House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.


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3:05 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

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.

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3:20 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

In 1993 they campaigned on it.

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3:20 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Yes indeed, as my colleague from Newton—North Delta, one of the prime movers of the motion, says, the Liberals campaigned on that in 1993. I want to thank him for the incredible work he has done on behalf of his constituents who are directly involved in this. However he would not suggest that this is a private matter between the families and the Minister of Public Safety. I think he would be one of the first to stand and say that a public inquiry is in the national interest.

I want to thank that member for the leadership he has shown in that respect. The people, not just his particular riding but in Surrey generally, should thank him for the leadership he has shown.

A former leader, John Turner, led calls in the House of Commons in 1988 for a royal commission to look into the disaster.

In 1994, the solicitor general at the time, Herb Gray, said, “I would like to keep the idea of a royal commission under consideration”. He was responding to a Toronto Liberal MP, John Nunziata, who was urging a public inquiry.

Now Mr. Gray was known as the “grey fog”. That would be about the closest that man ever came to making a commitment in this House. I think it should be given some weight that he actually said he would like to keep the idea of a royal commission under consideration. That is as firm a commitment as one would ever get from that hon. member and I think the Liberals should take that under consideration.

There are so many compelling reasons to commence a public inquiry into the Air-India disaster and absolutely no reasons to refuse one.

Three hundred and twenty-nine people lost their lives when a plane flying from Vancouver was bombed by terrorists. The acquittal by the British Columbia judge brought no closure to the victims' families and no closure to that issue insofar as the opposition parties are concerned, the Conservative Party specifically, and the member for Newton—North Delta.

I want to stand with the member for Newton—North Delta and say that the families of the victims and Canadians need answers on the investigation of the crime and on the crime itself. Although the MPs on the other side of the House called for an inquiry when they were in opposition, they now refuse to be accountable to Canadians on this matter.

I want to encourage all members on the other side to defend the victims of this terrorist act, to defend the integrity of the justice system in Canada and to support the motion to ensure that justice is finally done.

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3:25 p.m.


Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank our justice critic, the member of Parliament for Provencher and former attorney general of Manitoba, for his concern with the Air-India disaster. He is on record for looking for ways to seek justice in this largest terrorist attack in Canadian history.

Given the fact that this was Canada's largest terrorist attack with 329 Canadians killed, 80 of them children, and given the fact that we have had other inquiries, such as the Somali inquiry, the Krever commission, the Gomery commission at the present time, and others, does it diminish the size of the tragedy by saying that we will have Gomery do an inquiry into missing dollars but the largest terrorist attack is not worthy of an inquiry? We have had a 20 year time lapse, from June 23, 1985 to 2005. There has been ample time.

As he already mentioned in his speech, the former prime minister called on the former government, the Conservative government, to set up a public inquiry or a judicial inquiry but now that the Liberals are in power they are refusing to do it.

Does it diminish the size of the tragedy when they refuse to do these judicial inquiries? Does the member know why they would say no?

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3:25 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, this tragedy not only affects the families in a deeply painful way but the families need closure on this issue. I think in these circumstances some type of public inquiry needs to take place. It would show respect for the victims of terrorism. It also would send out a much broader message, which is that Canada will not simply roll over when it is the victim of a terrorist attack, that it will expend as much time and energy as necessary to get at the facts and to the actual problem.

I believe the government should show that dedication, not just to ensure the families receive closure but to ensure the integrity of the Canadian justice system and, indeed, Canada's reputation as a front line fighter against terrorism in the world. Terrorists need know that things will not be pushed under the carpet simply because a criminal trial has ended. If there is something to be learned, then let us learn it from the public inquiry.

The minister should be open to this. She should not simply be meeting with the families. She should show that Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with its allies in the fight against terrorism.

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3:25 p.m.


Paul Devillers Liberal Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the Minister for Western Economic Diversification.

I am honoured to take part in the debate on the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Newton—North Delta.

The Air-India tragedy was the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history. In 1985 all Canadians grieved alongside the families and friends of the Air-India victims. Today we share the pain and frustration of this unresolved tragedy. However, like many of my colleagues before me, I must speak against the motion that calls for a judicial inquiry at this time.

Notwithstanding the recent court decision, it is important to look at some of the context in which the disaster occurred, specifically as it relates to actions of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS. I would like to devote most of my time to dealing with the evolution of CSIS.

In 1989 the Royal Commission on Security, the MacKenzie Commission, proposed the creation of a civil security intelligence service for Canada. That call was repeated later in 1981 by the MacDonald Commission. The government responded in 1981 by announcing that the security service would be separated from the RCMP and established a civilian security intelligence agency.

The design of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act was the sum of the best efforts of the government and Parliament to find points of consensus from an abundance of views.

A number of options confronted lawmakers of the day. The need for collective security to ensure the safety of the state and its institutions from threats of espionage and terrorism while protecting individual rights to privacy, to dissent, to political activity and to hold and express unpopular and radical opinions was perhaps the most important balance that had to be struck by the act.

In 1984 we lived in a different global security environment than today. Back then when the United States and the Soviet Union were pitted against each other in a nuclear arms race, the majority of the operational resources of the service, approximately 80%, were dedicated to threats from espionage, clandestine foreign interference and subversion. At that time, CSIS was comprised of 1,968 employees and had an operating budget of approximately $115 million. At the time of the Air-India tragedy in 1985, CSIS was in the midst of creating itself. It was a time of considerable transition.

The extensive accountability regime created for the service involved more direct control by the minister, who was accountable to Parliament, and also included two review bodies, the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the inspector general for CSIS, both of which have access to all CSIS employees and all documents except cabinet confidences. There is probably no intelligence organization in the world with such an extensive regime. Fully two-thirds of the CSIS Act deals with accountability and review.

In 1991-92 the Security Intelligence Review Committee, SIRC, reviewed the Air-India issue, scrutinized thousands of CSIS files, conducted interviews of numerous current and former members of the service as well as meeting with representatives of the families of the victims and officials regarding the disaster and its investigation.

In August 1992 SIRC produced a 130 page report. SIRC's review focused on what information CSIS possessed on any threats of terrorism or terrorist action against Air-India and whether it fulfilled its mandate in investigating such threats and advising the appropriate authorities.

SIRC also sought to learn whether CSIS provided all the information in its possession to appropriate law enforcement agencies investigating Air-India. SIRC reviewed whether CSIS complied with all policies related to collection and retention or erasure of audio tapes.

SIRC found that CSIS was investigating potential threats posed by Sikh extremists in accordance with its mandate and in a manner consistent with the then perceived level of threat. Based on its review of the information that CSIS possessed, SIRC determined that the service was not in a position to predict that the Air-India flight was to be the target of a terrorist bomb. SIRC also concluded that in the period following the disaster, all information in the possession of CSIS that was relevant to the investigation was provided to the RCMP.

