Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support the official opposition motion calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Air-India disaster of June 23, 1985. Although the disaster occurred over 20 years ago, Canadians still feel the profound horror that this crime created as the single worst terrorist act to affect Canadian citizens in the history of our nation. This terrorist act was not only a crime against those who died in the aircraft, nor only against their families, or even the entire East Indian communities in Canada. The scope of this crime reached every home in Canada.
Terrorism by its nature is a coercive method of intimidation that leaves no citizen free of its force. Therefore, we must not see this terrorist act as a crime in isolation from the rest of society. This is not a crime that simply happened against a specific ethnic community or a group of families.
After the accused in this case were acquitted, the Leader of the Opposition called on the government of British Columbia to closely examine the ruling to determine whether there were avenues for appeal. Failing an appeal, the serious questions that have been raised about the investigation into the bombing deserve to be answered. The Conservative Party believes that the best mechanism to do this would be through an inquiry.
On June 22, 1985 Air-India flight 182 exploded off the coast of Ireland killing 329 people. The majority of the victims were Canadians. Less than an hour earlier, another bomb had exploded at Tokyo's Narita airport killing two baggage handlers. For the next 15 years the Air-India investigation languished, with the exception of the 1991 conviction of Mr. Reyat in the Narita bombing case. Police presented evidence linking components of the bomb remains found in Tokyo with items that Reyat had purchased in the preceding weeks, among them a Sanyo stereo tuner that police believe housed the Narita bomb. Mr. Reyat served 10 years for manslaughter in the deaths of the two baggage handlers at the Tokyo airport.
In October 2000, charges were laid against two individuals. They were charged with murder, attempted murder and conspiracy. On June 4, 2001 the British government agreed to allow Canadian authorities to charge Mr. Reyat in connection with the bombing. As a British citizen already extradited to Canada for his trial on the Narita charges, Britain had to agree before these further charges could go ahead.
After the British courts approved the waiver of extradition rights, the RCMP formally arrested Mr. Reyat on seven new charges, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy in the Air-India bombing and the explosion at Tokyo's Narita airport.
On February 10, 2003 in a dramatic turn of events, Reyat changed his story. He pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and a charge of aiding in the construction of a bomb. All other charges against him, including the murder of 329 people, were stayed and he was sentenced to five years in jail for his role.
On April 28, 2003 the trials of Mr. Malik and Mr. Bagri began. The testimony, presentation of evidence and arguments lasted until December 3, 2004, just over 19 months.
Why is an inquiry necessary? There have been allegations that the RCMP and CSIS bungled the investigation. It is very important to remember that these are national police forces. Even though the British Columbia government and the attorney general's department there prosecuted, these are national police forces. There were allegations that somehow the RCMP and CSIS had bungled the investigation. There were also allegations centred around the government's lack of action in the face of apparent knowledge of impending attacks by Sikh extremists and knowledge of the perpetrators themselves.
The investigation and the prosecution of the accused have been the longest, most complicated and most expensive in Canadian history. It is estimated that the costs are somewhere in the neighbourhood of $130 million.
The legal process has been agonizingly slow for relatives of the victims. The trial faced one setback after another.
The RCMP's key suspect, a Mr. Parmar, died in 1992 under suspicious circumstances, the result of an alleged gun battle with the Indian police. Problems with defence counsel forced the trial to be postponed twice. Some witnesses are in the police protection program, unable to live in their cultural communities. Reporters covering the story at trial were harassed and had death threats issued against them.
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. The public safety minister has said that she would have to be convinced that there is anything to be gained from a public inquiry, although she at least acknowledged that she would have to review the judgment and speak to the attorney general of British Columbia before commenting further.
The minister also did offer to meet with family members of the Air-India bombing victims to explain how investigative and intelligence gathering operations have improved since the bombing.
There is a fundamental flaw with that approach. There is somehow the idea that the victims and the families are the only ones involved. That is simply a poor way to proceed. It misinterprets the fundamental nature of an act of terrorism against a nation itself. It may well have been that the victims were mainly East Indian, but that is like suggesting that after 9/11 the American attorney general would only meet with the families of those individuals who were actually in the buildings that were hit by the airplanes. That is simply not a satisfactory resolution. This is a national issue. It is not one that is a private matter between a minister and the families. I do not believe that the families would be satisfied with simply having a visit with the minister.
