House of Commons Hansard #203 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

François Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, I listened to the hon. member for York South-Weston present his motion M-293 regarding the Air India tragedy of June 23, 1985, with great interest.

To demonstrate just how lightly the government of the time took this tragedy, in which 329 travellers, 280 of which were Canadians, most of them of Indian origin, I would mention that the Mulroney government's first gesture was to send its condolences to the Republic of India. That is indicative of how the case was handled. It also helps to understand how the Canadian Security Intelligence Service carried out its investigation or, more exactly, did not carry out the investigation.

It is clear, and the hon. member for York South-Weston mentioned this during his representation, that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's approach to the investigation is questionable. The attitude of the RCMP, which apparently put a lid on its own investigation and only assigned staff to the effort part-time, is as questionable as that of CSIS.

Given the scope of this tragedy, 329 deaths as was mentioned earlier-the biggest mass slaughter in the air ever to have been executed at that time-it is obvious that we should go back and take a better look at this case.

Is the royal commission of inquiry requested by the hon. member for York South-Weston the ideal solution? Maybe not. Obviously, ten years after the fact, we will not be able to interview the victims of the tragedy. Obviously, parallel investigations were carried out by organizations in other countries. It may be wise to pool all of the knowledge collected. Nevertheless, the very serious allegations made about CSIS, while not meriting a royal commission of inquiry, certainly should be looked into by the sub-committee on national security.

It would appear that this sub-committee, which is comprised of parliamentarians and would cost taxpayers nothing, contrary to a royal commission of inquiry, is the appropriate body to study the way the Canadian Security Intelligence Service handled this and other cases, where its work has left to be desired. I think it is high time we cleaned up the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

That is why, given all of the investigations that have already been done, since it is highly improbable that the exact causes of the tragedy will ever be found and since almost all avenues of inquiry have already been exhausted, I am of the opinion that creating a royal commission of inquiry would be a waste of money. However, I am in favour of a parliamentary review of the way in which the Canadian Security Intelligence Service carried out its investigation into the matter.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member for York South-Weston for bringing this motion to the floor of the House.

The timing is most appropriate. In just over one month's time it will be the 10th anniversary of the bombing of Air-India flight 182. It is with full confidence that I use the word bombing and not accident or incident or any other marginal term. What happened to Air-India flight 182 was an act of terrorism, an act of cold blooded murder and an act of cowardice.

Unfortunately no one has been brought to trial in this case yet. If my hon. colleague is accurate and others are involved, it is only a matter of proof that they have not been brought to court, I would like to stress, yet.

The member for York South-Weston seems to be of the opinion that charges will never be laid in this case so let us move on to a royal commission. If this was the case, I would have no problem in providing my unconditional support to the call for a royal commission.

However, I believe that the member for York South-Weston may be a little premature in his assumption that charges will never be laid. On April 4, when Commissioner Murray of the RCMP appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, I asked him if he was opposed to a judicial inquiry into the Air-India bombing. His response was:

We are not at all opposed to having a judicial inquiry. Our only concern was to undertake the judicial inquiry while the investigation was still active-The

investigation is still active-I have made a commitment to the Solicitor General that when we reach a point where we feel that we are at an impasse, I will at that time come forward and indicate so. But we have not reached that point. The investigation is still optimistically being pursued.

I accept the word of the commissioner. I hope that this commissioner will make an intense effort in the near future to advance the investigation or to accept that the investigation is over and the time has come to move on. But until that time the question is, will a royal commission affect any subsequent criminal proceedings?

Again the member for York South-Weston is impeccable in his timing. Less than two weeks ago the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its decision on the holding of a public inquiry into the Westray coal mine disaster at the same time that criminal proceedings are under way.

The decision in that case was that the court should be most hesitant to interfere with interests of holding a public inquiry. However, the court limited its decision specifically to the Westray case and would not speculate on other cases.

For example, the supreme court pointed out that the Westray criminal case was being tried in front of a judge alone. As well, the court believed that the commissioner of any public inquiry would not compel the accused to testify at the inquiry until the criminal case was concluded. Thus some significant considerations have to be resolved before a royal commission into the Air-India bombing is conducted.

