June 1985: state terrorism in Canada


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org

WSWS : News & Analysis : North America : Canada
Inquiry shows Canadian state was forewarned of Air India bombings
By David Adelaide
29 May 2007

Twenty-two years after the Air India disaster, the worst terrorist crime in 
Canadian history, a public inquiry is unearthing further evidence that the 
Canadian state had advance knowledge of the impending attacks and was either 
unable or unwilling to stop them.

The Air India disaster took place in June 1985, when Sikh separatists based in 
British Columbia conspired to plant bombs on two separate Air India flights as 
part of a reactionary campaign to create an independent Sikh state, Khalistan, 
in the Punjab region of India. On June 23, an explosion aboard Air India Flight 
182 from Montreal to London destroyed the plane and killed all 329 passengers 
and crew, while almost simultaneously an explosion in baggage routed to a second
Air India flight killed two baggage handlers at Japan¹s Narita airport.

The identity of the main suspects in the crime was established at a very early 
date. Yet it was not until almost 20 years later that they were brought to trial
and in March 2005 acquitted, although there is little doubt that the accused 
were involved in the bombing plot. If the prosecution was unable to prove its 
case beyond a reasonable doubt, it was principally because the criminal 
investigation had been compromised by Canada¹s security services‹the Royal 
Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the then recently created Canadian Security 
Intelligence Service (CSIS)‹to cover their own tracks. Among other things, the 
trial revealed that CSIS destroyed mountains of wiretap evidence against the 
crime¹s principal author, Talwinder Singh Parmar, and that a CSIS mole had 
likely been planted among the conspirators, only to mysteriously quit the group 
just days before the attack.

The failure of the trial to produce any convictions and the revelation that the 
security services were at the very least in a position to have substantial 
advance knowledge of the crime gave added stridency to calls, especially from 
the families of the victims of Air India Flight 182, for a public inquiry. But 
the Liberal government of Paul Martin resisted these calls, keen to avoid 
scrutiny of the security services especially as they were already facing 
mounting criticism for their role in the illegal rendition of Maher Arar to 
Syria in October 2002 and his torture there. Instead, the Martin Liberals 
appointed former Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) Premier Bob Rae to report on
the ³possibility² of an inquiry in the future.

The Martin government, like its predecessors, feared that too close an 
investigation into the Air India tragedy would reopen the sordid history that 
led up to CSIS¹s creation in 1984. Following a string of revelations of serious 
criminal activity by the RCMP, much of it carried out by the former RCMP 
Security Service and directed against socialists, peace and student groups, 
trade unions and Quebec separatists, the McDonald Commission had recommended the
creation of a new, civilian intelligence agency. This was in order to provide 
better legal cover to the secret police¹s repressive activities (CSIS was given 
the legal right to do many things the RCMP had done illegally) and to bolster 
their ranks with operatives more sensitive to changing political conditions.

The Conservative minority government of Stephen Harper, which has distinguished 
itself by its support for the RCMP and CSIS, launched the long-delayed public 
inquiry in May 2005, appointing retired Chief Justice John Major as its head. 
Predictably, the terms of reference of the Major Commission have been formed 
around the same agenda that led preceding Liberal governments to resist the 
calling of such an inquiry‹the need to protect the security services. The 
Commission has been instructed to determine ³whether any changes in practice or 
legislation are required,² ³if there were problems in the effective cooperation 
between government departments and agencies,² and ³whether Canada¹s existing 
legal framework provides adequate constraints on terrorist financing².

In other words, the hope of the Canadian ruling class is that the present 
inquiry will finally dispose of the Air India affair so as to clean up the 
public image of CSIS and the RCMP while providing a pretext for an expansion of 
their powers. To the chagrin and frustration of the political establishment, 
however, witness after witness at the commission has provided testimony 
indicating that the state¹s security services were at the very least criminally 
negligent in relation to the Air India attacks.