The minister did offer to meet with the families, but clearly that is not an appropriate way of dealing with a matter that affects not only the families, but the nation as a whole. These meetings would not be in public and the scope of terrorism is not limited to these families. All Canadians deserve to know what happened and what went wrong in this investigation. As well, the scope of the inquiry would be much broader than simply the criminal investigation and the evidence presented at trial.
As we know, at a criminal trial the evidence is tailored to prove the guilt or innocence of a particular accused. There is all kinds of evidence that simply is not relevant. There are a number of constitutional and evidentiary reasons why that evidence could not be brought forward in the actual trial.
The public inquiry could consider some of the evidence that was already provided. We do not necessarily have to re-hear from all of those witnesses, but some independent fact finder looking at this issue, looking at the public inquiry, should take a look at the evidence given at the criminal trial, plus the much broader scope that individual would have in having a public inquiry.
Furthermore, with an inquiry we simply do not look at the evidence related to the substantive act of terrorism as is the case here. What the inquiry could also do is take a look at the investigation itself to determine the shortcomings. The government owes it to the RCMP and owes it to CSIS to bring forward what their involvement was and whether or not they did everything possible in the circumstances.
No one is suggesting that this was an easy case to either investigate or prosecute. Indeed, the judge himself would have had many difficult decisions to make during the course of the criminal trial.
However the public inquiry could look at the investigation and at least satisfy Canadians that the investigators and the relevant government agencies, whether provincial or federal, did what was prudent and necessary in the circumstances. If they did not do what was prudent and necessary, the inquiry could make recommendations to ensure that those problems have been addressed or should be addressed. If there were problems in the investigation, I would hope that over the last 20 years CSIS or the RCMP have improved their procedures, which is what Canadians need to know in the aftermath of the criminal trial.
In addition to the opposition parties, the Canadian public and the victims' families, there are many others who support an inquiry into this matter. Even the health minister, who was the former British Columbia attorney general, did not rule out an inquiry. Specifically, he said, “Let's await the outcome of any appeal or appeals. Once that is exhausted if it would serve a useful purpose we'll certainly take a look at it”.
That is not necessarily encouraging in terms of him being onside of a public inquiry but, unlike the public safety minister, he has not closed the door to that. He is no doubt sensitive to the fact that he comes from the community where many of those families and others were affected by the tragedy.
On CTVs Question Period on March 20, 2005, he said, “Well I want you to know that I don't think anyone has ruled out an inquiry”.
The health minister is not the only one from the government benches saying this. Some have gone further and have offered their full support for an inquiry. The Liberal MP for Edmonton--Mill Woods--Beaumont, who wrote the book Betrayal: The Spy Canada Abandoned about the links between a Canadian spy and an Indian plot for a second terrorist bombing, told the Hill Times last week that the government should hold a public inquiry.
Senator Jaffer, in a CP wire story from March 23, 2005, said that “her government should do the right thing and launch a public inquiry so that all Canadians can know how and why justice failed to convict those responsible after so long”.
I am suggesting that her test here is a little wrong because it is not to say why justice failed to convict any specific individuals. I think the purpose of the public inquiry is to put the facts on the table.
A former Liberal cabinet minister, Herb Dhaliwal, who sat in the House with us, has spoken out the most strongly by saying that it would be “a betrayal of years old Liberal promises if the government refused to hold an inquiry”. He further said that “the public safety minister's offer to meet with victims' families to explain how police intelligence procedures have changed since the bombing is absolutely not enough”. This was quoted in the Globe and Mail in March 2005.
Clearly it is not enough to explain this to the families. Canadians have a right to know whether there were failings in the police investigation and whether they have been addressed, to what extent they have been addressed and to what extent they have not been addressed.
Although the public safety minister has all but closed the door to an inquiry, Mr. Dhaliwal said, correctly, that the Liberals will be breaking a promise that dates back to the 1980s if they fail to call one.
It might be said that Liberals have broken promises before but whether that is correct I think the record is clear. They made a specific promise to call the inquiry and they are under a moral obligation to to do that.