However, SIRC had criticisms. It noted that inadequate policies accounted for delays in the provision of the information to the RCMP. SIRC also noted that the policies of CSIS on collection, retention and erasure of surveillance audiotapes were deficient and that informal procedures developed to compensate for these problems were not adequate. This is an issue that has been very controversial.

It must be remembered that CSIS is not mandated to collect for evidentiary purposes. Rather collects information on threats to the security of Canada so as to forewarn government. Additionally, the CSIS Act constrains the service to the collection of information that is strictly necessary for the investigation of a threat to Canada's national security.

Most important, SIRC found that it was unlikely that those prevailing retention practices resulted in the loss of important information relevant to the disaster or the investigation.

Much has changed in the world and within CSIS over the past 20 years. When CSIS was first created, SIRC found fault with some of what was done. It recognized, however, “CSIS was naturally under pressure to keep important operations going, and this kept fundamental reform low on the priority list”. Regardless, it took more than three years for this situation to change significantly, causing the committee's 1991-92 report to conclude that CSIS was now virtually a new organization and that “the tone and content of reports by intelligence officers on targets' files have all changed significantly for the better”.

Twenty years of constant review activity have prompted adjustments to the service's management procedures. At the same time, the service moved ahead in forging relationships with its domestic partners with the RCMP being among the most important. The relationship between the two organizations is a close one.

In its 2002-03 report, SIRC noted that the service and the RCMP had shown the capacity to “assist each other effectively while working within their respective mandates”. Not only did CSIS evolve and mature in terms of its centralized organizational and management structure, it also had to adapt to the quickly changing threat environment.

In 1986 CSIS saw a budget enhancement of nearly 60% toward the service's counterterrorist program. In 1992, at the end of the cold war, the service examined the changing threats to Canada's national security to assess how the service should restructure to meet security intelligence needs.

Since then, world events have clearly demonstrated the ongoing threats from terrorists. They have also led to an increased budget for CSIS and a reorganization of the service's operational structure. As SIRC again noted in one of its recent annual reports, CSIS was still evolving.

Today, CSIS has 2,350 employees and a budget of around $292 million. Its employees are more representative of the Canadian population than at any time since its creation in 1984. Some 10% of its employees are members of visible minority groups of various ethnic origins, and one-third of the intelligence officers speak a foreign language in addition to one or both of the official languages.

They are highly educated, bilingual and more than one-third of the service's intelligence officers speak at least one foreign language. The service's information management technology is the envy of the security intelligence organizations in other jurisdictions.

As well, in 2005 CSIS is working more closely than ever with its domestic partners and foreign allies, maintaining cooperative relationships with agencies in 140 countries. The newly created Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, housed within CSIS and headed by a senior member of the RCMP, is another example of the increased domestic cooperation.

Not only is CSIS working more closely with the domestic and international partners through the national security policy, it is increasingly engaged with Canadians, for example, through the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, and will again have the opportunity to do so with the National Security Advisory Council.

For those reasons, the changes that we have seen within CSIS and the reports that have already come forward, I have to agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that we need to address the issue of dealing with the families and their questions, but certainly not at this point have a public inquiry.

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April 7th, 2005 / 3:35 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, we are almost half way through the debate on this important issue and I have not seen even a little integrity from the government benches to at least admit that there were grave errors in the investigation done by the different federal institutions involved, CSIS and the RCMP. So far the government has not admitted there were errors.

Second, the Deputy Prime Minister spoke earlier. She has shown an interest in meeting with the families, even though she has given very short notice. This makes it practically impossible to meet with the families of the victims. I talked with them earlier when they were here.

The minister also seems very keen on holding the 20th anniversary memorial, rather than keeping the Liberal Party promise on which it campaigned. Many Liberal members have stated that there should be a public inquiry and the opposition members are demanding one.

Rather than looking for an opportunity to make speeches and have photo ops, why not do the right thing and call the public inquiry for which we have asked. Then all the facts could be known. We would know who was negligent, how that negligence could be prevented in the future and how to keep such tragedies from happening again.

A public inquiry might solve the problem to the extent that it will come up with some solutions and a better approach afterwards, which will be useful to secure Canada's integrity at the borders for the future when terrorist threats may be more serious as we move along in this century.

What do the Liberals have to hide? Why are they dithering and putting roadblocks in making these appointments, shedding crocodile tears and not doing the right thing? Why not do the right thing, call a public inquiry and put an end to all the speculation and rumours that are ongoing.

I am concerned and so are the families of the victims about what the government has to hide. Could the member shed some light on this?

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3:40 p.m.


Paul Devillers Liberal Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the first question about errors or fault, it is fairly clear that there were some things done in the course of the investigation that were not things of which either the RCMP or CSIS are necessarily proud. Those things are already in the public domain. They have been addressed through various reports, such as the SIRC report and the various trials. None of these events could have prevented the act of terrorism that took so many lives. It is a question of investigative procedures that have changed over time.

As far as hiding anything, I cannot fathom how the hon. member can seriously think there is something being hidden. There are some unanswered questions. The identity of the perpetrators has never been proven in a court of law, but there have been trials.

The recent trial in British Columbia was the longest trial in Canadian history, costing millions of dollars. Much of the information is already in the public domain. That is why I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister when she says “show us what could be gained after 20 years of rehashing the same information”. Then perhaps a public inquiry or further procedures could be taken.

At this point we do not see the necessity to rehash some of the information that is already in the public domain. That is why the Deputy Prime Minister will be meeting with the families, to try to get further information and see if there is any justification for an inquiry.

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3:40 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was evidence before the trial judge in the criminal case and findings that he made expressing concerns about the conduct of CSIS, the quality of the work that was done and the lack of cooperation between CSIS and the RCMP.

Does the member not believe that this should be explored as one of a number of things by a public inquiry?

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3:45 p.m.


Paul Devillers Liberal Simcoe North, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, there are findings. The point of a public inquiry is to get to the bottom of the information. There have been findings. Sometimes I get the impression that what the opposition is looking for is a public flogging of the RCMP or of CSIS. I do not see where that benefits Canadian security or Canadians. It is a situation where we would need to see that there could be more information revealed from a public inquiry.

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3:45 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.


Stephen Owen LiberalMinister of Western Economic Diversification and Minister of State (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for his very comprehensive rendering of the circumstances since the tragic terrorist incident of 1985. All members of this House of course share the grief of the families of the victims of that tragedy.

What we have to do going forward is ensure that we have all the available information and the proper process for proceeding to fill in any gaps that continue to exist in that information, but we do have a great deal. My hon. colleague has set out quite a record of how things have changed with respect to investigative procedures and relationships between the RCMP and CSIS since 1985, when of course CSIS was only one year old.

