It’s been a long time. It’s been so long the event I’m talking about this week started even before I began my writing career. On June 23rd, 1985 the worst mass murder in Canadian history took place. That was the bombing of Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland. It blew up at 31,000 feet ending the lives of the 329 people on board, 280 of who were Canadian.
Through the year we’ve heard much about Air India flight 182. The purveyors of this terrible crime remain unpunished. One of the chief culprits died in a firefight with Indian police many years later. The other culprits were tried in 2005 and set free in Vancouver. The only person convicted to do anything with this crime was Inderjit Singh Reyat who pled guilty to manslaughter for constructing the bomb, which was used on Air India flight 182.
If the word “bungle” could be redefined I’d say it means Air India flight 182. I say that because thru the years there is no other way to describe it. From that first day in which we learned of the tragedy there have been no concrete answers for Air India victims. They were left by a Canadian government to grasp for straws. Only years later after Stephen Harper was elected did they get a full public inquiry into the whole Air India mess.
However, let’s go back for a minute. We aren’t talking about something that happened last week, last month, last year or even the last decade. This terrible crime happened over 22 years ago. It’s hard to believe really why this thing was dragged out, yes covered up and generally ignored by our Canadian government. I’ve always found it hard to believe that the Canadian government couldn’t have done a thing. I also found it hard to believe that they stonewalled the Air India families over and over again.
My question is why didn’t the Liberals call for a public inquiry? Why was it left to Stephen Harper to call it after all this time? Would a return of the Liberals under Paul Martin have kept this thing under raps for another ten years? However now that we have a public inquiry why are we hearing a lot of testimony talking about a “smoking gun”?
The biggest smoking gun so far was the testimony of Ontario Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman. Bartleman oozes credibility. So what does he do? He sat before the inquiry and said when he was the director-general of security and intelligence in the Department of External Affairs in 1985 he saw specific documents which were forecasting a specific attack on an Air India flight out of Montreal. Of course at the time the RCMP shot him down and the rest as they say is history.
There has been more. Specifically, security agents were called in to have dogs sniff the bags on the plane for explosive agents. However, the plane left before that could be done. Surely as the inquiry goes on we’ll be hearing a lot more.
The sad fact is Canadians have been deceived about this. Through the years the official story was that “it had all been told.” However Air India families would not let it rest. Now that these new revelations have come out years later, it should be a lesson to everyone that governments circle the wagons and protect their own. It’s pretty obvious in this case that happened. I think its also pretty obvious if anything like this ever happened again, governments would probably act in this same shameless way.
No commentary on the “Air India” case is complete without visiting a tough subject. Ever since that day in 1985 many South Asian Canadian families have claimed they were victims of prejudice because the Mulroney government at the time thought of it as an “Indian problem.” The Mulroney government at the time not only thought that but they completely disregarded warning from B.C. Sikh leaders about terrorism in their ranks. It has taken years for that to change. I’m sure some people in the Canadian South Asian community still feel that way.
There is nothing I can say to make it better now. However, the whole “Air India” story from its inception way back in 1985 has been an embarrassing black mark for Canada. Stephen Harper’s move to get a public inquiry up and going was at least an attempt to patch over the wrongs of the last 22 years. But make no mistake about this. There have been many wrongs when it comes to Air India flight 182. There is no way to make it better now.