Straight Talk

Academic contradicts McLellan's claim

By charlie smith

Publish Date: 24-Mar-2005

An SFU expert on security and intelligence issues says he doesn’t accept Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan’s explanation why there can’t be a public inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing. McLellan has claimed that there can’t be an inquiry while the B.C. government is deciding if it will appeal the March 16 acquittals of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri on charges of blowing up a plane and killing all 329 people aboard.

Stuart Farson, who teaches political science at SFU, told the Straight that Parliament can invoke a privilege dating back hundreds of years in British common law to demand access to “persons, papers, and records” in a public inquiry.

Farson, the former director of research for a parliamentary committee that reviewed the CSIS Act and the Security Offences Act in 1989–90, said Parliament may do this even if the matter is before the courts (sub judice).

“The minister just doesn’t get it,” Farson said. “We have this notion in Canada—and it’s sort of put out very frequently—that anything that is sub judice we shouldn’t be touching.”

Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin recently published a paper in Canadian Parliamentary Review stating that parliamentarians “must refrain from seeking to influence in any way the courts’ decision” when a matter is sub judice. Farson said that McLachlin is correct insofar as MPs should not influence cases or call judges. “But there is absolutely no reason why Parliament should not have done—and I would argue should have done—an inquiry on matters of policy that related to aircraft and airport security,” he said.

Farson also said that Canada, unlike many other countries, hasn’t conducted a thorough review of its primary intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The Security Intelligence Review Committee is supposed to oversee CSIS. However, the Globe and Mail recently reported former SIRC chairman Ron Atkey’s admission that senior officials in the Solicitor General’s office talked the panel out of conducting a broad review of CSIS’s role in the investigation of the Air India bombing.

In addition, Farson said that the 1989–90 parliamentary committee refused to review the relationship between the RCMP and CSIS in connection with the Air India tragedy. “I was told that this was not an issue that would be on the agenda,” he said.

Farson speculated that if the bomb had been placed on an Air Canada flight, he would “bet my bottom dollar” there would have been a public inquiry. “This was the largest mass murder in Canadian history,” he said.


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