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Controversial PM Issues Apology To Relatives Of Air India Victims

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
PM issues apology to relatives of Air India victims


‘I will make no attempt to make any sense of it,’ Stephen Harper says in powerful speech

Anthony Reinhart
Toronto — Globe and Mail Update Published on Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2010 7:19PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Jun. 23, 2010 7:22PM EDT

After 25 years of avoiding the mirror of accountability, Canada has turned to face its failure to stop the Air India bombing, with a full and powerful apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“This was evil, perpetrated by cowards, despicable, senseless and vicious,” Mr. Harper said Wednesday evening at a Toronto ceremony for relatives of the 329 people, most of them Canadians, whose plane was bombed out of the sky on June 23, 1985, killing all aboard. “I will make no attempt to make any sense of it.”

What Mr. Harper did was give long-awaited government acknowledgement that the bombing – the worst act of mass murder in the country’s history – was a preventable, wholly Canadian crime, badly mishandled by federal intelligence and police agencies.

The tragedy was made worse, the Prime Minister said, when “the families were for years after treated with scant respect or consideration” by Canadian authorities.

“I stand before you, therefore, to offer on behalf of the Government of Canada, and all Canadians, an apology,” he said.

Air India Flight 182 left Canada and disintegrated at 31,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean after a bomb, hidden in luggage, exploded. An hour earlier, another bomb, destined for a second Air India plane on the other side of the world, exploded on the ground at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, killing two baggage handlers and bringing the total death toll to 331.

The Prime Minister was accompanied at the Toronto ceremony by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. The event was held around an Air India monument in a city park on the shores of Lake Ontario. Similar events were held Wednesday in Vancouver, Ottawa and in Ireland, where families travelled after the plane exploded off the Irish coast.

They went in hope of claiming the remains of their loved ones, but just 131 bodies were recovered from the ocean.

Canadian authorities linked the bombings to Sikh extremists intent on avenging anti-Sikh violence in India. Authorities had received advance warnings that Indian planes would be targeted, but failed to stop the attacks. Successive federal governments, meanwhile, refused to call an inquiry or apologize to the families, who were often treated as foreigners, though 278 of the victims were Canadians.

Only one person has been convicted in relation to the bombings. Inderjit Singh Reyat, an electrician from Duncan, B.C., was convicted of manslaughter for his part in supplying the explosives placed in the two suitcases that originated at Vancouver International Airport. In 2005, two British Columbia men, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted of mass murder and conspiracy charges.

Canada’s mainstream Sikh community has repeatedly denounced the attacks, which also killed several Sikh passengers aboard Flight 182. Non-stop, 48-hour readings of Sikh scripture were held in several temples this week in the lead-up to Wednesday’s memorial events.

For Deepak Khandelwal, who lost both his sisters and was only able to bring one of their bodies home, the government’s apology came far too late but was nonetheless welcome.

While “sorry” is merely a word, Mr. Khandelwal said it was important and meaningful for families to hear it, and he credited Mr. Harper for saying it after taking “a real personal interest” in the case.

“I know, as an outsider in other situations where the government has apologized, I have wondered, how important is it?” said Mr. Khandelwal, 42, who lit lanterns at the Toronto event. “In this case, where unfortunately I am personally involved, it does have deep meaning.”

The apology, which followed last week’s release of Justice John Major’s report from an inquiry into how Canadian authorities mishandled the Air India investigation, will not bring back the dead, Mr. Khandelwal said. But it will allow Canada to move forward after a quarter-century of investigatory bungling, avoidance of accountability and near-indifference to the families, he suggested.

“There’s no hiding behind it, as various governments have done so much over the last 25 years,” Mr. Khandelwal said.

“I do hope the government implements [Justice Major’s] recommendations to make Canada a safer place, and that no one has to go through this again.”

Mr. Harper, who cited some of the more stinging passages of Justice Major’s report, pledged action, and said the government has already moved to improve airport security.

“The finest memorial we can build to your loved ones is to prevent another Flight 182,” he said. “This is our duty to you, and to all Canadians.”

source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/pm-issues-apology-to-relatives-of-air-india-victims/article1615348/
Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Can reconciliation emerge from Air India tragedy?