Frankly, as a result of the circumstances in the late 1970s and from the report of Mr. Justice McDonald, it is quite obvious that there were less than perfect relationships between CSIS and the RCMP in those early days.

That being the case, however, this debate is about whether there should be a public inquiry. I know that members opposite are fully aware that the appeal period is 30 days from the rendering of the judgment of Mr. Justice Josephson, which was handed down on March 17 of this year. Therefore, without that appeal period having expired, and before the decision of the British Columbia attorney general, who has responsibility for deciding whether there should be a Crown appeal on this, I think it would be irresponsible for this government to come out and institute a public inquiry before knowing that decision. First of all, it is premature, but it may not be appropriate.

It also may be appropriate. The Deputy Prime Minister has not ruled out, nor has the government, the possibility of a public inquiry into the circumstances around the investigation into this tragedy. We are all far too aware of the extent of this tragedy, but it is really about the investigative procedures and the whys in this most lengthy criminal trial, which was certainly one of the most, if not the most, complex criminal trials in Canadian history, with the acquittal of Bagri and Malik.

I am sure that hon. members opposite who are encouraging the government on a commission of inquiry into this matter have carefully read the reasons of Mr. Justice Josephson. I certainly hope they have, because there is a great deal of information about the inadequacies of the investigation, which led in many cases to the inadmissibility of evidence. Members should be carefully considering this when they suggest perhaps the broadest possible inquiry. Some inquiry may well be appropriate, but it is important that we take the proper sequence of events. The first is to wait upon the decision of the attorney general of British Columbia as to whether this criminal matter will be appealed.

Second, it is extremely important, when we are taking into full account the sensitivities of the families of the victims and the family victims of this horrible tragedy, to make sure we understand exactly what their concerns are so that they can be most efficiently, expeditiously and sensitively dealt with. A public inquiry may well be the way to deal with that. But I think as any members of this House who have had any experience either taking part in or observing public inquiries across this country will have to know, it is extremely important to have very precise terms of reference, very precise time limits and control over administrative matters of public inquiries, which are the responsibility of the commissioning government to ensure, so that we do not just have wide-ranging, undisciplined inquiries without very focused terms of reference.

If there is to be a commission of inquiry in the future, and perhaps in the near future, then it should be done with a very focused mandate that is informed by the processes over the next very short period of time, as the Deputy Prime Minister has suggested. One of those, of course, is a meeting as soon as possible with the families, certainly in the largest Sikh community where most of the victims came from, in Toronto, and also in the very large Sikh community in Vancouver, where all accepted evidence suggests the bombs were actually constructed and placed upon planes.

Let us find out what is most on the minds of those families. I think with members opposite suggesting that this is for the benefit of the victims this is only the most respectful way to find out in short order what is of most concern to them.

When we find that out and put against all the previous investigations and in fact this very lengthy trial what we already know, let us therefore construct an inquiry or an investigation that will answer in the most expeditious, sensitive and appropriate way possible. It has been suggested that an independent investigator, acting with agility and sensitivity and an independent mandate, may be of great assistance once the key issues are identified in really coming to grips with what would be most appropriate.

That person would or could make recommendations publicly to the government in short order, which could perhaps set out terms of reference for a public inquiry. That is not being rejected as a concept. That might be a more efficient way of going forward rather than just immediately setting up a wide-ranging commission of inquiry that may go on for a long period of time at great expense without properly dealing with the issues of most concern.

Also, what is critically important is what my colleague mentioned previously, but let me put a little more emphasis on it. This tragedy, which was the greatest act of terrorism in Canadian history and until that time had the greatest number of fatalities in an act of air terrorism in history anywhere, was in 1985. Many things have changed. Not only have the investigative procedures and the relationship between CSIS and the RCMP changed, but also the world has changed as a result of September 11, 2001.

In reaction to that, extraordinary actions have been taken by the Government of Canada and its investigative, security and police services to increase the security of Canadians, particularly with respect to air travel. I will mention very specifically the $1 billion that is being invested in explosives detection systems to screen checked baggage. In the case of the Air-India disaster and the Narita killings, it was checked baggage.

It is also important to understand that as a result of the anti-terrorism legislation brought in by this government in 2001 following the September terrorist tragedy, two Sikh terrorist organizations, Babbar Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa International, have been listed as terrorist organizations. That is an extremely important step forward in terms of this specific threat, particularly to members of the Sikh community in Canada. Sikh Canadians have been killed. Members of the Sikh community may well continue to be threatened.

Let me mention as well that as a result of that anti-terrorist legislation, which came under a lot of discussion in committee and debate in the House, the issue of investigative hearings came up. It was felt that perhaps that was too heavy-handed, that it was going too far and intruding on civil liberties.

Let me say that the investigative hearing process has been used but once and that was to provide in camera anonymity and protection for a witness in the Air-India trial who was able to be brought forward by subpoena. That gave her added protection so that she was not seen to be voluntarily putting herself into danger by bringing evidence. She was able to give her evidence in camera. That anonymity protected her. That is a very good example of why that investigative hearing is an extremely important tool as we reconsider, as was set out in the original policy, the investigative hearing measures of the security act.

A lot has been done and, as we have heard from my colleague, there may be things still to be uncovered. There are issues that the families will want dealt with specifically. We will determine those with the commissioner of the RCMP and the head of CSIS, with the Deputy Prime Minister. We will look to perhaps an investigative procedure to consider whether a public inquiry is necessary, and if it is necessary, we will make sure that there is a very focused and sensitive but comprehensive terms of reference to deal with the issues that remain--

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3:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Newton--North Delta.

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3:55 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the spirit in which the member has spoken, but there are a few comments I would like to make with reference to what he has stated.

The anti-terrorism act that the government passed in 2001 was done after the incidents in the U.S., after 9/11, but not after the worst terrorist disaster in Canadian history.

He also talked about banning two terrorist organizations, but there are still terrorist organizations and fronts for terrorist organizations in Canada, according to CSIS. They are still here. They have not been banned.

The government has done only band-aid solutions. It is only window dressing to address some particular organizations. There are still organizations that have been declared terrorist organizations by the United States but not by Canada, as the member from Okanagan—Coquihalla has mentioned a few times in the House. Also, this was done 16 years after this tragedy actually occurred. As well, the Prime Minister and many members on the Liberal side have attended fundraising dinners for terrorist organizations as late as only two to three years ago.

The government's approach is not a holistic approach. It is only a band-aid solution and it is not working.

