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AirIndia

Air India Inquiry & Apology – Too Little Too Late?

October 14, 2007

1 man dead.

Cause:  Tasered five times by the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport in British Columbia.

Public inquiry commences proceedings on January 19, 2009.

The final report is released on June 18, 2010, less than 3 years after the incident.

May 2000

7 people dead.

Cause:  Contaminated drinking water in the town of Walkerton, Ontario.

Public Inquiry is established on June 12, 2000 by the Ontario government.

The final report is released in May 23, 2002, exactly 2 years after the event.

June 23, 1985

329 people dead.

Cause:  Air India flight 182, en route from Toronto and Montreal to India, explodes in midair over the coast of Ireland.

No public Inquiry is established until 2006.

The final report is released on June 17, 2010, 25 years after the tragedy.

If you find this as unbelievable as I do, then consider also this.

Robert Dziekanski, the man tasered to death, was not a Canadian.  He was a Polish immigrant who just happened to be dealt a fatal hand on Canadian soil.  The actions of 4 RCMP officers, were grossly inappropriate, disproportionate and an abuse of power.  Conducting an investigation into the actions of officers from our national police and intelligence-gathering force was deemed important enough to strike a public inquiry.

I was one of the staff lawyers on the Commission for the Walkerton Inquiry.  Seven Canadians sadly lost their lives simply because they trusted in the safety of their drinking water.   There were no threats to national security, no acts of terrorism involved.  It was a case of E. coli contaminating the drinking water supply coupled with flaws in the system of oversight that required close examination.  The government took that concern seriously; it took only one month for an inquiry to be struck.  The Commission took that threat seriously.  Commissioner Dennis O’Connor, cognizant of the need to provide answers and redress to the families of the victims, as well as recommendations to prevent future incidents, delivered both of his reports within two years of the tragedy.

Contrast both of these situations with the worst mass murder in Canadian history. Of the 329 people killed, 280 were Canadian nationals.  Surveillance and wiretap intelligence gathered before the incident was extensive and compelling.  This was an act of terrorism.  In the years that followed, the worldwide investigations uncovered various threads of this complex plot.  The body of evidence mounted.

And then the unthinkable happened.  In one of the most expensive criminal investigations in Canadian history, for which a high security trial room was specifically built, the Crown could not prove its case.  There was insufficient evidence.  Fingers began pointing to the improper handling of the investigation by both intelligence arms of the Canadian government.  The lack of intelligence-sharing between the RCMP and CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Services), the now-infamous erasing of crucial wiretap evidence and the shocking inability of intelligence officers to draw conclusions of a credible terrorist threat in advance of the bombing all pointed to one thing:  the need for a public inquiry.  In the intervening years, there were repeated calls for an inquiry but until 2006, there was no political will to establish one.  And until former Supreme Court Justice John Major’s damning report, released just last week on June 17th, finding a “cascading series of errors” by the Government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that allowed the terrorist attack to take place, there was no vindication for the victims or their families.

This begs the question:  Why??

Why the inaction, inertia, delay and blatantly different treatment from some other notable incidents provoking public inquiries?

Dare I ask the question on the minds of many Canadians:  Would it have been different if the victims were white?

On June 23, 1985, my sister and I awoke to a surreal tragedy unfolding around us.   Our parents had sent us from Montreal to Toronto by train the day before so that we could attend the sangeet of our cousin, who was to be married the following weekend.  On that fateful morning, we woke up early to the sound of grief, the kind that is profound and echoes with shock.  We were young and away from our parents.  We were not prepared for the magnitude of what we would learn.  In the hours and days that followed, we would come to know of more and more people that we each knew from both the Montreal and Toronto communities that were on board that doomed flight.  A close high school friend of mine, several elementary school friends of my sister’s, many family friends.  It was the same for everybody around us.  Our communities were close-knit – everyone knew someone on that flight.  The Indian communities in Montreal and Toronto would never be the same.  Some of us Canadian by birth, some of us Canadian because this was where we chose to call home.  All of us mourning the loss of 280 Canadian victims.

Twenty years after the downing of Air India Flight 182, families gathered in Ireland to grieve.  The anniversary was declared a national day of mourning.  The then Prime Minister Paul Martin remarked, “Make no mistake: The flight may have been Air India’s, it may have taken place off the coast of Ireland, but this is a Canadian tragedy.”

Perhaps if that had been the prevailing view from the outset, history would have unfolded differently.

As it is, yesterday, Wednesday, June 23, 2010, on the 25th anniversary of the Air India disaster, the Canadian government made its first official apology to the victims of the bombing.

While not insignificant, is this just a little too little, a little too late?. . .

About the Author:

Entrepreneur, lawyer and mother, Niru is the visionary and creative force behind a new one-of-a-kind lifestyle show aimed at examining the rich and complex South Asian experience in North American life.  Join her as she chronicles her journey into the creative world of producing a show and as she explores interesting, engaging and compelling issues that grab our attention and capture our imagination.

About the Author:

Entrepreneur, lawyer and mother, Niru is the visionary and creative force behind a new one-of-a-kind lifestyle show aimed at examining the rich and complex South Asian experience in North American life.  Join her as she chronicles her journey into the creative world of producing a show and as she explores interesting, engaging and compelling issues that grab our attention and capture our imagination.

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