testify. It is the first official contact Canadian authorities have had with Dhar.
"But that letter came to me directly. In 1985, when the tragedy took place, I was an employee of the Government of India. So, I need government approval to appear before a foreign commission."
He said he has responded to the letter advising the commission to request the Indian government to approve his appearing before them.
When he was in Ottawa, Dhar revealed his 'point man' in the Department of External Affairs (as it was then called) was Doug French, then head of diplomatic protective security. He kept French fully briefed about Sikh militancy and threats to Indian interests and Air India.
"When, in April 1985, we received specific information that the International Sikh Youth Federation and Babbar Khalsa were planning to attack Indian interests in Canada [Images], we sent written information to the Canadian government (to Doug French). When we subsequently got information that there were a series of tests in rural British Columbia by Babbar Khalsa activists like Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat, we conveyed it verbally," said Dhar.
When so much was happening, he says it is sad that Canadian officials didn't take those threats seriously. The world knows the consequences.
An interview that sheds a little more light on the events that led to the worst act of aerial terrorism before 9/11, a crime whose perpetrators are still unpunished 22 years later.
Who was your point man in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?
We didn't have any point man in the RCMP. I did meet them and shared with them the information we had through our sources that Sikh militants were up to something. There was a point man in the ministry of external affairs in Canada who was dealing with diplomatic security. His name was, probably, Doug French.
Did you have any specific date and specific warning?
We didn't have a specific date, but we had specific information about the likely sabotage of an Indian plane flying out of Canada and attacks on other Indian establishments by Sikh militants. We didn't have the specific flight; that wasn't my job either. (Referring to Dhar, a report in the Toronto Star newspaper says 'a retired Indian spy warned Canadian officials of a specific threat to Air India's weekly Toronto-Bombay flight less than three weeks before the 1985 bombing).
Besides foreign affairs, you passed on this information to the RCMP?
That is correct.
But they haven't found any document that they received such information from you.
In diplomatic communications, 3 to 4 formats are followed. The chief of mission decides which format the information is to be sent in. I reported in the manner in which my high commissioner asked me to. When we got information about plans to blow up our plane flying out of Canada, we conveyed this verbally to Doug French.
There was no RCMP 'point man', but I did brief some officers about Sikh militancy and what they were up to. If they haven't kept any record, it is their problem, not mine. Now the Canadian government, after all these years, comes out to say it had information that Air India was going to be hit, but they could do nothing about it.
I was in Toronto on a private visit in 2000 as my son lived there at the time. During that visit, the RCMP and their legal cell had consulted me. I shared whatever information I could in regard to the Air India tragedy. I did what I could during that visit. If I am asked, I will do it again.
The (Canadian) government should explain why they didn't act if they had the information. That is my question.
In published reports, Doug French is quoted saying he doesn't remember receiving any warnings from you.
If his memory is failing, he should get himself treated. He appears to be selective in his memory. It is his problem, not mine.Have officials from the Air India Commission asked you to appear before the Judge John Major inquiry?
Someone from the Air India Commission of Inquiry recently sent me mail asking if I would like to be interviewed by the commission. I wrote back saying I have no problem. As a freelance journalist now, I write and speak freely. But when I am being asked to be interviewed by the government of a foreign country, as a former government servant I require the Indian government's permission in order to appear before a foreign commission, with foreign laws and jurisprudence. It has to be without criminal liabilities, or any other legal implications and complications.
I told them they should ask the Indian government. It is a government to government matter. When I am required to appear before a Canadian government institution, I can't appear in my personal capacity because I wasn't working in Canada in my personal capacity. I was an employee of the Indian government.
Did you get this letter directly from the Air India Commission or through the Indian high commission?
Someone sent the letter to me directly, on behalf of the commission. The right thing would have been for them to write to the Indian government. They could come and interview me in Delhi. I am 70 years old.
Although I am very active, I am diabetic. It is not very comfortable for me to travel long distances. The acting Indian high commissioner in Ottawa at the time of the tragedy, K P Fabian, lives next door to me. We are both available. Why me alone? They should interview him too.
S J S Chhatwal, our new high commissioner, had just joined when the tragedy took place, so he didn't have a feel of the place for some time.If they request you to come to Ottawa to appear before the commission, would you come to testify?
I would prefer an interview in Delhi. I have no charm for Canada or any other country. But first, I need the approval of my government. If they insist, I will go to Ottawa and appear before the commission.
My suggestion is the commission should interview people from the Central Bureau of Investigation, who investigated the whole matter. The CBI investigating team visited Canada often during that period and, after the incident, took over the investigation. They have a lot of information.
Did the Indian government ask for the extradition of Talwinder Singh Parmar?
The CBI was the investigating authority. What I am saying is what we were telling the Canadian government about the activities of Sikh militants. Sadly, Canadian officials thought it was civil strife in India. They weren't taking it seriously at all.
You are implying the government wasn't taking it seriously despite your repeated warnings to them.
Yes, we met them frequently, sometimes every week, telling them all we knew.
If you had this information, how is it that better security measures to protect the planes weren't taken?
This question should be directed to the civil aviation authorities in India and Canada. I was not in Ottawa to look after civil aviation security. I presumed that both Indian and Canadian civil aviation authorities had taken proper measures to tighten the security on Air India flights. That they weren't doing that has been amply proved now. The militants planted bombs on two planes, not one.
We shouldn't forget the Narita case. It is the same source, both bombs originated from Vancouver airport, one to hit the flight going via the Pacific and the other via the Atlantic. Why has the Air India Commission not summoned civil aviation authorities of India and Canada to explain what kind of measures they took?
I am very clear in my mind: Two individuals and two organisations are required to testify to clear the cloud in Canadian minds: Someone in the CBI, who investigated the blasts, and civil aviation authorities who were supposed to have tightened security measures. The commission should include individual officers who were posted in Canada to look after security of the plane. My deputy high commissioner, then the acting high commissioner, K P Fabian, has also spoken. He is also ready to testify.Was Air India directly, and through you, aware of the threat?
Yes. All reports from Canada were coming to the Indian ministry of external affairs. They were apprising them and briefing civil aviation authorities. As head of the mission, it was the duty of Fabian and High Commissioner Chhatwal to interact directly with the head of Air India's unit in Montreal.
On one occasion, I had gone with Fabian to Montreal. We met the Air India people and discussed security matters with them. What else could we do? We didn't have executive powers to do the job there.
The Air India Commission is missing its targets. They should call the concerned people from Montreal and ask them what security measures were adopted.
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