My particular comment for the member from B.C. is this. I have an article here from Straight Talk of September 30, 2004. In it, the Hon. Geoff Plant from British Columbia states:

--the minister of justice [then Martin Cauchon] threatened to cut off $6.5 million in support funding for the Air India case if we [British Columbia] maintained our position with respect to funding immigration-and-refugee legal aid.

Why would the government shamefully tie Air-India investigation funding or the Air-India investigation to something completely different?

I would like to ask the member, if he has the audacity, to state how the government dared to use the Air-India bombing investigation funding as leverage to have the British Columbia government cave in to its demand, which was tied into the immigration and refugee legal aid funding.

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3:55 p.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly was not party to any conversation that might be quoted in whatever this publication is. I have not heard of Straight Talk , but it certainly sounds like a very strange publication and situation.

I can assure the House that it simply would not happen for this government to tie up funding for an Air-India prosecution, which I must say has been one of the longest trials in Canadian history, if not the longest, and certainly the most expensive.

Notwithstanding that the administration of justice and criminal justice are the responsibility of the provinces and therefore their financial responsibility to fund, this government has contributed over $23 million to that prosecution. That was not out of any obligation. It was out of a concern that every resource be available to ensure that justice was achieved in this case to the greatest extent possible.

In terms of funding, this government has gone out of its way and beyond its responsibilities in terms of the administration of justice to ensure that the resources were available, and not only resources for the administration of the criminal trial itself, but it also has taken 100% responsibility for paying for victim services, for victims to attend the trial and to receive other services related to this tragedy. That of course is only the beginning of what the Deputy Prime Minister is suggesting will be done with and on behalf of the victims of the Air-India tragedy.

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4 p.m.


Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Alberni.

I rise today in support of the Conservative sponsored motion calling on the government for an independent judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Air-India bombing on June 23, 1985. I do so in memory of the 329 victims of the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, upon learning of the verdict, dismissed having an inquiry, concluding that there are questions that will just never be answered. These are questions such as why CSIS erased tapes containing vital information; questions like what role, if any, certain Indian diplomats who were apparently Indian intelligence agents in Canada played before the Air-India bombing; questions like why it has taken 20 years for a verdict of not guilty to be handed out.

I stood in the House in June 2003 and asked the then solicitor general if he could put an end to the 10-year wait for justice to be served and immediately initiate a royal commission of inquiry. I prefaced my question by reminding the solicitor general that in 1993 the then leader of the official opposition, Jean Chrétien, promised that the Liberals would “continue to press the government to create a royal commission to look into the Air-India disaster”. Another promise made, another promise broken, even though it was the last government.

I reminded the solicitor general that 10 years had elapsed since that promise had been made and Mr. Chrétien's Liberal government had been in power and for as long as he had been in there, that promise remained still to be fulfilled. Surprise, surprise, still the promise has not been kept.

The solicitor general on that day responded to my question by saying “even if we want to do a public inquiry, it would be inappropriate while the court case is going on”. Then he went on to say, “However, I would refer the hon. member to the annual report of the Security Intelligence Review Committee of 1991-92 which reviewed it extensively”. I countered in that debate by saying, “of the 329 people killed on Air-India flight 182, 280 were Canadians, 80 of whom were children, yet both the previous administration and the government refused to initiate a commission of inquiry”. I said, “Recent allegations only serve to remind us that Canadians and the rest of the world deserve to know exactly what transpired on or before the June 23, 1985 disaster. Will the solicitor general immediately initiate that commission of inquiry?”

My question once again met with resistance from the solicitor general who asserted that everything CSIS did in respect of Air-India “was done properly” as concluded by SIRC. The solicitor general's assertion and SIRC's findings were, however, vehemently contradicted by statements of the assistant commissioner of the Air-India task force, RCMP officer Gary Bass.

While SIRC concluded that CSIS's erasing of the wiretaps did not result in a loss of evidence, RCMP officer Bass contended just the opposite. The assistant commissioner of the Air-India task force stated, “The gross inaccuracy of the SIRC review report will be immediately evidenced to anyone who reads it”. Mr. Bass also contradicted the conclusion of the SIRC report that CSIS's actions did not lead to the loss of any evidence.

I would like to quote from a June 10, 2003 Globe and Mail article regarding the assistant commissioner's statement, which I referenced when I questioned the solicitor general on that occasion:

“If, in fact, someone in the RCMP made the statement there were no intercepts of evidentiary value, they were clearly wrong,” he said.

He challenged SIRC on the credibility of the investigation into whether the government of India had any involvement in the bombings.

The SIRC report stated that CSIS passed the issue to the RCMP to investigate and the RCMP determined that allegation was without foundation.

The article went on to state:

"The truth of the matter is that the RCMP never thoroughly investigated the issue, which means that apparently no one did," Mr. Bass said.

Mr. Bass reportedly went on to say:

If a public inquiry were appointed into the investigations of the Air-India disaster, CSIS and, to a lesser extent, the RCMP will be subject to “severe criticism”. The fact that some part of the criticism will be with the benefit of hindsight will not soften the blow to any great extent.

Again I suggested to the solicitor general that he finally admit that SIRC's findings were wrong and that he initiate a full public inquiry into the Air-India disaster and the ensuing investigation, as strongly suggested by the RCMP assistant commissioner responsible for the Air-India task force. Again the answer from the solicitor general was a strong no.

I would like to remind those members who have been here since 1995, especially the Liberal members, that in 1995 the then Liberal member for York South--Weston, John Nunziata, moved a motion in this House asking the government to immediately take steps to initiate a royal commission of inquiry into the Air-India disaster.

During this debate, Val Meredith, one of our colleagues who was from Surrey--White Rock--South Langley, pointed out that on April 4, 1995 the then commissioner of the RCMP, Phil Murray, appeared at the standing committee on justice and legal affairs. When asked by Ms. Meredith whether he was opposed to a judicial inquiry, he stated this:

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.... 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.

Former solicitor general Herb Gray confirmed the commissioner's commitment by saying:

It is not considered appropriate to have a commission of inquiry while there is an active investigation. However, the commissioner has confirmed to me that if there is an impasse in the investigation I will be informed. I want to assure my hon. friend that if there is such an impasse I will immediately discuss this matter further with the Prime Minister.

Unfortunately the former RCMP commissioner and the Right Hon. Herb Gray retired many years ago and therefore were never able to make good on their commitments. There are ministers and solicitors general who could pick up this very appropriate promise and deliver on it but they refuse to do so.

Also during the debate on Mr. Nunziata's motion, the former member for Vancouver East, Liberal member Anna Terrana, said:

We need a royal commission because if a train full of Canadians on Canadian territory were blown up we would find immediate justice. These Canadians cannot be brought back. We must find justice for them because they are silent....In this tragic instance when no justice seems to have been served, when we value ourselves as those who speak about justice and human rights, we have to intercede on behalf of those who cannot speak.

