Saturday, April 16, 2005

April 16, 2005: Grewal comments on Air India acquittals

Kanishka appeal extended: Relatives, politicians unhappy

Arthur J. Pais in New York | April 16, 2005 16:14 IST

As the prosecutors in the Air India bombing case got an extension on their deadline to decide whether to appeal a judge's decision that released two prime suspects on March 15, relatives of the victims and politicians who are demanding a judicial inquiry into the way the 20-year-old probe was conducted reacted with anger and dismay.

Justice Risa Levine of the British Columbia Court of Appeal said the amount of material the prosecutors have to review and the complexity of the case justified the extension.

The government will have time till May 13 to appeal the acquittals of businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and gurdwara priest and mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri charged in the worst mass murder in Canadian history.

The bombing of Air India's Kanishka killed 329 people, most of them Canadians. A second bomb killed two more at the Tokyo airport.

"I don't know if the government will want to risk an appeal," opposition member of the Parliament Gurmant Grewal told He added, "A cloud is hanging over our community and it has to be cleared. And the government has to be made to acknowledge its mistakes."

A few days ago a non-binding resolution placed by Grewal was passed by the House of Commons. "The government certainly has the capacity to hold an inquiry," he said, adding, "But the question is whether the government will have the political will to do it."

Grewal said, "Before the airplane (Kanishka) exploded, there were warnings from inside Canada and from outside about a potential terrorist attack but the government did not do enough. A judicial inquiry could try to find out why."

"We have to investigate further into the mysterious death of Talvinder Singh Parmar, an alleged mastermind of the plot," he said.

"The judicial inquiry should also look at the lapses of the Canadian intelligence," he said, adding, " Why was at least 150 hours of recorded wiretaps destroyed?"

Grewal added that at the end of 20 years of investigations involving 250 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 115 witnesses and $150 million (Canadian), no one has been identified or prosecuted.

He asserted that the relatives of the victims would not find closure till the guilty are punished by the legal system.

"The judicial inquiry will at least try to find out where things have been going wrong in the past 20 years," he said, adding, "And we could draw lessons and avoid similar acts of terrorism in the future."

The demand for inquiry is becoming steadily stronger and angry words are being exchanged. Conservative leader Stephen Harper blasted the Liberals in the House of Commons over their handling of the affair, asking, "If there were 350 white people on that plane, would we be waiting for an inquiry?"

According to the Canadian newspaper reports, Prime Minister Paul Martin countered angrily, "Any notions of racism are odious and any accusations of such are simply not acceptable."

Many relatives of the victims told that they have no confidence that the government will appeal the verdict favouring Malik and Bagri, and even if it did, it may not be able to effectively prosecute them.

Soon after the April 12 vote in the Commons in which 172 people backed an inquiry and 124 opposed it, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan declared that it would be premature to consider an inquiry into the bombing.

Talking to Canadian journalists before the vote, her spokesman said that she would take the result 'into consideration' but not necessarily abide by it.

Soon after the vote she met with many relatives of the victims but some relatives stayed away insisting that the government should institute an inquiry before trying to mend fences.

A spokesman for the Air India Victims Relatives' Association, Susheel Gupta, told reporters the boycott was because McLellan had refused to back the public inquiry.

But McLellan told reporters that 'an eminent person', to be appointed by the government would be able to identify issues that need to be investigated.

"There will be a process. It could be a public inquiry or a parliamentary committee... there are other possibilities," she said, explaining, "And that's why I want to take the advice of an eminent person, independent of government, to help me decide."