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Ottawa could have averted Kanishka tragedy: probe panel

Narayan Lakshman

WASHINGTON: After waiting 25 years for a closure, families of the victims of the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history, the bombing of Air India 182, were on Thursday told by a Commission of Inquiry that the Canadian government was responsible for failing to act upon credible information indicating that the attack was imminent.

In a scathing report by the Commission, its head, the former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, John Major, noted: “Government agencies were in possession of significant pieces of information that, taken together, would have led a competent analyst to conclude that Flight 182 was at high risk of being bombed by known Sikh terrorists in June 1985.”

Flight 182, nicknamed Emperor Kanishka and operating on the Montréal-London-Delhi-Bombay route, was blown up by a bomb at an altitude of 31,000 feet on June 23, 1985. The Boeing 747-237B aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in Irish airspace, killing all 329 people aboard, including 280 Canadians – many of Indian origin – and 22 Indians.

The report also issued a sharp criticism of the structure of Canadian security agencies and their lack of coordination. “There is a lack of institutionalised coordination and direction in national security matters.” It added that Canadian agencies had developed a culture of managing information in a manner designed to protect their individual institutional interests.

In particular, the report recommended that the National Security Adviser ought to be given much greater powers to intervene and resolve disputes between the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The Commission argued that the “current practice of attempting to limit the information the CSIS provides to the RCMP in order to prevent its disclosure in potential criminal proceedings is misguided, as disclosure obligations at trial are engaged by potential relevance, not by which agency has seen the information.” It further noted that the result of such efforts to deny intelligence to the police was an “impoverished response” to terrorist threats.

The Commission further criticised the process of the post-bombing inquiry, pointing out that the CSIS often failed to disclose promptly to the RCMP information relevant to the criminal investigation, particularly information from human sources, or it disclosed information without sufficient detail or in a manner that prevented the RCMP from using the information.

The report also attacked the government's response to victim families. It said Canadian government agencies consistently opposed external review and attempted, “at times successfully,” to avoid or delay such reviews.

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