Do we want to sacrifice any subsequent criminal charges for the sake of holding a royal commission today? I think not. This is where a royal commission would create a great many problems.

In the Westray decision the supreme court recognized the protection of the charter to any potentially accused. They could be compelled to testify in front of the royal commission but their testimony could not be used at the trial. That is a given.

What would cause even greater problems in pursuing criminal charges against those responsible for bombing Air-India is the difficulty created by the derivative evidence.

This means that if any new information comes out at the royal commission, at a subsequent criminal proceeding the defence could claim that the crown was only able to proceed with charges with the evidence that was a result of compulsory incriminating testimony and therefore the evidence would not be admissible.

In addition, in the Westray case the court ruled that the testimony of the accused must not be published and the report of the inquiry must remain confidential to ensure that any accused received a fair opportunity at trial.

The whole point of a royal commission should be to bring the truth about Air-India to light, and this could not be done if the evidence could not be published. Our first priority must be to bring those responsible for the Air-India bombing to trial.

I know that my colleague for York South-Weston is concerned about the way both the RCMP and CSIS have handled the investigation of this terrorist act. And there should be a cause for concern. I have no doubt that when the evidence of how these two agencies handled their investigation comes to light, it will be apparent that mistakes were made.

Who will ultimately be held accountable for these mistakes? Most of the senior management who were in place at CSIS and the RCMP have retired. There is concern that the whole truth may never come out. But when it comes to choosing between pointing fingers at those responsible for some of the mistakes at CSIS and the RCMP or bringing the individuals who are responsible for the worst mass murder in Canadian history to justice, I am afraid there is no comparison. Bringing to trial those responsible for the bombing has to take priority.

To get back to the motion before us today, if there is any way a royal commission could be held without jeopardizing the crown's ability to bring those murderers to trial, I would fully support such a call. Let us put the speculation to rest and give everyone involved in the case the opportunity to give their testimony. I am sure that many investigators at both CSIS and the RCMP would love to have the opportunity to provide their versions of the event.

Let us give the families of the victims an opportunity to finally hear what happened to their loved ones. Let us give the Canadian public the truth about what happened with the bombing of Air India. We should be told what the Canadian government was doing in regard to this issue prior to the bombing. Could it have been prevented? We should be told about the subsequent investigation. Did a turf war between the RCMP and CSIS impede a proper investigation?

The member for York South-Weston is absolutely correct: all this information must be made public and a royal commission or a judicial inquiry should occur. The only question is the timing.

The first and foremost concern on this issue must be that those individuals involved in the cowardly bombing of Air-India must be brought to justice. If a royal commission will not interfere or jeopardize a criminal trial, then we should proceed immediately. However, if it is likely that this royal commission would provide these mass murderers with a technicality to escape conviction, I am afraid the commission should wait.

While it is important that we ensure that the bombing of Air-India flight 182 is never forgotten, we owe it to the victims and their families that those responsible are brought to justice.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Sarnia-Lambton is going to share his 10-minute slot with one of his colleagues.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the agreement was that I would share remainder time.

I am pleased to rise today to discuss private member's Motion No. 293. Ten years after, we cannot adequately acknowledge the suffering of those left behind, but we can look to the changes in our air travel safety that have occurred as a result of this very tragic event.

Immediately following the disaster, the interdepartmental committee on security and intelligence was instructed to study and report on airport and airline security in Canada. The recommendations stemming from this report have been implemented, resulting in significant improvements to aviation security in Canada.

New air carrier and airport security regulations have been introduced, which establish high minimum standards. These regulations are under constant review and adjustment to respond to the changing situation.

Monitoring and inspection of airport and air carrier security measures have been greatly increased. Also, more stringent security controls on passengers, carry-on baggage, checked baggage, cargo and mail have been introduced on international flights. Air carriers are prohibited from carrying the baggage of persons not on board the aircraft.

The range of enforcement mechanisms has also been strengthened with the introduction in 1989 of the designated provisions regulations, which is an administrative monetary penalty scheme. These regulations were amended in 1993, increasing the number of punishable aviation security regulatory offences and the size of maximum penalties that can be levied.

