Krista - posted on 06/17/2010 ( 4 moms have responded )
I lost my best friend that horrible day. I was nine years old. I hope that you will read this and remember the people who died, and their devastated families who were left behind.
Later this month, several dozen Canadians will journey to Cork, Ireland, to attend a solemn ritual that has become an annual event for them. They go to visit the graves of their loved ones whose remains lie, not in Cork precisely, but somewhere in the ocean depths nearby — the 329 men, women and children who lost their lives when Air India Flight 182 went down in the North Atlantic on June 23, 1985.
The survivors go to remember, to grieve, and also to bear witness to a crime that goes unpunished to this day. Before the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Air India bombing was the worst act of aviation terrorism in history. It was, and is, the worst-ever terrorist attack directed against Canadians. And yet the perpetrators walk freely among us today. Certainly we never put them in jail for their crimes. On June 17, a commission of inquiry on the attack will report its findings.
Like the attacks of 9/11, the Air India attack did not come out of nowhere. There were plenty of warnings. Indian officials, up to and including prime minister Indira Gandhi, warned Canadian officials on numerous occasions that Sikh extremists in Canada — men who claimed to be fighting for a Sikh homeland in India — were plotting and sponsoring criminal acts in India and, very likely, against Air India. Canada didn’t ignore the warnings exactly but its response was woefully inadequate. For instance, the Canadian Intelligence and Security Service (CSIS) put wiretaps on some of the suspected terrorists, but since the suspects spoke a language no one at CSIS understood, they weren’t much use.
Furthermore, the fact that Air India was under terrorist threat seems not to have been passed on to the passenger agents or security or baggage people who handled Air India and connecting flights in Canada or, if it was, they didn’t take the threat very seriously. The man who checked the bomb into the plane in Vancouver didn’t have a confirmed seat for the journey to New Delhi, but his bag flew on regardless, until it exploded. Nor was checked luggage exposed to any real scrutiny at stops in Toronto and Montreal.
After the explosion, when investigators went looking for the wiretap recordings that CSIS had been amassing, they were amazed to find that they’d all been erased. No doubt this was one reason that the prosecution failed to get any convictions in the case when it finally came to trial — 20 years after the event.
There is no question that the Air India bombing left a black mark on the Canadian justice system, as well as on the police, intelligence and security services. Our collective failure to prevent the tragedy or to punish those responsible will forever haunt us.
But regret is not enough.
Twenty-five years after Air India, we must remember how easy it was for terrorists to operate among us and we must resolve never again to let our guard down.
More than that, we ought to do everything we can to help the surviving victims of Air India, to make up for our negligence. There is a school of thought that because the victims of the bombing were mostly Canadians of Indian heritage, and the flight was Air India’s, that we didn’t treat the bombing as a Canadian tragedy.
If true, this would help explain why the first person the Canadian prime minister extended his condolences to was his counterpart in India — not the families of the bombing victims here at home. Some of the families feel that the Irish have offered them more comfort than Canadians have over the years. We must not forget them and what they have been through.
Twenty-five years is a long time — and it is nothing. For those who will undertake the journey to Cork this year, the sight of the Air India memorial will inevitably make their wounds feel raw again. There is no possibility of closure here, no escaping the lasting pain that such a loss inflicts.