seconded by the member for Toronto—Danforth, moved:
That, in light of the fact that the Air-India bombing was the largest mass murder and terrorist act in Canadian history, and evidence that errors were committed by the investigative agencies involved, this House calls for an independent judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Air-India bombing of June 23, 1985.
Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to rise today to lead off debate on the Conservative Party's supply day motion. At the outset, let me first convey our sympathy, condolences and our prayers for the families of the victims.
On June 23, 1985, 329 innocent people, the majority of them Canadian citizens, were mass murdered. Over 80 victims were children under the age of 12. Twenty complete families were killed. Six parents lost all their children. Two dozen people lost their remaining family members and were left alone.
The enormity of this tragedy, the worst act of terrorism in Canadian history, cannot be overstated. Last month a not guilty verdict in the Air-India trial brought to a close another chapter in a 20 year saga. The relatives of the victims of the Air-India bombing are still left searching for answers. They want and deserve justice, but justice is beginning to look as if it is out of reach.
Two weeks ago in British Columbia, my leader met with the families of the victims. One lady said that a public inquiry is already 20 years too late. Canadians want closure to the sad story of the Air-India bombing. This case has been an absolute farce from the beginning, with the judicial system and the families of the victims the clear losers.
We must have final and clear answers to the issues surrounding this tragedy, including what went wrong in the investigative process. A public inquiry is needed to help ensure that this gross injustice never happens again.
Families of the victims have said that the only way for the government to rectify what they see as a second tragedy is to convene an inquiry. My leader, the leader of Her Majesty's official opposition, called for a public inquiry on March 16, just shortly after the decision was released.
In June 1985, bombs were placed on two Air-India flights, one originating in Canada. One bomb destroyed flight 182 at 31,000 feet over the southwest tip of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board. The other exploded 54 minutes earlier in baggage being transferred at Tokyo's Narita airport to Air-India flight 301, killing two baggage handlers and maiming four.
The story of the bombing goes back to before that murderous day. On June 4, 1985, members of CSIS followed two men into a forest on Vancouver Island. They heard a loud explosion, but did not regard the incident as important.
Five months later, those two men, Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat, were arrested on various weapons, explosives and conspiracy charges. Police revealed that the charges were connected with the Air-India disaster. However, the case against Parmar turned out to be flimsy and the charges were dropped. Reyat was fined on a minor explosives charge. Both were released. Parmar, regarded by the RCMP as the mastermind of the Air-India bombing, was allowed to leave the country and was mysteriously killed in a fake police encounter in India in 1992.
Next, Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, a sawmill worker, were arrested in 2000 and charged with a list of offences, including murder. Prosecutors took 13 months to present evidence and 115 witnesses testified in the most complicated and costly case in Canadian history. In delivering his not guilty verdict on the case, Justice Josephson ruled that justice would not be served if there were any doubt of the defendants' guilt.
With the not guilty verdict, there has now been only a single conviction to come out of the 20 year investigation into the Air-India bombing. Reyat ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to only five years in prison, but widespread expectations that he would testify against Malik and Bagri proved unfounded.
After 20 years, 250 RCMP officers on the case, $150 million and listening to 115 witnesses, we have no answers to who are the terrorists, who is guilty and where is the justice.
It was mass murder and it deserves justice. Already, justice delayed is justice denied. It has become a mockery of the justice system. There were unforgiveable lapses and failures in the system before and after the tragedy. There have been allegations of the RCMP and CSIS bungling the investigation and of the government's lack of action in the face of apparent knowledge of impending attacks by terrorists and knowledge of the perpetrators themselves.
I would like to quote a former CSIS officer involved in the Air-India probe. His words appeared in The Asian Pacific Post :
First of all I have to say that the verdict did not come as a surprise. The botched investigation is a disgrace. I believe that its failure was caused by incompetence and stupidity at the highest levels of government, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service).
I also feel ashamed that I was part of it.