Additional X-ray detection equipment and explosive vapour detectors have been put into service. A training program for security screening personnel and their trainers has been developed and implemented by Transport Canada. Courses are regularly scheduled. Internal security training programs for Transport Canada security inspectors and other aviation security specialists are also in place.

In addition, new measures have been implemented that require air carriers operating in Canada to carry out a program of initial and annual recurrent crew member aviation security training. All persons employed at major airports who have access to restricted areas must undergo a security assessment to ensure they do not pose a threat to the security of civil aviation.

In 1994 new security standards were legislated for airport restricted area pass systems, which improved the ability of the government and airport operators to ensure that people in restricted areas of Canada's airports have a need and a right to be there.

Transport Canada has been actively pursuing stronger security provisions and bilateral air transport agreements with other countries to ensure that implementation of Canada's high aviation security standards is a mandatory condition for foreign air carrier operations in our country.

I would like to point out that in addition to these enhancements Canada has in place a three-level alert and response system to ensure appropriate security measures are taken in response to specific threats. I understand this system was fully updated in 1992 and is under constant review and fine tuning to ensure it responds effectively to changing circumstances.

In conclusion, the Air-India disaster has been the subject of exhaustive examination by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, Transport Canada, the Solicitor General of Canada, and the police investigation is ongoing.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of the motion by the hon. member for York South-Weston.

The hon. member is correct: it is high time for a royal commission of inquiry into the Air-India disaster. For too long the Sikh community has lived under a great shadow of suspicion created by the media reports that someone from the Canadian Sikh community may have been responsible for the deaths of 329 people.

Responsibility for the crash has been attributed to a number of groups. Accusations have been made that U.S. intelligence agencies withheld vital information from RCMP investigators. There are real questions about how much the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service knew.

The only clear fact is that on June 23, 1985, Air India flight 182 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Cork, Ireland. All 329 people aboard the plane lost their lives, including 280 Canadians. Most were of East Indian origin; some were Sikh families.

This was the worst mass murder in Canadian history. Yet 10 years later no one has been prosecuted in Canada for bombing the plane. Ten years later, the families are still waiting for answers. Ten years later, the Canadian Sikh community is still waiting to find out who was really responsible. We still have far too many questions and not enough answers.

Regardless of who placed the bomb, regardless of their motives, it is imperative they be brought to justice. I ask the Canadian government to initiate a royal commission of inquiry into the disaster as soon as possible.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for North Vancouver has very kindly offered to give up his normal rotation in the party line. Therefore the hon. member for Brampton has the floor.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton, ON

Mr. Speaker, for most Canadians Friday, June 23, 1995 will be a day like any other. Parents will get up, have breakfast with their children, take them off to school and go off to work just as they would any other day.

However, for the families and friends of those Canadians who lost their lives aboard Air-India flight 182 exactly 10 years ago to the day, June 23 will be a day filled with remembrance and sorrow. It will be a day to reflect on the memories of loved ones lost in the blink of an eye, of entire families and children who never had a chance to grow up, children who never had the chance to experience the many joys and expressions of life.

There is nothing we can do to bring them back, but we must honour their memory and we must do all we can to ease the suffering of their families and friends. That is why we must properly investigate this terrible tragedy. That is why it is imperative that we conduct a royal commission into the most horrific mass murder in this nation's history. This is a commitment members of the Liberal caucus made while in opposition, and it is a commitment we must honour now that we are in power.

While in opposition, members of the Liberal caucus watched in horror as the then Prime Minister of Canada, upon learning of the tragedy, contacted the Prime Minister of India to offer his condolences on the issue. In doing so, the Prime Minister sent the message that this terrible tragedy was being mourned primarily by the citizens of India. This was the wrong message to send. These were Canadians.

That inquiries have been undertaken by foreign governments on this matter in the absence of an inquiry by the Government of Canada is cause for embarrassment to all members of this House.

Previous governments repeatedly turned down requests for a royal commission on the grounds that the matter was still under investigation and that it might prejudice the ongoing RCMP investigation. I believe that this rationale can no longer be invoked in good conscience.

