Much awaited public inquiry report, ordered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the deadly 1985 Kanishka bombing is expected to be highly critical of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada's top security officer has said.
"It is fair and reasonable given the problems plaguing the Canadian intelligence community at the time," William Elliott, Commissioner of RCMP and a noted legal professional, said on Sunday.
"I think there were a lot of things that were a long way from ideal," Canadian Press reported on Monday quoting Elliott, former security adviser to the Prime Minister.
A Boeing 747 carrying 329 passengers, most of them Canadian, was en route to New Delhi when it blew apart off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985. The attack killed mostly Indo-Canadians including 82 children.
In early 1985, Rajiv Gandhi – the then prime minister – asked Canada and the United States to keep close tabs on Sikh militants who might pose a security threat in the wake of operation 'Blue Star'.
Brian Mulroney – Canada's prime minister at the time – agreed to India's request.
Police have long believed the Air India Flight 182 was destroyed by Sikh separatists who were against the operation 'Blue Star' during which militants were flushed out from the Golden Temple in a military operation.
A public inquiry, led by former Supreme Court justice John Major, was ordered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on May 1, 2006.
The inquiry into the bombing — how it occurred, why the law has failed to find those responsible and whether it could happen again — began on June 21, 2006.
The first three hearings were held on July 18, 19 and 20. The inquiry began hearing evidence on Sept 25, starting with the relatives of some victims.
The commission of inquiry said in July its report was ready to be reviewed by federal agencies to flag any information whose publication might compromise national security.
"This inquiry is not a matter of reprisal, nor is it intended to go back over the criminal trial. It is about finding answers to several key questions about the worst mass murder in Canadian history," he said.
The inquiry was ordered after public demand when on March 16, 2005, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge acquitted Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri on eight charges related to the bombing.
Justice Major examined the assessment level of the terror threat, the relationship between the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and issues concerning Canadian aviation security.
The report is expected in coming months, though no release date has been set.
"I would be shocked if it wasn't critical of the RCMP because I think clearly that there were not good relationships between the (intelligence) service and the RCMP. I don't think there was sufficient information sharing," Elliott said.
Investigators also faced difficulties retrieving wreckage from the ocean floor and challenges like persuading reluctant witnesses to come forward.
CSIS sparked additional concerns by erasing numerous audio tapes, including telephone intercepts of the now-dead Talwinder Singh Parmar, suspected leader of the bomb plot.
"There's a lot of water under the bridge since then. I don't think that the investigation would unfold the same way today as it did all those years ago," Elliott said.
Elliott believed Major's report will provide useful recommendations to help security services navigate the difficult questions that arise when secret intelligence must be used as evidence when terror suspects are brought to court.
He said that police and intelligence officials must work together effectively to help ensure more prosecutions take place.