That is what the Liberal member said at that time, that we must intercede. I agree with her, as everyone in this House should. She spoke about the victims. She spoke about apprehending the perpetrators of those and bringing them to justice.

I heard the Minister of Public Safety today. She talked about closure. She talked about bringing closure to the victims, but she did not talk about justice. She did not talk about making sure that justice was served. How can there be closure without justice? How can these victims have closure without justice?

Today in the House the Minister of Public Safety announced that she would seek independent advice from an eminent person before determining whether or not an inquiry was needed, meaning she has totally ignored the wisdom and reasoned advice from former Liberal members such as I have quoted. She has ignored the promise of her former boss, Jean Chrétien. She has ignored 61% of British Columbians who believe a public inquiry should be held.

The minister is ignoring her former cabinet colleague, Herb Dhaliwal, who bravely broke ranks with his party and agreed with our call for an independent public inquiry. As the leader of the official opposition pointed out:

Disturbingly, [Herb Dhaliwal] even suggests that [the Minister of Public Safety's] refusal of an inquiry results from RCMP and CSIS pressure.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety is very disrespectful, ignoring the opinion of this House, because she says she is moving regardless of what the House says.

In closing, I would implore all members to support this motion. Let us bring closure. Let us find justice. Let us answer questions.

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4:10 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are having a debate on a motion brought forward by the Conservative Party regarding a very tragic event, Canada's worst disaster and worst act of terrorism that was ever perpetrated here. For the sake of anyone who might have just come in, I will just review some of the facts of the case.

It was June 23, 1985 that Air-India flight 182 exploded off the coast of Ireland killing all 329 people on board. The majority of the victims were Canadian. Less than an hour earlier another bomb had exploded at Narita airport in Tokyo, killing two baggage handlers.

Over the next 15 years the investigation languished. The very most the police were able to manage was the 1991 conviction of Inderjit Singh Reyat related to the Narita bombing case. Reyat served about 10 years for manslaughter in the deaths of the two baggage handlers. He has maintained his innocence.

In October 2000, charges were laid against two B.C. men, Ajaib Singh Bagri and businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik, one from Kamloops and the other from Vancouver.

On June 4, 2001 the British government agreed to allow the Canadian authorities to charge Reyat in connection with the bombing. As a British citizen already extradited to Canada for his trial on the Narita charge, Britain had to agree. Seven new charges were laid.

Amazingly, on February 10 there was a dramatic turn of events. Reyat changed his story and he pleaded guilty to one count, to the construction of a bomb. All other charges against him, including the murder of 329 people, were stayed. He was sentenced to five years in jail for his role.

There was a recent case in British Columbia where a woman who defrauded ICBC received a five-year jail sentence. It is quite surprising to think that for the largest terrorist act in Canada's history, and at the time it was committed, before 9/11, I believe it was the largest in the entire world, he would receive a five-year sentence for his part in that crime.

Even worse, this story is an embarrassment to Canada in front of the whole world. It is a tragedy for the families in British Columbia who lost family members. Three hundred twenty-nine people, most of them Canadians and over 80 of them children, perished. Tapes of conversations were somehow erased by CSIS. There is a bungled investigation. A millionaire is involved in this case. There has been intimidation of witnesses. There are people who for many years have been under police protection, not able to live in their own communities.

After all of this, after 20 years and $130 million investigating, we have no satisfaction. Justice has not been served and we are left with a lot of questions.

I find it somewhat troubling. A report that came out caused a whole bunch of the defence legal team to quit. In July 2002, Air-India lawyers quit over billings made by the accused's children; the children admitted charging for work not done.

Most Canadians wonder, I know people in my own riding wonder, and I am sure people who lost family members wonder how it is possible in this country that family members of the accused, Mr. Reyat's 26-year-old son Didar and his 18-year-old daughter Prit, respectively billed the government for many hundreds of hours of work for a total of $11,000. In essence, the defence finally admitted that the numbers were fraudulent and they had about doubled the number of hours they had actually worked. They were fraudulent billings. Why is the family of the defence working for the defence anyway? That was for some translation work.

Further, the pair, as well as another Reyat daughter who was briefly working for the defence team, billed the government about $56,000. In the end, some of the lawyers were so frustrated by this that they actually quit the defence team.

What is going on? Canadians are wondering what is going on in our legal system. It is worse than the keystone cops.

Then we found out that Mr. Bagri's son-in-law Jaswinder Singh Parmar and his daughter were receiving at least $12,000 a month for computer services in a contract that was not tendered. Contracts were not tendered. The pair had reportedly been paid in excess of $200,000 back in 2002.

What is going on when families of the accused make huge amounts of money, taxpayers' money I might add, and benefit from a crime that their family was accused of committing? What is going on? There are a lot of troubling aspects to this case.

When the Liberals were in opposition, they called for an inquiry. The Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that the hearts and prayers of the government are with the families, but the families need more than that. They need more than sympathy and a pat on the back. They need the government to take some action.

The entire credibility of our judicial system, our police and security forces has been questioned by these tragic events. Canadians have lost confidence in our judicial system. This was an expensive trial. It cost $7 million for a new courtroom to accommodate the trial.

The very confidence of Canadians in our judicial system is on the line. What has it become? When we have a difficult trial, does it become a cash cow for the legal profession to expunge as much money as it can out of taxpayers in terms of looking for a result? I do not know. People are asking me questions like this. I wonder what is going on in a case like this. A lot of serious questions have come out of this event.

The Deputy Prime Minister responded by saying that she is willing to sit down and talk to the families, but the families are looking for something deeper than that. They do not want condolences and a feel good pat on the back. They would like some answers as to what happened. They would like to know why in this country, in a modern democracy, in a modern time of evidence gathering, we were not able to bring the perpetrators of a crime of this magnitude to justice. How could we have such a colossal failure with the RCMP and CSIS? That really needs to be fixed.

All Canadians have an interest in this, not just the families. We need to stand with the families and say this is not right in Canada. This is not acceptable. We need to stand with the families and get to the bottom of this even if it is ugly. It has to be fixed.

The only way to fix it is to go along with an inquiry that the Liberals were in favour of more than 10 years ago when they were in opposition. When the Right Hon. Herb Gray was justice minister in 1994, he spoke to the issue as the new justice minister after the Liberal Party victory in 1993. He wanted to keep the idea of an inquiry alive.

After all this time Canadians are looking for answers. They want real solutions to come out of this. This appears to be like so many other government programs that seem to be geared toward illusion around here, whether it is the gun registry that has secondary gain for the government, or a sponsorship program that is supposed to be establishing national unity but actually turned out to be doing the opposite. There are so many government programs that are illusions.

