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25 years after Kanishka attack, report to be out today

June 17, 2010 12:53 IST

A quarter-century after Canada's worst terrorist attack, an inquiry commission will present its much-awaited report into the Air India Kanishka bombing on Thursday and is likely to recommend new sweeping powers for the national security adviser to prevent such tragedies in future.

The report, however, is not expected to provide much answers the families and relatives of the 329 victims are looking for as to exactly who was responsible for the attack.

The Commission, headed by former supreme court justice John Major, has spent nearly two years hearing from more than 200 witnesses and reviewing 17,000 classified documents.

The worst act of terrorism against Canadians has left a frustrating, confusing legacy for relatives of the many of victims.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said the report would recommend that Canada's national security adviser should be given sweeping new powers to resolve disputes between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Security and Intelligence Services.

The final report will observe that national security continues to be badly organised between the RCMP and Canada's spy agency, the CBC said.

The national security adviser, who provides advice to the prime minister on national security and intelligence issues, should also be the final arbiter where the two agencies disagree, Major will say, according to the CBC.

This recommendation means that the director of the CSIS and the RCMP commissioner would effectively report to the national security adviser only in cases where the adviser needs to resolve national security issues.

The RCMP and Canada's spy watchdog have been criticised for failing to work together on the Air India case, an issue that has always infuriated the victims' families.

Answers, as well as recognition that this was a crime hatched on home soil that claimed Indo-Canadian victims, have been a long time coming.

Years of criminal investigation have yielded just one conviction, for manslaughter, against a British Columbia mechanic Inderjit Singh Reyat who assembled bomb components.

Two other men -- Rupinder Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri -- were acquitted due to lack of evidence. Another suspect Talwinder Singh Parmar died in police custody in 1992.

The probe, called in 2006, examined Canada's response to terrorism and aviation security, and how government agencies, such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP, share information.

In the 25 years since the bombing, many family members of victims have been consumed with the investigation, the trial and now the results of the special commission convened by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For Mona Sandhu, who was 10 when her father died in the bombing, simply getting by the day-to-day life was the singular challenge in her house.

"I forgot that the report was coming out," Brampton teacher Sandhu said.

"We were well off. My father owned a factory and my mother probably never would have worked."

Her elder sister was studying abroad and her younger sister was only 3 years old. Sandhu, the middle sister, took on the main role.

"I would follow my father around with a screwdriver trying to help fix things. On weekends, we would always wash his car together. He showed me how to wax it properly," she said.

Lata Pada, who lost her husband and two teenage daughters in the Kanishka bombing, said, "It took 9/11 to bring Air India into focus".

But unlike many other family members of victims who feel frustration and anger over the way the investigation and trial were handled, Pada takes a broader view.

"The devastation and impact of rising fundamentalism around the world and the consequences of destroying lives is more understood today. In Canada, I think that's at least partly because of Air India."

She said the terror attack could have been prevented, but the country was not prepared at the time.          

"To be honest, I'm a bit indifferent," said Vandana Paliwal, who doesn't believe the Air India inquiry report will answer the many questions that linger after an extensive investigation and subsequent trial failed to bring her family justice.

The two men accused, including the plot's alleged ringleader, were acquitted in 2005.

Paliwal lost her elder brother in the bombing. She was 14 years old.

"Three years later, to the day, within the same hour, my dad died. When June 23 comes around, it's a double whammy for me".

She now credits Harper for bringing about the Air India Commission, even though she's sceptical of the report's impact.

"At least he recognised the need. No one else took that step," she said.
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