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Terrorist rhetoric is hate speech, Major says
Air India inquiry head calls it worse than anti-Semitism
Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

The first part of John Major's Air India commission report will focus on the testimony to the inquiry of victims' families.
CREDIT: Rod MacIvor, CanWest News Service
The first part of John Major's Air India commission report will focus on the testimony to the inquiry of victims' families.

OTTAWA - Rhetoric from some Sikh extremists prior to the Air India bombing was worse that that of a notorious Alberta teacher convicted of anti-Semitic hate speech, the head of the bombing inquiry said Monday.

Commissioner John Major was commenting as terrorism expert Martin Rudner testified about how more needs to be done to prosecute the glorification of terrorism in Canada.

Rudner, of Carleton University, said no one in Canada has been prosecuted under hate laws for inciting or promoting terrorism.

He alluded to the July 1984 videotaped speech of Babbar Khalsa leader Ajaib Singh Bagri calling for the murder of 50,000 Hindus.

Bagri was charged and acquitted in the Air India bombing but was never charged for his violent speech, which Rudner said might have had "catastrophic" results.

"For effective counter-terrorism, each stage of the cycle offers points of intervention," Rudner testified at the Ottawa inquiry.

"When people spoke the way that they did and said what they did by way of incitement and fomenting hatred -- we had to intervene at that propaganda stage of the cycle to prevent the ultimate attack on Air India."

Major interjected and said some of the separate Sikh rhetoric appeared to be worse than the comments made by Jim Keegstra, the former teacher and Eckville, Alta. mayor convicted after he told his students that Jews plotted for hundreds of years to take over the world.

"You'll recall perhaps the school teacher from Alberta, Keegstra, who was preaching a form of hate propaganda and there was debate over freedom of the speech and so on, but the content of his speech to the naked eye didn't seem near as threatening to society as what we saw pre-Air India bombing," Major said.

Rudner said there should be a review of anti-hate laws to see if they are adequate in prosecuting terrorist propaganda and incitement.

He said Britain has successfully prosecuted one such case, resulting in prison time for a radical Islamist cleric.

There has been renewed controversy on the issue since Air India mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar was twice praised recently for his sacrifices to the extremist cause.

In October, Bagri called Parmar a martyr at a Surrey memorial service and last April, Parmar and other assassins were portrayed as martyrs in a parade organized by a Surrey Sikh temple.

Rudner said revisiting hate crime legislation is not only "desirable. I think it is necessary. It is vital."

Rudner also recommended the restructuring of Canada's intelligence-sharing agencies to ensure that critical information is appropriately circulated.

The inquiry into the June 23, 1985 terrorist attack is expected to wrap up witness testimony this week.

And Major, the retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, will release the first part of his report today, focusing on the devastating aftermath of the terrorist attack on victims' families.

Dozens of relatives of the 329 bombing victims appeared at the inquiry in the fall of 2006 and Major's first phase report will summarize that testimony.

During their emotional recollections of those difficult days 22 years ago, the families described feeling abandoned by the Canadian government. They said there were few Canadian officials available to help when they arrived in Ireland to retrieve bodies that had been recovered from the wreckage off the coast.

Major is not expected to make recommendations in his partial report, but rather to wait until his final report is completed in the spring.

Meanwhile, an official from the B.C. Attorney-General's office testified Monday that the federal government should contribute to the costs of expensive "mega-trials" such as Air India and the serial murder case of Robert (Willie) Pickton.

Brent Thompson told Major that in the case of Air India, the federal government agreed early on to a 50-50 cost sharing for the trial, even though court services are a provincial responsibility.

"I think where cases have such a profile and where the quality of our justice system is on display as it was with the Air India case and other large cases, then that ought to be factored into the consideration of federal contribution to federal funding," Thompson said, providing documents showing the total prosecution cost $58 million, with Ottawa contributing about $28 million.

"There was a mutual meeting of the minds -- federal and provincial -- probably two years before and that was based upon the international aspect of it principally. The federal government was clear it was an unprecedented contribution they were going to make in that case."

© The Vancouver Sun 2007


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