Ontario¹s lieutenant-governor drops bombshell

The most startling testimony to date was that provided by the current Ontario 
Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman. On May 3, Bartleman told the inquiry that 
on 18 June 1985, only days before the bombings, he came across an intelligence 
intercept indicating that Air India would be struck on the weekend of June 
22-23. This directly contradicts government claims, from the earliest days, that
no one in the government or the security services had specific knowledge of an 
impending attack.

Bartleman is by no means a marginal figure. In 1985, he was director of security
and intelligence for the Department of External Affairs and a member of a 
then-recently-created special task force on Sikh extremism. Prior to that he had
been the Trudeau government¹s ambassador to Cuba, and subsequently worked as a 
foreign policy advisor for the Chrétien government. The full significance of 
Bartleman¹s testimony lies not simply in its contradiction of the official 
story, but in the fact that for the first time a high-level representative of 
the Canadian state has lifted the lid (even if only slightly) on the two-decade 
cover-up of the RCMP¹s and CSIS¹s role in the Air India disaster.

According to Bartleman, he immediately brought the intercept in question to the 
attention of one of the RCMP officers in the room where the special task force 
on Sikh extremism was meeting. Also present were representatives of CSIS, the 
RCMP, the Solicitor General¹s office and the Department of External Affairs. But
Bartleman says the RCMP officer to whom he showed the document ³hissed² at him 
that the RCMP was already aware of the information and had things under control.

Under pressure to explain why he had not come forward with this story before 
now, the best rationale Bartleman could offer was that the RCMP already knew 
about anything he had to say anyway. Yet the Globe & Mail quoted Bartleman 
telling reporters that ³[he] had no doubt whatsoever that the RCMP did not 
assess it [the intercept] and take appropriate action.²

Bartleman¹s explanation is not even slightly credible, given the occurrence of 
the bombing on schedule four days later and the numerous previous examples of 
RCMP incompetence, which had caused the Trudeau Liberal government to create a 
more ³professional² intelligence service, the CSIS.

A far more likely explanation is that he was instinctively upholding that 
state¹s interests by not saying anything to damage an already fragile security 
and intelligence apparatus. But now, for whatever reason‹the rise to power of 
the new Conservatives and the attendant frictions within ruling class circles 
over the ever-widening assault on democratic rights being conducted in the name 
of the ³war on terror², the idea that the RCMP is so damaged that matters could 
hardly be made worse, or perhaps the demands of conscience on an aging 
man‹Bartleman has had a change of heart.

It is interesting that the commission has been unable to find any paper record 
of the 18 June 1985 discussion of the special task force on Sikh extremism, 
although the existence of a discussion of some sort is not in question and 
documentation for numerous other meetings of the task force is available. This 
continues a larger pattern of missing or destroyed evidence: the Air India trial
showed that some 300 of Talwinder Singh Parmar¹s phone calls were taped in the 
months before the attack but that 80 percent of the tapes were destroyed in the 
days following the attacks!

Further indications of CSIS/RCMP cover-up

Subsequently, the inquiry heard testimony from former Quebec provincial police 
officer Serge Carignan that he had been called to Montreal¹s Mirabel airport on 
the evening of June 22 1985 in order to search Air India Flight 182 with his 
bomb-sniffing dog, Arko. But Arko and Carignan were not able to complete their 
assignment‹by the time they arrived the plane had already departed.

Carignan¹s testimony directly contradicts that of the RCMP top brass‹who have 
claimed that all Air India flights were being searched by their own dog masters 
at the time of the bombings. It has since come out, moreover, that the entire 
RCMP dog force was undergoing training in Vancouver at the time (hence the call 
to a Quebec provincial police officer). Carignan has also testified that he was 
never contacted by the RCMP during the two decades of subsequent investigations.

Carignan and Arko¹s failed attempt to search the plane was only one part of a 
large police presence around Air India Flight 182. Following a warning from the 
Indian High Commission that Air India flights were threatened, the RCMP had 
begun guarding the Air India airplane on the ground in Toronto and added four 
men at various points around Flight 182 at Mirabel airport. A recent article by 
Jeff Sallot and Jessica Leeder in the Globe & Mail calls attention to the 
curious fact that the RCMP logbook for June 22, 1985 at Mirabel airport contains
an entry reading ³20:05: Air India departed without incident² despite the 
established fact that the plane departed at 10:18 PM (22:18) and that Carignan 
and Arko¹s attempt to search the plane had been unsuccessful.