After 20 years of being promised an inquiry and having gone through a very expensive court trial, and coming up with basically nothing, bankrupt, Canadians have an interest in finding out why there was this colossal failure. They want to get to the bottom of it. The families have a right to justice and satisfaction. They have been victimized.

I join with my colleagues in the Conservative Party in calling for a full inquiry into the Air-India disaster.

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4:20 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Nanaimo—Alberni. Earlier this afternoon I spoke to his colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, the sponsor of the motion we are debating today, and asked if he would accept an amendment. I must have his concurrence to accept an amendment. He told me that he would not give me that concurrence. There is still a bit of time left in the debate, so I will go through the amendment very quickly and maybe the member could speak to his colleague.

The amendment states: “That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word 'That' and by substituting the following: Whereas the bombing of Air-India flight 182 on June 23, 1985 resulted in the deaths of 329 people; Whereas the Air-India bombing was the largest mass murder and terrorist act in Canadian history; Whereas the number of inquiries and civil and criminal processes have been undertaken...; Whereas there is a motion before the House calling for an '...independent judicial inquiry into the investigation of the Air-India bombing...'; Whereas the appeal period flowing from the Malik and Bagri judgment has not expired; Whereas there are a range of views as to whether there are outstanding questions of public interest which remain unanswered; If the British Columbia Attorney General decides not to appeal the Malik and Bagri judgment, this House recommends than an independent eminent person be appointed by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to consult with family members of the Air-India victims and others, and advise on what outstanding questions of public interest remain which could be answered today”.

In the spirit of the democratic process and in the spirit of cooperation, if we are looking for substantive answers to these questions, I wonder if the member for Nanaimo—Alberni would try to track down the member for Newton—North Delta to see if he would reconsider and accept this amendment, so we could debate it in the chamber and vote on it.

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4:20 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for again raising this issue on behalf of the government.

It would have to be a special person to visit the families, stroke them on their backs, pat them on their hands and tell them it is okay, one person for the most colossal failure in our police and security investigations and in our judicial system. With 329 people dead and no answers, I do not think a single person is going to satisfy the families. Like so many other things that go through the House at times, they are done to actually make people feel good and to look like something is being done.

The Deputy Minister offered earlier to sit down with the families and said she would like to be the special person. If we were to have a special person, I am sure it would be very nice if she had the time to sit down in their living rooms, pat them on the hand, and say we are sorry it happened. However, this was a disaster. It was a colossal failure. It is an international embarrassment to this country.

There are issues that have to be addressed and fixed. I am afraid that actually appointing someone for a feel good exercise is not going to be sufficient. I stand with the call. The member had his answer earlier and I am surprised he would expect a different one at this time.

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4:25 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are taking this matter very seriously. For that reason I would like to read the motion again, so that people understand the seriousness of it, those who may not be fully apprised of why we are taking this so seriously. It states:

That, in light of the fact that 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.

That is the compelling reason why we are asking for this inquiry. The disaster itself took place 20 years ago. It was the single worst terrorist act to affect Canadian citizens in the history of our nation. We must dwell on that for a second, the worst terrorist act in our history. Justice delayed is justice denied.

There is an old proverb that also says that justice delayed makes the heart grow cold. The hearts of the family members have not grown cold in this case. As Canadians are reminded about the details, their hearts are not cold either.

As a matter of fact, as people are reminded of what happened, their hearts link with the hearts of the family members in terms of looking at what happened. Any crime of this nature and any time someone is killed of course, that is serious. There is no measure in terms of how serious the impact is upon an individual's life. The impact on our entire society of a terrorist act of this nature must never be diminished.

We need to remind Canadians and ourselves that serious questions have been raised about this particular investigation that took place into the bombing. We need to remember and go back, and recall that fateful day, June 23, 1985, when Air-India flight 182 exploded off the coast of Ireland. There were 329 people blown into eternity. The majority of the victims were Canadians.

Less than an hour after that, another bomb exploded in the Tokyo Narita airport. There were two employees killed there. Then, as we watched for the next 15 years the Air-India investigation itself seemed to go in fits and starts. There were so many questions being raised and people saying “where is it” and “why does it seem to be stopping, now it is starting, and now it is going over here and now it is going over there”.

There was nothing really done, with the notable exception that in 1991 a man by the name of Inderjit Singh Reyat was convicted in the Narita bombing case. Police presented evidence linking the components of the bomb found in Tokyo with items that Reyat had purchased and the investigation began there.

The result of that was that Reyat was convicted. He served 10 years for manslaughter in the deaths of the two baggage handlers. That alone at the time caused a lot of questions among citizens. He received 10 years for manslaughter for the deaths of two baggage handlers in an airport.

However, in October 2000 charges were then laid against the Sikh cleric Ajaib Singh Bagri and millionaire businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik. They were charged with murder or attempted murder and conspiracy.

Then, on June 4, 2001, the British government allowed Canadian authorities to charge Inderjit Singh Reyat in connection with this bombing. The British courts had to approve extradiction and all that sort of thing unfolded. Then 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, all of a sudden Mr. Reyat changed his story. The result of that was that he pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and a charge of aiding in the construction of a bomb. All the other charges against him, including the murder of 329 people, were stayed and he was sentenced to five years in jail. These are astonishing facts.

On April 28, 2003, the trial of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri began and wound on for almost 20 months.

Why an inquiry? It would seem obvious. My colleagues have pointed out some very strange things that have resulted in the course of the trial and in the course of the investigation about payments made to certain individuals. I also would like to point out that there have been allegations of the RCMP and CSIS making some serious errors in the investigation and the government's lack of action in the face of what seemed to be a clear and apparent knowledge of impending attacks by extremists and knowledge of the perpetrators themselves.

This has been the longest, the most complicated and the most expensive investigation in Canadian history with costs of over $130 million. The process has been slow for everybody, especially for the family members of these victims. There has been one problem after another and strange things have happened.

One of the RCMP's key suspects, Talwinder Singh Parmar, died in 1992 under somewhat strange circumstances. It was apparently the result of an alleged gun battle with Indian police. Defence counsel forced the trial itself to be postponed twice. Some of the witnesses cannot even live among their own people because they are in the witness protection program. Reporters covering the story were harassed and some even had death threats issued against them.

I happen to agree with the families of the victims who say that the only way for this problem to be rectified and, in fact, to avoid a similar tragedy, is to convene an inquiry.

The public safety minister made an interesting comment, one of course with which I do not agree. How could the minister say that she would have to be convinced that there is anything to be gained from an inquiry? I find the statement astonishing. It should be able to stand on its own as one that causes wonder. How could something not be gained by looking into this disaster?

