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Pro-Khalistan group in Canada to organise vigil for Kanishka bombing victims, families upset

The “march to mourn the victims of Air India 182” is being organised by Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar’s Canada East unit, a group that has openly espoused Khalistan. The event will be held in Toronto.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2018 12:48 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Khalistan,candlelight vigil,Kanishka bombing
A woman at a memorial for the victims of Air India Flight 182 on the Toronto waterfront.(Reuters/File Photo)

The families of those killed in the 1985 terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182, the Kanishka, are troubled by plans of a leading pro-Khalistan group in Canada to organise an event at a Toronto memorial for the victims on the eve of the anniversary of the tragedy.

The “march to mourn the victims of Air India 182” is being organised by the Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar’s Canada East unit, a group that has openly espoused Khalistan.

Leading the effort is pro-Khalistan figure Sukhminder Singh Hansra, who said that “even though solidarity and statements have been issued many times before”, this year, for the first time, the organisation is holding a “formal” candlelight vigil at the memorial at Humber Bay in Toronto.

This was the memorial visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2015 trip to Canada.

Bal Gupta, chairman of the Air India 182 Victims Families Association, voiced disquiet at the development. He said, “It will be upsetting to the families, there’s no doubt about it.”

“It doesn’t sound right basically,” he said, adding it could possibly be a “case of guilty conscience”.

Hansra, though, said this “collective effort” on behalf of the community has a different objective. “We believe that the misinformation about the bombing is haunting Sikhs. Therefore we need to be on record that we too mourn the loss of lives.”

He was a leading figure in the move last December to ban Indian officials from gurdwaras across Canada. He is considered among the main grassroots organisers of the pro-Khalistan movement in Canada.

Hansra said the Sikh community is “facing stigma for the past 33 years” over the bombing that claimed 329 lives. He sought a new commission of inquiry with “absolute powers” to again investigate the bombing.

Hardliners, including Hansra, have supported a conspiracy theory claiming the bombing was a false flag operation to malign the Khalistan movement. However, retired Supreme Court judge John Major, who headed a commission of inquiry that submitted its report in 2010, has been categorical that the “mastermind” of the plot was Babbar Khalsa International leader Talwinder Singh Parmar, a contention that wasn’t disputed during the trial.

Victims’ family members such as Gupta, who lost his wife Ramwati in the bombing, dismiss the alternate theory: “The trial was quite clear who did it.”

Gupta isn’t pleased with this attempt by “groups with agendas” to insert themselves into the day of remembrance. Families will attend a commemoration event on the morning of June 23, the anniversary, at Queen’s Park in Toronto, the site of the first-ever memorial in honour of the victims, before the evening vigil at the Humber Bay memorial.

First Published: Jun 19, 2018 22:06 IST