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Cameras installed at slain Indo-Canadian scribe's home were not working

By Ajit Jain in Toronto
November 16, 2007 03:43 IST
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The cameras installed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Surrey (British Columbia) house of Indo-Canadian journalist Tara Singh Hayer were reportedly not working the night he was assassinated on November 18, 1998, the Air India inquiry, now in progress in Ottawa, was told on Thursday.

Hayer's son Dave, who's now an elected member of British Columbia Legislature, testified before Justice John Major, who's chairing the inquiry, that he and his wife Isabelle only learned about the faulty equipment this week when they arrived in Ottawa to testify at the public inquiry into the bombing of Air India flight 182 in which all 329 people on board were killed.

"To learn this I tell you is really tough," Isabelle reportedly testified. "We placed a lot of trust in the RCMP... and now to discover this is pretty tough and it is pretty hard."

Dozens of documents pertaining to the conspiracy against Tara Singh Hayer were released at the Air India Inquiry on Thursday and they tell a chilling tale that despite all kinds of threats against him and some police protection, he was finally assassinated on Novemeber 18, 1998, by some Sikh extremists.

The first attempt on his life was made on August 26, 1988, when one Harkirat Singh Bagga, then 17 years old, entered his newspaper office, and with a handgun that he took out from his jacket pocket took aim at him from close range and shot him five times. Hayer was luckily not killed, but it left him paralysed from the waist down and permanently put him in a wheelchair.

Bagga, of course, was apprehended as he tried to escape after shooting Hayer. He admitted having shot Hayer and explained how two person from Toronto conspired and asked him to kill Hayer for his anti-Sikh writings.

Members of the Babbar Khansa and Sikh Youth Federation were unhappy with Hayer as he knew too much about the Air India tragedy and he wanted to testify in court.

According to the documents released at the Air India inquiry, Hayer was warned many a times by the extremists but he was not the person to stop writing against them or give up his intention to testify in the court.

One letter from an unidentified person forms part of the released documents: "But you are not ashamed," the opening sentence in the letter of May 21, 1996, mentioned. The writer denounced the Indo-Canadian Times as "cheap and low" and called it 'a big mistake' that he (Bagga) "just made you handicapped."

"Well that's okay there is delay, but not darkness at God's house," the author of the letter said and denounced Hayer for having "invaded in a very low manner" some "pre-eminent Sikh personalities, Sikh's glory and form of Sikhism and Sikh organisations."

For that, the letter writer said, "Punishment is very big (and) in Sikh history criminals have... received big punishments."

The RCMP and others carefully analysed this letter and it was deemed as a direct threat to the life of Hayer.

RCMP Superintendent M J Johnston said in his analysis of May 22, 1996, how he and Peter Ewert, director of Legal Services of the Attorney-General Office, believe the letter "contained threats against Hayer."

Several sentences in the letter were deemed "as a death threat" and in another sentence it is indicated that "they missed (him) the first time, but they will kill him" and when the letter says "punishment is very big," it implies that Hayer will be killed.

According to the documents released, Johnson advised RCMP Vancouver investigating office to "investigate it (letter) as much as possible."

The bunch of documents has a letter of March 19, 1998, written by Hayer himself to RCMP Superintendent Terry Smith (in Vancouver) on how threats against his life began in 1987, how he was attacked in 1988, that left him "paralysed below the waist and with bullets and fragments still lodged inside me."

"Given that these threats are escalating and becoming more severe in nature," Hayer asked Smith for his "assistance in the investigation of these threats" and he suggested that a Sikh police officer be assigned to conduct the investigation into those threats.

"Time is of the essence," Hayer said in the concluding part of his one-page letter. "I am not capable of defending myself as easily as I used to when I could walk."

Sadly for him, Smith advised Hayer, "If you fear for your life and you feel you are in immediate danger, you should be contacting our complaints line or, if more urgent, you should be contacting us through our 911 emergency centre."

There are copies of several classified reports from the RCMP starting from 1996, admitting "evidence of increased activity by Sikh extremists of late", but there was no evidence "to suggest that Mr Hayer is at particular risk" and that their "attempts to confirm these threats have met with negative results."

As a precautionary measure, one document shows how the RCMP installed video cameras outside Hayer's house so that suspicious movements could be watched. One camera, in fact, was aimed to watch activities outside and inside the garage. Sadly, however, Hayer was gunned down in the garage as he parked his car inside the garage and was struggling to get out of his car.

There's a disclosure in a classified Memo of January 6, 1999, that when Constable Marg Kingsbury (Surrey Serious Crime Unit) and Corporal B Laporte (Vancouver Special 'I' member) went to Hayer's residence at 6 pm on November 18, 1998, the night he was killed, the video camera was not working due to a broken video cable.

Police Staff Sergeant I F MacEwent, who wrote that report, called it "indeed unfortunate that the technical equipment did not function as the installation was programmed to do."

As stated earlier, the attempt on his life in August 1988, had left him in the wheelchair and so it took Hayer sometime to get out of his car.

There's a copy of the letter that following his assassination in 1998, written by the Canadian Association of Journalists to RCMP Commissioner J P Murray that deemed the killing of Hayer as "the attack on press freedom and freedom of expression."

CAJ's national president Tom Arnold signed that letter. He asked for "a detailed explanation as to what the RCMP is doing to make sure this never happens again."

On behalf of CAJ, he demanded, "A full and complete inquiry (that should look) into the circumstances surrounding Mr Hayer's assassination and the lack of police protection."

In their reply, RCMP assured Arnold and CAJ "that this case (assassination of Hayer) has been given the highest priority and that our investigators are doing everything in their capacity to identify and charge the person (or persons) responsible for Mr Hayer's death."

He pointed out that "virtually all of the threats (against Hayer) had been vague and general in nature and always anonymous."

They couldn't, "under their legal mandate or capacity... provide continuous personal bodyguard protection for anyone who is not considered a head of state or foreign dignitary."

All said, RCMP considered all threats reported by Hayer "seriously and conducted a thorough and complete investigation to the fullest extent possible."

"The impact of his murder is not lost upon the RCMP," Arnold was assured and a commitment was made "that this case will not be closed until those responsible have been brought to justice."

Sadly this commitment was made on Decemebr 4, 1998. Nine years have elapsed and so far the RCMP hasn't found a clue as to who conspired to kill this very vocal and fearless Indo-Canadian journalist.

What's known and widely accepted by the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies is that the people who were part of the Air India conspiracy and were still free after 22 years were part of the assassination of Hayer.

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