Kanishka bombing victims kin demand public inquiry

Published on Mar 17, 2005 11:56 AM IST

The families said the 'not guilty' verdict meant that they were suffering yet another tragedy. "The verdict is a second tragedy."

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PTI | ByPress Trust of India, Vancouver

Stunned by the acquittal of the main accused in the Kanishka bombing case, relatives of the victims who perished in the crash 20 years ago, termed the judgement as a "second tragedy" and demanded the Canadian government convene a public inquiry.

A British Colombia Supreme Court judge Wednesday found both millionaire businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri not guilty in the Air India bombing which killed all 329 people on board off the Irish Coast in 1985.

The families said the 'not guilty' verdict meant that they were suffering yet another tragedy. "The verdict is a second tragedy." "Justice was not served. There must be a public inquiry. Canadians deserve that, victims deserve that," Sushell Gupta, who lost his mother in the Air-India bombing, said after both the accused were acquited.

"Our loved ones never came home," Gupta told reporters "This is a national story, a personal story. It is real, painful and permanent."

"This is not fair for those families whose loved ones are lost.... There should be a public inquiry. Every Canadian has the right to an answer. Something went wrong. Everyone's disappointed after 20 years," a spokesman for the Sikh Khalsa Diwan Society, Sarwan Singh Randhawa, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan would not commit to holding a public inquiry into the case. She said she would have to be convinced that there was further evidence that the 23-month trial did not turn up, to justify a public probe. 
 
"It is way too soon for me or anyone else in the Government of Canada to say whether there would be any use of a public inquiry," McLellan told a throng of reporters in Edmonton yesterday.

She said that at this point, she could "not see any benefit" to holding a public inquiry. While she would not commit to an inquiry, she admitted there are questions that will never be answered, adding, "I know that that is small comfort to the victims of the families."

A Canadian Government spokesman defended the case against the accused Air-India bombers. Geoffrey Gaul refused to rule out the possibility of an appeal. The prosecutors will review the judgement before deciding on an appeal, which must be filed within 30 days. "It's premature at this point to say what will transpire."

The prosecution had been handled in a "professional, responsible and principled" manner, he told reporters. He offered his condolences to the families affected by the bombings and said that the focus of police and justice officials "never wavered."

He also noted the presumption-of-innocence tradition in Canadian law sets a high bar for the prosecution. British Colombia Attorney general Geoff Plant said he believes the justice system did what it set out to do, adding it is up to the federal Government to call a public inquiry.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has not commented on the case.
 
Bagri, one of the two men acquitted, publicly expressed his sympathies for the victims' families after the verdict was handed down, saying he hoped the conclusion of the trial would begin the "healing process" within the Sikh community.

He also strongly maintained he was innocent of all charges. Bagri stood with one of his lawyers, David Peck, in a crush of reporters, alongside his daughter, who read his statement aloud.

In his statement, read by his daughter outside the courthouse, Bagri said the entire experience had been "very difficult" for himself and his family, but maintained his innocence. His lawyer, Peck, said his client might go back to work at the mill if he is able.

Meanwhile, Malik made his way through a crowd of reporters with several others after leaving the courthouse. He said nothing as he walked toward a waiting vehicle, although he had a slight smile on his face. He was then seen smiling and talking on a cellphone as he was driven away from the courthouse.

A statement released by the family of Malik, said he was innocent while expressing sadness for the victims. Also, a statement posted on his website, said, that the time Malik was in prison can never be returned to them. "On top of taking away our dad's freedom, the justice system has made us financial victims even when innocent."

"Our justice system is based on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Please remember that a verdict of not guilty is a verdict of innocent," it added. 

Eddy Madon, who lost his father in the bombing, told reporters he was "devastated" by the outcome. "Let me start out by saying how devastated I am and we all are that the true perpetrators of the crime are free men today. They have yet made another mockery of the Canadian justice system. This is a day of mourning for all of Canada and the world. We demand a public inquiry.

"The Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice if he has any integrity at all, must call a public inquiry. They owe it to us," Madon said.

Lata Pada, who lost two daughters in the attack, told CBC that McLellan's decision at this time that an inquiry probably isn't necessary is a "totally irrational and premature decision on her part. I am totally appalled that the Deputy Prime Minister would say something like that."

Opposition Leader Stephen Harper said he felt an inquiry could be the only way to find the answers the families have been looking for. "The government of British Columbia should closely examine the ruling issued today, to determine if there are avenues for appeal"

After a two-year trial, BC Supreme Court Justice Ian Josephson yesterday said the prosecution's witnesses were not credible. He found Malik and Bagri not guilty on all eight charges each man faced, including first-degree murder and conspracy to commit murder.

"The Crown has not proven its case against him beyond a reasonable doubt," said Josephson, as he acquitted Malik.
As he delivered his judgement against Bagri, he said "the evidence has fallen remarkably short... I find the Crown has not proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." 

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