A-I case: Fresh probe sought
Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh says the probe was bungled at the very initial stages, writes Gurmukh Singh.
Canadian health minister Ujjal Dosanjh, who was one of the worst affected Indo-Canadians during the militant violence in British Columbia in the mid-80s, has blamed the botched-up investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) for a no-guilty verdict in the Air-India case on March 16.
Referring to the destruction of taped conversations that the mastermind behind the plot, Talwinder Singh Parmar (killed in an encounter with police in India in 1992), had with others before and after the June 1985 Kanishka bombing that killed 329 people off the Irish coast, Dosanjh told a television channel that RCMP and CSIS officers bungled the investigation at the very initial stages.
"If you remember the episode regarding the erasure of tapes... I think the RCMP would agree, and CSIS would agree, that they didn't do the finest of jobs on this issue to begin with. ...we didn't have too many police officers from diverse communities, whether in the RCMP or any of the local police forces, and CSIS was probably the same," said Dosanjh, who was badly beaten up in February 1985 for opposing militants.
Though Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan has expressed reservations about the efficacy of a public inquiry, wondering whether it would throw new light on the case, Dosanjh didn't rule it out, once the appeal process was exhausted.
"I think that at the end of that process, we should look at this issue and determine whether or not it would serve a public interest, whether or not it would add to what we know and whether or not it would actually bring a sense of closure to the families. ...we need to suspend our judgment on the issue of the inquiry... I don't think it's ever been ruled out," he said.
Meanwhile, former federal natural resources minister Herb Dhaliwal has criticised the Canadian government for not ordering a public inquiry.
The ruling Liberal Party, of which he was part till December 2003, had repeatedly promised to hold such an inquiry when it was in the Opposition, he said, adding that the party was going back on its commitment to the Canadians in general and the Indo-Canadian community in particular.
"I think this would be a betrayal of the commitment that we made as a Liberal party, when we were in Opposition, when we were demanding the Mulroney government have a full public inquiry," he said.
Even as Dhaliwal was demanding a public inquiry, the deputy prime minister was telling the leader of the Opposition in Parliament about her doubts on a fresh inquiry.
"I think obviously there's pressure from CSIS and the RCMP not to have an inquiry. But I think we should have the courage to overcome their recommendation not to have an inquiry," said Dhaliwal, who was the first South Asian to become a federal minister anywhere in the West in 1997. The highest-ranking Indo-Canadian in the opposition Conservative Party, Deepak Obhrai, also raised the issue in Parliament on Monday and demanded that the Government order a public inquiry into its handling of the Air-India case.
Raising the issue during question hour, Obhrai, who is also Conservative Party Critic for Multiculturalism and Emerging Markets, said the Government should respect the wishes of Canadians and immediately order the investigation to set at rest all speculations.
"For 20 years, we have lived with sadness, anger and disgust at the way the biggest terrorist act in Canadian history has been handled. An increasing number of Canadians are outraged at the way this whole affair has been handled by all involved, including the Liberal government. The Liberal government needs to stop appeasing the fundamentalists. The need to get to the truth is a must, Mr Speaker. The Government must call a public inquiry now, if an appeal is not forthcoming."
"Mr Speaker, I tell the deputy prime minister that she is giving the impression the Government doesn't care for these lives lost. If the Government doesn't want to shed tears over this tragedy, then don't. But for God's sake and the victims' sake, stop defending incompetence. Call a public inquiry now if an appeal is not forthcoming," he demanded.
The Air-India Victims' Families' Association has hinted at the possibility of launching a website to muster public support to pressure the Government to order a public inquiry.
Criticising the deputy prime minister for wavering on their demand, they said a public inquiry was needed to protect Canadians from similar acts in the future.