Most of all, I feel sick at heart for the relatives of the murder victims. I would like to apologize to every single one of them. That's how I feel.
His grief is understandable. Let us consider that there was surveillance of the suspects as late as just a few days prior to the tragedy. There were warnings to authorities from within and outside Canada. The screening system repeatedly did not function. Unaccompanied baggage carrying the bombs was allowed to be transported. There was an alleged mole, or moles, in our security system. The mastermind suspect of the terrorist plot was allowed to leave Canada and was then mysteriously murdered in India. Many other suspects have been killed in Canada. There was a breakdown in communication and cooperation between CSIS, the RCMP and perhaps the FBI.
After charges against Parmar were dropped in 1985, the next embarrassment for the investigation came with the news that CSIS had destroyed tapes of telephone calls made by people suspected of involvement in the Air-India case. In 2000 a former CSIS officer told The Globe and Mail that he had destroyed the 150 hours of tapes and written notes rather than hand them over to the Mounties because he feared the identities of informants would be revealed.
The agent, whose identity has not been revealed, told The Globe and Mail that he destroyed taped interviews with two people who had been questioned during the investigation. The agents said the two men wanted to remain anonymous--obviously--and he feared their request would not be honoured if the tapes were handed over to the police.
The agent said the investigation had been so badly bungled that there was a near mutiny by investigators handling the probe. He said it led to a fierce turf war between the Canadian intelligence agency and the Mounted Police. According to the RCMP documents, CSIS also ordered the destruction of wiretaps to conceal the fact that one of its agents had infiltrated a circle of Sikh extremists planning the attack. He was ordered to pull out three days before Air-India flight 182 blew up.
In his verdict, Justice Josephson described destruction of evidence as “unacceptable negligence”. Even a transcript was never taken of those tapes.
If one is dealing with the worst mass murder in Canadian history, why would one not preserve every last piece of evidence the authorities were able to uncover or gather in the investigation? Not only did they erase tapes, but members of CSIS broke the law by allegedly swearing false affidavits in order to convince the judge to issue warrants to wiretap telephone conversations. Then they deliberately misled the court into issuing warrants.
American authorities were able to uncover a plot to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, the prime minister of India at that time. CSIS was tapping the phones and monitoring the activities of Sikh extremists in Canada. In the weeks preceding the Air-India disaster, CSIS agents actually saw the two prime suspects detonating a bomb in the woods outside Duncan, B.C.
Can we believe this? Notwithstanding that information and in spite of the fact that they were actually listening in on telephone conversations, they discontinued the surveillance on those two individuals. Why did they do that? Did they assume that these people were making bombs to be used in acts of terrorism outside Canada? Why did they not take action on the wiretap evidence they had? These interceptions could very well have led the police to foil or prevent this act of terrorism. There are many very disturbing unanswered questions in this tragedy.
The largest terrorist disaster in Canadian history has become an embarrassment for the government and affects our international reputation. The Air-India bombing tragedy was an act of international terrorism. There is evidence to suggest that there was pressure by foreign governments on the Canadian government not to hold a royal commission of inquiry because of the international implications of what happened.
Today Sikhs are celebrating Vaisakhi on Parliament Hill at 6 p.m. in Room 200, West Block. In fact, all MPs, senators and staff are invited. Sikhs are especially eager to get to the bottom of what happened during the Air-India investigation. Since the 1985 bombing, a black cloud has been hanging over the entire Indo Canadian community, but particularly over Sikhs, both in Canada and abroad. We need to bring closure to this case so that the cloud may finally be lifted and we all can move on. Not only will this bring peace of mind, but it will also help restore a Sikh image harmed by the bombing.
Sikhs have prospered in this country, helping to strengthen Canada's social, economic, political and cultural fabric. We have the highest per capita income, education and land holdings among ethnic communities in North America, according to a U.S. congressional report. Professionally, Sikhs hold numerous prestigious positions. That is the image that should come to mind when people think of Sikhs. We need a public inquiry so the black cloud can be lifted forever.
