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Canadian PM apologises at Kanishka memorial

Last updated on: June 24, 2010 15:09 IST

Prime Minister Stephen Harper couldn't have been more forthright in offering his apology to members of the Air India victim's families. 'I stand before you … to offer on behalf of the Government of Canada, and all Canadians, an  apology for the institutional failing of 25 years ago and the treatment of the victims' families thereafter.'

 

The 25th anniversary of the tragedy of Air India flight 182, in which all 329 people onboard were killed, was held at the Air India monument at the Humber Bay Park in Toronto.


The place was packed with family members, with a large number of diplomats, including Indian High Commissioner S M Gavai, Canadian High Commissioner to
India, Joseph Cairn, leaders of the Opposition parties and others. At the outset, Harper said emphatically 'this atrocity was conceived in Canada, executed in Canada, by Canadian citizens, and its victims were themselves mostly citizens of Canada. 'We wish this realization had gained common acceptance earlier,' Harper noted.

 

He weighed each word carefully saying 'Canadians who sadly did not at first accept this outrage was made in Canada, accept it now.' He laid it to rest once for all that 'this was not an act of foreign violence.'

 

Harper then referred to the appointment of Justice John Major to head the public inquiry.  In his report that he released on June 17, Harper quoted him say how shabbily the families were treated: 'Commissioner Major finds that, to make matters worse, the families of the victims were for years after treated with scant respect or consideration of by agencies of the Government of Canada.'

 

There were several reports in the Canadian media that besides offering his apology, Harper would announce some compensation to the families.  Implicitly to the dismay of the families, that didn't happen.  He made no announcement about any kind of ex-gratia payment or compensation.

 

'The mere fact of the destruction of Air India flight 182, is the primary evidence that something went very, very wrong,' Harper stated. 'For that, we are sorry. For that, and also for the years during which your legitimate need for answers and indeed for empathy, were treated with administrative disdain.'

  

On behalf of the Canadian government, Harper stated equivocally that the bombing of the Air India Boeing 747 Kanishka 'was evil, perpetrated by cowards, despicable, senseless and vicious.'

 

He conceded some pains are too deep 'to be healed even by the remedy of time' and so he acknowledged without mincing words 'your pain is our pain.  As you grieve, so we grieve.  And, as the years have deepened your grief, so has the understanding of our country grown. Canadians, who sadly did not at first accept that this outrage was made in Canada, accept it now.

 

'We know only that terrorism is an enemy with a thousand faces, and a hatred that festers in the darkest spots of the human mind,' Harper stated. 

 

He wouldn't mince words when in the concluding part of his address he spoke to the leaders of the Canadian political parties–New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff were seated with dignitaries: 'My fellow political leaders of every  stripe, it is incumbent upon us all, not to reach out to, but rather to marginalize, to carefully and systematically marginalize, those extremists who seek to import the battles of India's past here and then to export them back to that great and forward-looking nation.'

 

Without mentioning names, Harper was without a doubt referring to the extremist element in the Canadian Sikh community who continue to glorify terrorists and murderers, who still display in the gurdwaras photos of Talwinder Singh Parmar and Bhindaranwale.

 

The statement will put some Liberal MPs on the defensive now as they will find difficult to attend functions where extremist leaders are glorified and that in turn will put them on a collision course with those Sikh extremists.

 

Speakers included Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Toronto Mayor David Miller and on behalf of the victims families Dr. Bala Gupta, who lost hjis wife Ramwati, spoke and thanked Harper for offering his apology, for reaching out so close to the families.


Gupta also read out Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's message: 'It is with a sense of deep pain and sorrow that I join the families and friends in paying my paying my homage to all those who fell victim to this most barbarous act of terrorism.'

 

'No religion, faith or cause can justify such violence or inhumanity. On this solemn occasion, we must rededicate ourselves to fighting and eliminating terrorism with determination and joint action.'

Image: Canadian PM Stephen Harper at the Air India monument at the Humber Bay Park in Toronto.

Photograph Courtesy: Stephen Harper's Office

Ajit Jain in Toronto