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Judge threatens to quit in Kanishka trial

Justice John Major says the Canadian Govt must make all documents public.

india Updated:

The judge probing into the 1985 Air-India bombing has said he may not be able to conduct the inquiry unless the government makes public all documents it has claimed must be kept secret for security reasons.

"If the documents remain classified there is no way I can carry out my mandate, and if this remains I will communicate my view to the prime minister," said Justice John Major, former Supreme Court judge, while adjourning the hearing in the case to March 5.

Justice Major said the issue hindered him to discharge his public duty-examination of the security lapses that allowed the explosion, which killed 329 people in history's deadliest airliner disaster.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who appointed Major last year, told Parliament that federal law prevented the release of a limited number of documents.

However, in response to Major's statement, he had given instructions that government departments apply the law in as "non-restrictive" -- or uncensored -- a manner as possible.

Information that an RCMP inspector warned just weeks before Air India Flight 182 blew up that the Mounties had received "specific intelligence" warranting protection of all the airline's flights to and from Canada is just one nugget among many buried in thousands of heavily edited pages of material soon to be tabled with the inquiry.

The inquiry allowed journalists a brief look on Monday at a sampling of 42 binders of letters, memos and reports spanning more than two decades.

Many of the pages, including some entire documents, were censored by government officials.

However, some new elements have emerged from the fragmentary records.

An RCMP chronology of threat assessments prepared by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says several meetings were held from May 26 to 31, 1985, involving representatives of Air India, Transport Canada and the Mounties.

The meetings "did not convince Transport Canada that a serious threat existed" warranting RCMP involvement, the chronology says.

Inspector HG Clarke of the RCMP's Protective Policing Branch, however, insisted that "specific intelligence was received by the RCMP which indicated that special security precautions should be taken on all Air-India flights to and from Canada."

The chronology suggests police were indeed provided weekly throughout June for the airline's flights from Canada to India.

But the efforts were not enough to prevent the worst terrorist act in Canadian history.

A Boeing 747 carrying 329 passengers, including many Canadians of Indian descent, was en route to New Delhi when it blew apart off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985.

The federal inquiry is examining whether there was adequate assessment of the terrorist threat, the relationship between the RCMP and CSIS, and issues related to Canadian aviation security.

A CSIS summary prepared for an earlier probe led by former Ontario premier Bob Rae says that from June 3 to 23, 1985, the intelligence service issued three threat assessments, two of which specifically involved threats to Air-India.

"None of these assessments pointed to a specific threat to Flight 182," says the summary, which was among the many new documents previewed on Monday.

"The Service simply did not have intelligence at hand that pointed to that flight."

Allied intelligence services had tipped CSIS to "possible threats to Air India," the summary says.

In addition, the Indian government had put pressure on Ottawa to increase security for its diplomatic missions and personnel in Canada.

"That said, the fact that the Government of India issued so many warnings to so many departments and agencies in Canada, generated that sense among recipients that they were exaggerating the threat," the CSIS summary adds.

The document also says: "At the time of the bombings, CSIS had no human sources in British Columbia where the plot took shape reporting on Sikh extremism."

CSIS has retained more than 150,000 documents "pertaining to persons suspected of involvement in the incidents."

CSIS sparked additional concerns by erasing numerous audio tapes, including telephone intercepts of the now-deceased Talwinder Singh Parmar, the suspected leader of the bomb plot.

In addition, the CSIS summary notes, a backlog of as many as 85 tapes of telephone intercepts on the Parmar residence were not reviewed until after the bombing.

First Published: Feb 20, 2007 17:03 IST