By not calling an inquiry into this affair, the Liberals are breaking yet another promise. Earlier Liberal MPs John Nunziata, John Turner, Sergio Marchi and Brian Tobin, a long list, made demands for a public inquiry. Former Solicitor General Herb Gray said a royal commission into the 1985 Air-India bombing was still a possibility after the investigation finished.
The Liberal MP for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, who also wrote the book Betrayal: The Spy Canada Abandoned about the links between a Canadian spy and an Indian plot for a second terrorist bombing, said last week that the government should hold a public inquiry, but that it should be “narrowly focused”, should not be a “lawyer's feast” and must be done in two or three months.
Last week Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer broke away from the party to urge the government to “do the right thing” and hold a public inquiry into the handling of the Air-India investigation. She said, “the families have suffered for 20 years without justice”.
Herb Dhaliwal, former Liberal MP and senior minister from B.C. under Jean Chrétien, said that the public safety minister's offer to meet with the victims' families to explain how police and intelligence procedures had changed since the bombing was “absolutely not enough”. He joined in the demand for a full public inquiry into the Air-India disaster, charging that it would be a betrayal of years of Liberal promises if the government rebuffed such demands. This is a former Liberal member who said that.
The Liberals will be breaking a promise that dates back to the late 1980s if they fail to call an inquiry. The Liberals had promised repeatedly to hold an inquiry going back to the time when they were in opposition. They should not sidestep that promise now. That is what the member said.
Jean Chrétien campaigned in 1993 to call a public inquiry but broke his promise. There has been no parliamentary inquiry whatsoever into this terrorist act. The worst Canadian terrorist activity did not prompt the government to have anti-terrorist legislation. It was 9/11 that prompted it to introduce anti-terrorism legislation, not the worst disaster in Canadian history.
As a member of Parliament in 1998, I presented a motion for production of papers, P-11, to produce documents related to the bombing. Instead of waiting for 45 days, according to the standing orders of the House, I had to wait for two years. I had to reintroduce my motion. Rather than producing the documents, the government House leader forced me to withdraw my motion in 2000.
For years there have been calls for a public inquiry into the Air-India investigation. Those calls only intensified last month with the not guilty verdict. On the very day of the verdict the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Deputy Prime Minister issued a resounding “no” to those calls. She instead promised to personally meet with the victims of the families to explain why this could never happen again.
The Deputy Prime Minister speaks in patronizing tones in dismissing the calls for an inquiry. She wants to take victims' families through all that has changed in the last 20 years. What we want is to be taken through an explanation of how the government could botch its case, allowing for only a single conviction after 20 years, with a mere five year sentence. What these families want is justice. What Canadians want is justice.
Have things improved since then? On January 11 of this year lawyers for alleged terrorist Adil Charkaoui moved to have the case against their client dropped after CSIS destroyed notes from two interviews with him. Federal Court Justice Simon Noel admonished the spy agency for destroying the notes and ended up releasing the suspected al-Qaeda terrorist on $50,000 bail.
The destruction of wire-tap evidence even received the wrath of a U.S. judge during the trial of attempted millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam. U.S. district court judge John Coughenour slammed CSIS and the Canadian government during Ressam's trial stating, “I'm disturbed that the tape recordings don't exist any more. Apparently, that's the Canadian way of doing things”.
In conclusion, the Deputy Prime Minister is cool to the idea of a public inquiry saying that she would have to be convinced that an inquiry could shed new light on the affair. After 20 years and $130 million, Canadians deserve more than a shrug of the shoulders and a claim things have changed.
There is no justice in what the Liberals are offering. A public inquiry is needed to answer the serious questions raised about the investigation into the Air-India bombing.
We must have a final and clear answer to the issues surrounding this tragedy. While a public inquiry may not answer questions about guilt or provide the necessary evidence to ultimately pursue a successful prosecution, it would provide answers as to what went wrong in the investigation process. It would go--