By Haroon Siddiqui Editorial Page - THE STAR, Toronto - June 24, 2010

Justice John Major’s scathing report on the 1985 bombing of Air India made me think of 9/11; the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Maher Arar, and prejudice in Canada.

In the summer of 2001, the United States had strong signals about an impending attack on the U.S. But the warnings were ignored.

In the months leading up to Canada’s biggest terrorist tragedy, there were credible warnings galore about Air India being targeted. But nothing was done.

In the U.S., too many intelligence agencies were gathering too much information and too few hands were making sense of it.

In Canada, just three agencies managed to mess it up — the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment. The RCMP and CSIS, in particular, actively engaged in "turf wars," Major said.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, America has been criminally incompetent. Multiple American agencies, military and civilian, have worked at cross-purposes and in ignorance of local customs.

The RCMP and CSIS, too, were spectacularly incompetent, albeit on a smaller scale. They were also culturally clueless. Major: "Surveillants were unable to distinguish one traditionally attired Sikh from another." As in the post-9/11 American thinking, all ragheads seemed the same.

The Sikhs were foreigners. So were the victims of the bombing. The day after the tragedy, then prime minister Brian Mulroney sent condolences to Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. An overwhelming majority of the dead were Canadian; only 22 were Indian citizens. But in the Canadian consciousness of the time, a Canadian was white. Brown folks travelling on Air India could only have been Indian.

Their families were ignored. The RCMP wouldn’t talk to them for a decade, the same time it took for a federal minister to see them.

The treatment was no doubt also due to Ottawa’s reluctance to admit culpability. Still, the fact that, in Major’s words, Ottawa "turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering and needs of the families" and "often treated them as adversaries," is not all that easily separated from the then prevailing perception that they were not "real Canadians."
Major put it this way: "I stress this is a Canadian atrocity. For too long, the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has somehow been relegated outside the Canadian consciousness."

While the RCMP and CSIS bungled, both pre- and post-bombing, they and federal departments were super efficient in covering up their misdeeds and in resisting a public inquiry. They also were adept at discrediting anyone who questioned them, even James Bartleman, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario. He testified that in June 1985, as head of intelligence at foreign affairs, he had seen a specific threat against Air India and had rushed it to the RCMP but was dismissed. No sooner had he revealed that than federal officials began badmouthing him.

That’s also what they did to Maher Arar. When the Syrian Canadian was brought back, under public pressure, from Syria where he had been tortured, federal security officials tarred him as a terrorist sympathizer.

Major recommends better bureaucratic coordination and strong civilian control. So had the head of the Arar inquiry, Justice Dennis O’Connor, only to be ignored. Major might be as well. "There’d be pushback," as Stephen Harper admitted.

All this makes Canada look like a banana republic, with security agencies operating badly and beyond political control. But in Harper, they must deal with a Prime Minister who’s not easily pushed, especially from his chosen political path. He has been wooing the South Asian Canadian vote, with emphasis on the Hindu community, having written off Sikh Canadians as Liberal.

Regardless of motivation — partisanship being integral to politics — he’s doing absolutely the right thing: offering an official apology and considering compensation.

He should try something even more Canadian: lead a rapprochement between Canada’s estranged Sikh and Hindu communities. That would entail separating out the larger Sikh community from the minority still fixated on a separatist Khalistan and, worse, celebrating militant "martyrs," including terrorists.

An overwhelming majority of Sikhs do not support such extremism. But they do bear the psychological scars of the Indian military’s 1984 attack on the Golden Temple.

Prime minister Indira Gandhi, who approved the operation, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. That led to riots in New Delhi, with mobs targeting innocent Sikhs. Canadian Sikhs want the perpetrators of that massacre brought to justice.

At the G20 summit this weekend, Harper meets Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh and an innately decent and honourable man. Both should find the wisdom and the words to begin the process of reconciling these two Canadian communities who hail from the same motherland, India.


source: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/827717--can-reconciliation-emerge-from-air-india-tragedy

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