Canadian justice system did scant justice to victims of Kanishka bombing

  • Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2016 20:47 IST
A woman touches the name of a family member on the memorial to the victims of Air India Flight 182 on the Toronto waterfront. (Reuters File Photo)

The release on parole of Inderjit Singh Reyat, the only person convicted for the 1985 bombing of the Kanishka airliner, may cause more trauma for relatives of victims of that terrorist incident but it again underscores how the Canadian investigative and legal system did scant justice to their case.

Reyat, often accused of being the maker of the bomb that brought down Air India flight 182, was not even imprisoned on terrorism charges, but rather for perjury.

A judicial system that had been unable to work with the woeful evidence submitted by investigative agencies, handed him a hefty sentence for perjury. At least, they caught him lying.

On June 23, 1985, the Air India Boeing 747 was flying from Montreal to London when it imploded, destroyed by a bomb placed by Khalistani terrorists. Remnants of the jet were strewn over the coast of Ireland’s Cork region, while the remainder of the airliner fell into the North Sea. The attack claimed the lives of all 307 passengers and 22 crew members.

Read | HT Special: 30th anniversary Kanishka aircraft bombing

Reyat was released from a Canadian prison on Wednesday after serving two-thirds of a nine-year sentence for perjury in the deadliest terror attack before 9/11. Reyat, convicted of lying in court to cover for his co-accused, earlier served more than 15 years in jail for making the bombs that were planted on planes leaving Vancouver.

The problem, of course, was that this wasn’t taken as a Canadian tragedy but rather one that happened to someone else, even though a substantial number of victims were Canadians citizens or residents.

Retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice John Major recalls listening to the news on his car radio and being unable to glean the Canadian connection. Years later, Major headed a Commission of Inquiry looking into the incident.

The report he delivered was pointedly titled, Air India Flight 182: A Canadian Tragedy. In that, he wrote: “This remains the largest mass murder in Canadian history, and was the result of a cascading series of errors.”

In an interview to the Hindustan Times last year on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, Major said, “I think it (the report) was worthwhile for the people who suffered loss. It, at least, showed them that the Government, Canadians cared about what happened to other Canadians. It was trying to repair the damage many years after the event.”

However, pro-Khalistan elements remain active in Canada – some gurdwaras showcase images of Khalistanis, and a boycott Air India campaign was launched last year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country.

As some of these separatists were wooed by political parties during last fall’s federal election campaign, that taint of the Kanishka case being somehow foreign to Canada persists.

(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @anirudhb)

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