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Further breakthroughs in Kanishka bombing still possible, says retired cop

There is no statute of limitations in Canada for cases relating to terrorism or murder.

world Updated: Jun 23, 2017 15:12 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Air India flight 182 terrorist bombing,former Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s deputy commissioner Gary Bass,Burnaby
Gary Bass, retired RCMP deputy commissioner, at one point headed the investigation into the bombing of Air India flight 182.(Jason Payne/Postmedia)

A senior police official, who was involved with the taskforce investigating the Air India flight 182 terrorist bombing for nearly 15 years, believes that further breakthroughs in that case are still possible.

The Air India flight, with the aircraft name Emperor Kanishka, was operating on the Vancouver–Toronto–Montreal–London–Delhi route on June 23, 1985 when it was bombed over Irish airspace. The incident claimed 329 lives and was the deadliest terror attack involving an aeroplane till the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In an interview, Gary Bass, who retired as Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s deputy commissioner for Canada West in 2011, said that while he is no longer associated with the investigation and does not speak for it, he believed that progress was still possible 32 years after the incident.

“There’s always the hope someone’s conscience will get to them eventually. There are a lot of cases where people feel intimidated or threatened. After the threat has gone away — due to a number of things, (like) due to the person making the threats not being around anymore — sometimes people feel they can come forward and tell the police what they know,” Bass said.

Currently a senior research fellow at the Burnaby, British Columbia-based Simon Fraser University’s Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies, Bass was involved with the Kanishka bombing probe in different capacities since 1996, including being in charge of new investigations.

While the task force probe continued, till date only bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat has been convicted in connection with the tragedy.

The investigation is “ongoing and currently undertaken by the E-Division Integrated National Security Enforcement Team,” Cpl Janelle Shoihet, an RCMP spokesperson, said in an email response.

“The RCMP is still seeking any assistance from members of the public, especially the members of the Sikh community who may have information that will advance the investigation,” she wrote.

There are at least three persons the investigators had leads on. Among them is a person described as Mr X who spent a week with Reyat as he built the bomb used in the attack.

“Various scenarios have come up where he was possibly identified but never fully confirmed. The same thing goes for the two people who checked in the bags in Vancouver — one on Air India flight 182, the other on a flight going west. They’ve never been totally satisfactorily identified to the point charges could be laid. So, that would be an example that there’s things out there to be known,” Bass said.

“I assume if they haven’t identified who those people are concretely, they (the RCMP) are still working at that,” he said, while stressing again he hasn’t been connected to the task force since his retirement.

Bass expressed “concern” that the Khalistan movement continues to persist in Canada. “I don’t think it’s gone by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s still alive and well for sure,” he said.

He also makes a personal pilgrimage nearly every year to the coast of Ireland, off which the debris of the doomed airplane were found.

There is no statute of limitations in Canada for cases relating to terrorism or murder. That gives those like Bass the hope that what appears like a cold case could heat up again in the future.

First Published: Jun 22, 2017 15:09 IST