A story in this morning's Globe and Mail states that the 10-year old RCMP investigation is winding down and that only two or three officers are working on this case on a part time basis. The cost of this investigation to date is in the order of $20 million. Ten years and $20 million later, we have still not solved this horrible crime.

There is another reason that came to mind as I was listening to my hon. colleague speak. We have heard about extremists from different groups of people being blamed, suspicions passed on to these groups. I have heard from many sources that this group of people did it. When I hear today the Sikh population being mentioned, it brings a great deal of pain to me. This only increases the misunderstanding of a community. To cast aspersions upon this group of people is an absolute sin. We must have a royal commission to remove this scar that has formed on this nation's history by failing to respond to the cries for answers from the families and friends of those who perished aboard Air-India flight 182.

We can begin by voting in favour of this motion today. Given the importance of this issue for all Canadians, I move that this motion be declared votable.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent that this matter be declared a votable one?

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Nay.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The nay having been given, the member still has the floor. She might wish to continue. If not, we will now go to the hon. member for North Vancouver and then we will close with the honourable parliamentary secretary.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will just take a few minutes as well.

In looking at this whole situation of the Air-India crash, I know that it has been dragging on now for 10 years, as other members have said. It is really getting to the point where we have to start asking questions about whether it has gone on long enough and how long do we allow the police investigation to keep going and winding down.

My colleague from Reform has pointed out some of the technical difficulties that are involved in starting a royal commission when there is still an RCMP investigation under way. That is an important consideration. However, we are 10 years downstream and many of the people who were involved in the RCMP are already retired. We have a situation where one of the major suspects is already dead, killed in a gun battle with Indian police in India.

According to a newspaper article in the Ottawa Citizen on April 14, 1994 another suspect, Mr. Manjit Singh, also known as Lal Singh, is in prison in India. We have two there. A third person who may have been a suspect was arrested the same day for the bombing which killed baggage handlers at Narita airport.

The evidence is fast disappearing. In the meantime we have spent about $20 million, yet we still have all the families of the

victims who lost their loved ones in this crash wondering what really happened and whether there was a cover-up.

My colleague who proposed the motion asked what happened. Was there a cover-up? What is the truth behind the crash of the Air-India flight? On balance, weighing the questions, weighing the technicalities, weighing the length of time it has taken and weighing the amount of money spent so far, I would have to support the member in his motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate steps to initiate a royal commission of inquiry into the Air-India disaster of June 23, 1985 which claimed the lives of 329 people.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Vancouver South
B.C.

Liberal

Herb Dhaliwal Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, first let me congratulate the hon. member for bringing forward this long delayed motion. June 23 will mark the 10th yearly observance of the largest mass murder in Canadian history and the most tragic incident in the history of aviation, the bombing of Air-India flight 182.

On June 23, 1985, without warning, 329 innocent passengers were blown out of the sky. They were all killed instantly. There were no survivors. On flight 182, 295 passengers were Canadian and 82 of the passengers were children.

For the past 10 years the victims' families have suffered tremendous grief and endured great pain in virtual silence. They have waited patiently for the killers of their loved ones to be brought to justice and they have looked for answers. To date they have had none.

Air-India's explosion was not an accident; it was a planned and deliberate cold blooded act of violence that took the lives of 329 innocent passengers. It was an act of terrorism.

One decade is an eternity. For the surviving family members the past 10 years have been filled with hollow birthdays, empty anniversaries and missed graduations.

As a compassionate and caring society, as a country that has been built on the tenets of justice, fairness and equality, and as a country that believes in the due process of law, we cannot continue to ask these families to wait any longer. As Canadian citizens they deserve justice. For the sake of the victims and their families justice must be served.

There are two tragedies for these families. First, there is the horrific loss of innocent life. In some cases whole families were lost. In some cases one family member remains while the rest of the family was on the plane. I remember watching a vivid scene where a father wept out loud when he had lost his wife and his two children. As someone who has three children, I can imagine the nightmare that he will have to go through for the rest of his life. We need to give that person and all the other people some answers. It was a horrific loss of life. Second, 10 years after the bombing and $20 million later the murderers are still at large.

While in opposition we called for a royal commission. We promised the families of Air-India victims that justice would be served. We committed ourselves to finding the perpetrators of this brutal crime.

