December 1, 2005

At last, an inquiry

Given the serious issues raised by former Ontario premier Bob Rae in his report on the 1985 terrorist bombing of an Air India jetliner, the federal government is wisely, though belatedly, calling for an inquiry.

When Ripudaman Singh Malik and co-accused Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted on March 16 of eight charges stemming from the bombing, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said she would "have to be convinced" that an inquiry would bring out new information.

Rae's informative and reflective report last week apparently changed her mind -- so much so, he has been asked to conduct the inquiry.

In sorting through the intrigue of a case that spanned two decades, Rae identified four questions that cry out for further review:

* Was the federal assessment of the threat of Sikh terrorism before 1985 adequate in light of available information?

* Was surveillance of terrorist suspects before the bombing, and the subsequent investigation, adversely affected by the troubled relationship between the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service? Has this been resolved?

* Since this case points to difficulties in establishing a reliable relationship between security intelligence and evidence that can be used in a criminal trial, how can these relationships be dealt with effectively?

* Has Canada learned from breaches in aviation security, and what other regulations are needed?

Certainly, the response to the terrorism threat was badly flawed.

Rae details how Talwinder Singh Parmar, who first came to Canada in 1970, went back to India and then returned here in 1984, was described by Indian authorities as a dangerous political activist. Parmar, one of the leaders of the Air India conspiracy, was wanted in India on murder charges, but Canada refused India's request to extradite him. He was killed by Indian police in 1992.

The lack of co-operation between the RCMP and CSIS on the Air India file has been well documented. We need to know if the fix is working.

One of Rae's more troubling revelations was that victims' families told him Canada must do more to deal with hatred within their communities. They said a culture of fear silences informants. Two potential witnesses were killed.

Canada is a welcoming country to immigrants of all races and creeds. But individuals who bring their hatreds here should not be welcome.