The scope of the inquiry would be a lot broader than simply the criminal evidence that was brought forward at the trial. With an inquiry, we could get a full review of the investigation itself and the many questions that need to be asked about the proceedings could be asked.

This is not a mere partisan effort and partisan request. Many Canadian citizens and, of course, the victims' families want and support an inquiry. Government members and cabinet members have expressed concern or a request for an inquiry, breaking ranks with their official party position.

The federal Minister of Health, who at one time was the attorney general in B.C., has not ruled out an inquiry. As a matter of fact he said, “Let us await the outcome of any appeal or appeals, and once that's exhausted, if it would serve a useful purpose, we will certainly take a look at it”. A useful purpose would be served. Justice would be served by taking a look at this.

He is not the only government member making this request. The Liberal MP for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont actually wrote a book entitled Betrayal: The Spy Canada Abandoned. The book talks about links between a Canadian spy and an Indian plot for a second terrorist bombing. Just last week that Liberal member told the Hill Times that the government should definitely hold a public inquiry.

The Liberal senator, Mobina Jaffer, also spoke about this. In a CP wire story of March 23, 2005, she told her own government, “Do the right thing. Launch a public inquiry so that all Canadians can know how and why justice has failed to convict those responsible after so long”.

Those are present government members. A former Liberal minister, Herb Dhaliwal, has been very strong and outspoken about this. He has said that “it would be a betrayal of years old Liberal promises if the government refused to hold an inquiry”.

Mr. Dhaliwal said it correctly when he said that Liberals would be breaking a promise that dated all the way back into the eighties if they failed to hold an inquiry. One of the people he referenced was the former Liberal Leader, John Turner, who stood in the House in 1988 and said that there must be a royal commission to look into this disaster.

Another former Liberal cabinet minister, solicitor general Herb Gray, who was well respected by everyone, said, as recently as 1994, after the Liberals took office, “I would like to keep the idea of a royal commission under consideration”. When the Liberals were in opposition they were asking for this and, as we can see, the cabinet ministers continued to ask for it after they took office. Mr. Gray was responding to a question from his colleague, the Toronto Liberal MP, John Nunziata, who was asking for a public inquiry at that time.

There are many compelling reasons to start a public inquiry but no reason to refuse one. Money cannot be the issue because $130 million has already been spent on this. Three hundred and twenty-nine people lost their lives.

It is not just the families of the victims who need answers. Canadians need answers to this. As we have heard today in the House, MPs from all sides of the House are asking for the inquiry.

It was the worst act of terrorism in our history and the most expensive trial in our history. Justice must be seen to have been done and justice is not seen to have been done. There has to be an inquiry for all the reasons I have stated and for another important reason. Terrorist groups are active around the world. We know that there are terrorist associations right here in Canada. The Auditor General came out very recently with chilling reports of the holes in our security network. She has really blown the whistle on this.

We cannot send the message to the victims' families and our own citizens that we will allow this to just fall off the shelf and disappear. We also cannot allow a message to go out to the terrorist associations in Canada and around the world that they can get away with murdering 329 Canadians. That is a message that we cannot afford to get out. The evil people of any terrorist network must know that we will never stop and that the hunt will always continue until the perpetrators are tracked down and brought to justice.

Canadians need to hear that message, the families need to hear that message and the terrorist networks need to hear that message. We need to do this. I implore the members of the government to agree with us and see this inquiry go ahead.

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please, It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, Agriculture.

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4:35 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I again wish to express the support of our party for this motion and the pride with which I saw our leader stand today and second this most important motion.

I come from the northwest of British Columbia and in Skeena--Bulkley Valley there are a number of very strong Sikh families in our communities who have raised with me huge concerns when this decision first came down, but not so much for the decision that had come down, whether it be right or wrong, which was for the justices to see, but for the process which we had seen over the 20 years prior and the allegations of misspent money, missing documents and erased tapes.

It has been suggested by the government that the only reason that we are seeking this inquiry is to embarrass the government and that our support of this motion is partisan in nature, rather than seeking the truth to actually allow for some closure for these families.

I wonder if the member could comment as to, first, whether this is true in terms of the motivation; and, second, whether it is some fear that the Liberals have suddenly arrived at with respect to the effectiveness of inquiries as we have been seeing in Ottawa and Montreal through Justice Gomery's inquiry.

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4:40 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised an important issue and we realize that this is not a partisan issue. The Conservatives have the full endorsement of members of the NDP and their leader and, as we have quoted, Liberal members past and present. This issue is too important to be dismissed as a partisan effort.

My constituency has a very significant Sikh community. These are proud people who offer much and provide much to the community in everything they do and say. Many of them are friends of mine, and I am proud to work with them and be identified with them. It is very important that no one has seen this as a negative indication in any way to a broad community. In fact, it is members of the Sikh community, certainly in my constituency, in my colleagues' constituencies and around British Columbia, who have said that they want to see this happen. They also want to see justice done. We are linked arm in arm and we stand shoulder to shoulder with members of the Sikh community in wanting to see justice done.

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4:40 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member that this is not a partisan matter. It is a tragedy. It is a tragedy when we see the lives that were lost and that justice was not resolved fully. It is a tragedy if Canadians do not have confidence that the system has been repaired.

Not being an expert on this question, does the member not see any other measures or other ways that we could give Canadians that confidence without risking making public all the workings that are necessary? Maybe some have to be kept secret, such as the workings of CSIS or the RCMP in matters like these, but it is important that Canadians be confident that such a double tragedy will not be repeated, but that if something of that nature were ever to happen again, and hopefully it never will, that justice will be followed through and successfully arrived at.

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4:40 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will take my colleague's question as sincere and, in a word, say no, there is no other fitting vehicle by which an investigation of this nature could drive forward. I know there has been an amendment offered from the other side that one person be appointed to do something but that simply would not provide the scope or recognize the weight and seriousness of the matter.

In terms of security issues being revealed, there are always ways and means at which an inquiry, if there were an appeal from either CSIS or the RCMP for certain segments of information to be withheld, can look at that on a very specific and narrow basis to make a determination if in fact national security were at stake if certain pieces of information were revealed. However, from a broad question, no, unfortunately, in our view there is no other way to pursue this matter or to see justice.

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4:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the motion today. My riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan has a very large Sikh community. It is important that the House support the motion.

The motion before us states:

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.

This motion is an example of how this minority government can work. It is an example of how we can pull together and support an issue that is important for our country.

Although the Deputy Prime Minister announced today that, pending an appeal by the province of British Columbia, she would organize an independent review of the facts around the case, the NDP is calling on the House to support the motion calling for an investigation into the Air-India bombing and not wait for any further delays. That is what is great about a minority Parliament. The opposition can push the government to act on areas of concern to the whole community.