Today, nearly 10 years since the bombing, no charges have been laid. During the first two years there were up to 75 officers on the investigation. Today only one officer is dedicated to investigating this savage crime on a part time basis.

I want to re-emphasize that we do not know. People have not been brought to justice. I know some members have said perhaps it was one group or person. In Canada we are innocent until proven guilty. We need to bring the guilty to justice because we do not know. There are books written on the subject because there are so many questions and people do not know. That is one of the reasons we need a royal commission.

After reading the Security Intelligence Review Committee's report I have many concerns about the existing investigation into the Air-India disaster. CSIS has admitted that prior to the bombing of Air-India it did not regard the threat of violence stemming from extremist groups to be very serious. Few resources were allotted to the investigation.

Translators were not found. There is lots of evidence that CSIS simply bungled up and we need to know why. We need to know what the reasons were. At the time of the bombing CSIS was in its infancy. Its role and areas of jurisdiction were still being defined.

While there was a healthy spirit of co-operation between the two investigating parties differences emerged between the RCMP and CSIS after the bombing of flight 182 in terms of their responsibilities, jurisdiction and methods of evidence collection and retention.

I quote from the SIRC report:

One former senior officer told us that while the role was well understood by senior personnel, he was concerned that some CSIS investigators would conduct their inquiries as though they were criminal investigators and would compete with the RCMP to solve this case-

Once again I quote from the report:

We saw no early instructions from CSIS headquarters that attempted to clarify the CSIS mandate vis-à-vis the RCMP criminal investigation or which set out CSIS policy regarding the sharing of information and intelligence with the RCMP. We consider this to be an unfortunate oversight on the part of senior management.

We need to know what took place between CSIS and the RCMP. We need to have better information, and the royal inquiry will give us that information. We need to know why 159 of the 210 audio tapes with recordings of wiretapped conversa-

tions were erased. Many of these tapes were never heard. Translations were delayed or were not completed and significant backlogs of unprocessed tapes were commonplace. These issues were raised by SIRC in its report.

In accordance with established policies CSIS had already erased three-quarters of the 200 or so audio tapes of the principal targets, conversations before the disaster, so these were not available to the RCMP for its requested examination.

Given the number of inaccuracies, errors and oversights, given the absence of clear direction and a clear delineation of roles and the chain of command, it is difficult to see how CSIS could have done justice to the investigation.

The government has stated that the results of the investigation into the bombing of flight 182 are inconclusive. If they are inconclusive we need to know why. This is a Canadian tragedy. I do not think in any other situation government would not react. Any other government would have reacted. We have seen that in other governments. Why have we not reacted? We need to respond and have a royal commission to look into the matter.

Given this conclusion I believe it is in the best interest of justice to launch a royal commission of inquiry. There is precedence for such an inquiry. I refer my colleagues to past catastrophes, namely the Ocean Ranger tragedy and the Hinton rail disaster.

The issue is justice, justice for the 329 innocent victims of this aviation disaster, justice that has not yet been served. On April 13, 1994 former RCMP Commissioner Norm Inkster stated to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs: "It was my hope that before I retired from the RCMP I could appear before this committee and say the Air-India case was solved. Tragically, this is not yet the case".

We cannot bring back the innocent Canadians who lost their lives. We cannot make their families whole again. We cannot bring back their smiles or laughter but we can bring those left behind some peace of mind. We can bring the criminals who have inflicted this ceaseless pain to justice.

I believe we are on the right track. It is clear from the level of active co-operation between the RCMP and CSIS that a real desire to solve this crime does exist. It is also evident from the continuing investigation that this tragedy has not been forgotten and that the Liberal government intends to keep its word. Our new solicitor general has stated the appointment of a royal commission is under active consideration.

In light of the SIRC report, the continued anguish of the victims' families and the ever growing price tag on this inconclusive investigation, I strongly recommend we launch a royal commission of inquiry.

Once again, given the importance of this issue for all Canadians, I move the motion be declared votable.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. parliamentary secretary would be aware that he needs unanimous consent to make the matter votable.

Is there unanimous consent?

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Air-India Disaster
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

An hon. member

No.