Daniel Lalonde, a former Burns security guard at Mirabel, testified to having 
overheard a discussion between an Air India official and an unidentified third 
party in which it was decided to allow the plane to fly before it could be 
searched by the bomb-sniffing dog in order to avoid the high costs of delaying 
the plane on the tarmac.

In recent testimony at the inquiry, two lawyers in contact with then head of 
CSIS¹s counter-terrorist branch Mel Deschenes described discussions they had 
with Deschenes shortly before the bombings. Here too there are further 
indications that the CSIS agent had knowledge of an impending attack on Air 
India. According to federal prosecutor Graham Pinos, Deschenes told him that ³he
was afraid of a plane being taken out of the air, or in his words, blown out of 
the air.² Meanwhile, according to former Ontario government prosecutor Michael 
Anne Macdonald, Deschenes told her he was returning to Canada from California 
immediately in order to deal with a Sikh terrorism case. On the grounds of age 
and poor health, Deschenes has been allowed to excuse himself from testifying 
before the inquiry.

The inquiry also heard from a convicted criminal who testified that, in the Fall
of 1984, he was approached with an offer of $200,000 for his participation in a 
plot to bring down an Air India plane, and that he immediately informed both 
Vancouver police and the RCMP about the criminal conspiracy. Two former 
Vancouver police offers have also testified regarding their awareness that Sikh 
separatists were planning terrorist actions and their filing of reports with the

The day after the Bartleman revelations the Globe & Mail ran an article under 
the headline ³Wiretap efforts hit red tape, Air-India probe hears² describing 
how it supposedly took five months for CSIS to get a wiretap warrant on Parmar. 
Even in this minor editorial decision the spin that the Canadian ruling class is
seeking to apply to the Air India case is apparent. All of the emphasis is on 
supposed obstacles to policing rather than on the established facts that the Air
India terrorists were under heavy surveillance, that their intentions were well 
known, and that much of the relevant evidence has been willfully concealed by 
government and security service representatives for two decades, if it was not 
destroyed in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

A May 18 Globe editorial lamented that ³two key anti-terror measures meant to 
protect Canadians from an imminent terrorist attack were allowed to lapse this 
winter² and went on to praise Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day¹s announced 
intention to revive the measures which allow ³preventive detention² and 
³compelled testimony before a judge². Only two days earlier the same paper had 
editorialized that the ³problems² with the RCMP made manifest in the Air India 
inquiry and in the case of Maher Arar would surely be solved now that the 
force¹s previous commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has been forced to resign 
(after being caught in a public lie about the RCMP¹s involvement in the case of 
Maher Arar).

The line that Air India was simply the result of conjunctural mistakes by the 
security services has also been advanced by Bob Rae, the one-time social 
democratic who last year failed in an attempt to win the leadership of the big 
business Liberal Party. In response to the Bartleman revelation, Rae said ³I 
think what the public is hearing, in a very, perhaps an abrupt way, is what I 
think has been pretty clear to people who¹ve studied this for a long time, and 
that is that there really was a problem of communication between different 
levels of government, different departments, different agencies, the RCMP and 

Although the former social democrat does not spell it out, implicit in his 
interpretation is a call for ³better² Canadian security and secret police 
forces. In this, Rae is remaining true to his NDP roots and the organization¹s 
defining characteristic, its loyalty to Canadian capital and its state.

The lesson working people should draw from the ongoing inquiry is the opposite 
of that which Rae and the editorialists of the Globe & Mail want. For 22 years 
the police and intelligence forces have worked to conceal their culpability 
vis-à-vis the Air India disaster. That the response of the media and political 
establishment is to call for increased powers to those police and intelligence 
forces further underlines the extent to which democratic rights have no 
constituency among the ruling elite. Those rights can only be defended by the 
working class as part of a struggle for socialism.

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