It has been 20 years since the Air-India bombing. In the four years since September 11, the U.S. has managed to conduct and complete many independent reviews of the events surrounding that tragedy. However, on our front, this long wait for an Air-India inquiry has been a disservice to the families who lost loved ones during the tragedy and a disservice to all Canadians who waited to learn how our own agencies dropped the ball, not just on that day in 1985, but in the days since when important evidence for the hearings of Malik and Bagri were lost. That is shameful.

Our leader, the member for Toronto--Danforth, has said that no other democratic government in the world would leave questions unanswered about what happened and why. Three hundred and thirty-one innocent people were killed and no answers, no justice, no assurances about what needs to change so that it does not happen again. It is absolutely shameful that so many people have waited so long to have some justice.

My thanks go out to the website Mapleleafweb which explains in great detail the reasons why public inquiries are helpful. I would like to mention some of these reasons so we have them on record.

There are several reasons the government may prefer to call a public inquiry instead of a parliamentary inquiry or a task force.

First, unlike a court of law or police investigation, which is concerned solely with establishing wrongdoing, a public inquiry can investigate the underlying causes of a tragedy or controversial event to help prevent it from happening again.

Second, public inquiries are perceived as being independent from government interference. While this may not be entirely true, they are generally more independent and less partisan than parliamentary inquiries.

Third, the government can appoint individuals to sit on an inquiry who have more expertise on the topic and more time to study the issue than sitting members of Parliament.

Fourth, the public may view a report written by federal public servants as biased in favour of the government, even if this is not the case.

Fifth, because of its independence and openness, a public inquiry is a good way for the government to reassure voters that it is taking concrete action on a controversial issue. For example, public pressure forced the federal government to reverse its original decision and hold a full public inquiry into the deportation and detention of Maher Arar.

Finally, public inquires have more power when it comes to gathering evidence than other types of investigations.

All this information is available on Mapleleafweb.

Despite their independence, governments maintain some control over public inquiries. The government frequently includes a deadline for completing an inquiry in its terms of reference. The government can shut down an inquiry that is past its deadline or is not getting results. I thought that was an excellent, plain language explanation of a few of the reasons that the public would want the government to hold an inquiry.

It is very clear that the public wants this inquiry. We hear that from people all over the country. There are many questions the public wants answered. The public wants reassurance that our systems are working, that we have considered the risks and are taking appropriate action.

It is somehow appropriate that the Auditor General reported this week about our national security programs. It fits right into what we are talking about in terms of the Air-India bombing. I would like to remind the House of some of the highlights from that report.

More than $1 billion in federal expenditures are spent in security and intelligence activities each year. These activities remain secret. The Auditor General emphasized that Parliament should scrutinize the spending and performance of these activities, but she pointed out the difficulty of doing so because of the secrecy around some files and issues. She said that she was pleased by the government's announcement of the creation of a new national security committee as a parliamentary oversight body for the security and intelligence agencies.

In the second part of the report by the Auditor General on the federal government's anti-terrorism initiative announced in the 2001 budget after September 11, 2001, some of the major findings around our transportation links show why an investigation into the Air-India bombing is still relevant today. For air transportation, there is no comprehensive assessment of key risks or any measuring of the likelihood or potential impact of specific threats.

Transport Canada has only one security performance measure in place, and it does not analyze the overall effectiveness of its security system.

Under marine security, our system of high frequency surface wave radar does not operate to its full range under certain conditions. The example the Auditor General gave was nighttime, which is pretty scary since in our country half the year is spent in nighttime. This is a major problem if we have systems that do not function in the dark. It also does not work well with meteorological disturbances and in heavy seas. Canada is well known for both of these events and we can well attest to that on the west coast. National Defence has not yet obtained a permanent licence from Industry Canada to even operate the system.

The Auditor General also has a lot to say about federal emergency preparedness. She notes that the national emergency coordination currently suffers both from the absence of an effective federal-provincial-territorial governance regime and from the absence of commonly agreed standards and priorities for the national emergency system.

The CBRN, which stands for chemical biological radiological or nuclear threats, research and technology initiative estimated that about 6,000 first responders should be trained in how to intervene and neutralize a serious event. The Auditor General found that 200 people had been trained so far. It does not sound like nearly enough.

She urged the government to finish drafting the revisions to the Emergency Preparedness Act and to finalize the definitions of the minister's powers and responsibilities.

The Auditor General also complained about the lack of creation of emergency medical teams. In December 2001, Health Canada was allocated $501,000 to develop health emergency response teams, but it did not happen. In January 2003, $626,000 was allocated annually to Health Canada to train health care workers in the prevention and treatment of smallpox. Such a team has never been established to date and it is urgent that we get on this matter.

The Auditor General examined four areas related to the passport offices. Under security and identity verification she found that domestic examiners at the passport office were well trained, however, the examiners working in missions lacked the training necessary for such a verification task.

Under service to the public, although the key services standards exist in the passport offices, there are gaps. The costs have risen significantly and the passport office is unable to forecast and influence demand placed on it due to the burden of the services that are required in these offices.

The passport office does not meet the required management principles and practices. The Auditor General recommended that the passport office should review its risk management practices, examine its delivery methods and develop and report additional service standards.

Her main points were that the passport office was struggling to balance and meet security expectations and demand for service. The passport office could not effectively authenticate an applicant's identity and its watch lists were deficient. The passport office needed to perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all its operations and prepare an action plan.

It is clear from the list of deficiencies that the Auditor General found, the second examination since 2001, that we need to push the government to move on these important issues. Too often the measures this government takes do not deal with the systemic problems with our procedures but with the surface. Take, for example, the no-fly lists.

Shahid Mahmood was flying from Toronto to Victoria when he hit a wall in Vancouver. The ticket agents there would not let the cartoonist onto a connecting flight. They said he had been flagged for reasons unknown and would need a passport to fly on. He was not carrying one. He is a Canadian. He does not need to carry a passport to fly within his own country.

The NDP cannot help but wonder if Mahmood's bind had anything to do with his Pakistani roots. Authorities will not say. However, Mahmood wonders if he is on a blacklist. The transport minister has since revealed that Canada is building no-fly lists to ground suspected terrorists. Could authorities use these lists to discriminate against Canadians based on their colour, ethnicity or religion?

A leaked Justice Department report says that racial profiling by police and security services, while sometimes unconscious, is already a pressing issue.

Will preventing Canadians from moving freely around our country do anything to improve our security? It seems highly unlikely. I do think a public inquiry into the largest security lapse would help define strategies that would make a difference so we are never again talking about a circumstance like the Air-India bombing.

It is well past time for this government to take action and to ensure that justice is heard for all the families and loved ones of the people who were victims of the Air-India bombing.