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'Kanishka an Air India, Canadian atrocity'

June 18, 2010 02:57 IST

Justice John Major released a scathing report on the 1985 Air India Kanishka bombing investigation at the Media Center in Ottawa on Thursday, in which he stressed, "This is an Air India, Canadian atrocity."

"For too long the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has been somehow relegated outside the Canadian consciousness," he said.

Another sad part for the Chief Commissioner of the Air India inquiry was that 'the families, in some ways, have often been treated as adversaries, as if they had somehow brought this calamity upon themselves' and this to Justice Major 'goes against the Canadian sense of fairness and propriety.'

So, the report 'sets out the inherent injustice of what has transpired in terms of the treatment of the families of the victims to date at the hands of the governments.'

'The time to right that historical wrong is now," Justice Major emphatically suggested.

It was as a consequence, after the report was released, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was present with half a dozen members of the victims' families when Justice Major released his report. They were invited to the prime minister's office at the House of Commons Building.

In a statement following that meeting, Canadian minister Nicholson responded to the report quickly by saying that they would issue some sort of apology to the victims' families and will also give them some 'ex-gratia payment,' but he didn't reveal what that amount would be.

Based on this report running to five volumes and over 3,000 pages, Justice Major read out a seven-page statement, summary of what his report contains.

The story of Air India flight 182 'goes beyond the loss of life, as terrible as that is,' Major said.

He called it 'the largest mass murder in Canadian history' and attributed this to a 'series of errors contributed to the failure of our police and security to prevent this atrocity.'

Major used very strong expressions in criticising the Canadian law enforcement agencies that resulted in the tragic loss of 331 innocent lives (329 aboard the Air India flight 182, and two Japanese baggage handlers at the Narita Airport in Tokyo).

The bomb that blew up the ill-fated Air India flight, Major stated categorically, "was manufactured in Canada as part of a plot that was developed in Canada. (And) 'the bomb', he said was hidden in luggage that was placed on a Canadian plane in Vancouver and later transferred to Air India 182 in Toronto which stopped in Montreal to pick up additional passengers before it commenced its fatal flight."

What Justice Major found 'surprising and disturbing (was the fact that) overall, the government of Canada and its agencies in 1985 were not prepared for a terrorist act like the bombing of Air India Flight 182 … (despite the fact) that the threat of sabotage was well known by the early 1980s (and so sadly for Justice Major and his team of investigators) Canadian agencies still focused on hijacking and operated as if it was the primary threat.'

In this connection he detailed in the report that the telex that Air India had sent in 'early June 1985 (which was several days before the bombing of Boeing 747 Kanishka) warning of the potential for bombs being hidden in luggage.'

Here Major pointed out in amazement as to how 'the Canadian Security Intelligence Service didn't see that 'information … because that telex was not sent to anyone by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.'

On the contrary, RCMP provided 'erroneous information … to (former Ontario Premier (Bob Rae) whose investigation in 2005 (that was done when Paul Martin was the Prime Minister) (in fact) led to the creation of this Commission of Inquiry.'

Justice Major rightly called this aspect 'disturbing' by wondering as to how could such an important telex from Air India be ignored, and not shared by the RCMP with other agencies.

This was not the only part of the aviation security lapses by the Canadian law enforcement agencies, Justice Major stated. He referred to one summer employee, Brian Simpson, who 'boarded Flight 182 at Pearson International Airport in Toronto without detection on the afternoon of June 22, 1985' and this person 'had complete access to the aircraft from the cockpit to the equipment at the rear.'

And the further sad part to Major was that during testimonies the 'government counsel' tried 'to discredit this witness.' Simpson's evidence, he said, 'revealed numerous weaknesses in security.'

It is widely known since the beginning as to how the RCMP and CSIS didn't cooperate with each other in the Air India investigation, either during the pre-bombing period or following the tragedy.'

In this regard Justice Major said there were people 'in the Sikh community who claimed to have knowledge about the bombing and its perpetrators.'

These Canadian law enforcement agencies, to his dismay, 'failed (not only) to obtain that information (but) to preserve it for use as evidence, or to offer adequate protection to those individuals.'

Instead, Justice Major said, the two agencies 'engaged in "turf-wars", failed to share information, and adopted a misguided approach to the sources.

'In the end, of the three individuals who were to be the key witnesses in the Air India trial, one was murdered -- (he was a Vancouver-based journalist Tara Singh Hayer, who reportedly knew too much about the perpetrators of the Air India bombing and wanted to testify against them in the British Columbia Supreme Court, but before he could do that he was killed).

"One feigned memory loss because she was too frightened to testify, and one was forced to enter the Witness Protection Program two years earlier than planned, due to the RCMP's inadvertent disclosure of her identity," Major noted.

The report details how the two agencies have been fighting between themselves, not sharing information, etc. Justice Major has also recommended creation of a Director of Terrorism Prosecutions, appointed by the Attorney-General of Canada and also the appointment of the National Witness Protection Coordinator 'to manage the protection of those who are willing to risk their well-being to assist the prosecution of terrorists.'

Justice Major has proposed 'the development of an academic center to study terrorism and counter-terrorism' and 'to commemorate the victims of the Air India bombing. "This center should be named Kaniskha," he suggested.

Justice Major strongly urged 'the Canadian government to establish some sort of an oversight mechanism to report on how our recommendations are being addressed: those that have been implemented; those that have been rejected; and those that require further study.'

While concluding his statement, Justice Major noted that issues that have been addressed in his report 'confront us today; albeit in a different context, as much as they did 25 years ago.'

He was obviously referring to global terrorism.

Ajit Jain in Toronto