Canada’s benighted record on India-related terrorism | John L. Hill

By John L. Hill

Law360 Canada (September 22, 2023, 8:08 AM EDT) --
John L. Hill
John L. Hill
A Canadian citizen believed to be a terrorist by India was murdered on Canadian soil. Prime Minister Trudeau told the House of Commons on Sept. 18 that Canada attributes the killing to a state-sponsored assassination at the behest of the Indian government. Tensions between the two countries have escalated to the point of the recall of ambassadors and the halting of all visa services for citizens of Canada.

No murder can be condoned, and it is proper to seek out the perpetrator and explore the motivation for the killing. However, Canada should not take a too-righteous stand in condemning the killing.

In my book, Pine Box Parole, I explore the Air India bombing that occurred on June 23, 1985, in a chapter titled Inderjit Singh Reyat, Air India: Terrorist or Victim. The Air India disaster involved the bombing of Flight 182 in which the Boeing 747 aircraft en route from Toronto to Delhi was blown from the sky off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 passengers on board. The same day, baggage being loaded onto another Air India jet exploded at Narita airport in Japan, killing baggage handlers.

The RCMP was investigating what was considered Sikh terrorist activity, and a man named Reyat was considered to be the man who supplied the dynamite used to construct the bombs. No one looked into if Reyat was pressured into securing the explosives. Nonetheless, he was arrested, taken to court and fined for his involvement. Following his court appearance, he returned to England, where he worked as an electrician.

When the government of India captured an actual terrorist in India, that person was pressured to name those responsible for the Air India explosions. One of the names provided was Inderjit Singh Reyat, even though Reyat was not a mastermind of the plot.

Canada, despite having already prosecuted Reyat, sought his deportation from England and, upon his arrival back in Canada, retried him for the bombings. He was convicted and served almost 30 years in Canadian prisons. He is often called the “only man convicted of the Air India bombings.”

A later Canadian government commission investigating the situation pointed out the laxity in conducting a thorough investigation by both the RCMP and CSIS. Authorities were even warned in advance that the bombings would occur. With someone in prison, even though serving time for a crime for which he had already been convicted, Canada could proclaim that it had done its job in rooting out Sikh terrorism in this country.

CBC’s The Fifth Estate uncovered that the American CIA and FBI knew Sikh terrorists were operating with the help of Pakistani authorities. Sikh terrorists bought weapons with the help of a Pakistani secret service agency and were trained in the United States. Former CIA director Robert Gates claimed no knowledge of the CBC’s findings. However, at the time, the United States did not want to upset Pakistan as its support was crucial in the United States’ war in Afghanistan.

So, rather than root out the real perpetrators, we let a minor player rot in prison for years so that we could proclaim to the world that justice was served.

Canada knows very well the upset terrorism can create. We need only consider the imposition of the War Measures Act on Oct. 16, 1970, when traditional rights were suspended after a terrorist group, the FLQ, killed British trade commissioner James Cross.  Can we blame India for wanting retribution against terrorists?

Canada does not come into this dispute with clean hands. While we forcefully denounced terrorism, we were less than willing to seek out and punish the people behind the Air India disaster. While murder on Canadian soil is unacceptable, we should be working to root out terrorist activity taking place in this country. We do not have proper footing on moral high ground to enter into this international dispute.

John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. He is also the author of Pine Box Parole: Terry Fitzsimmons and the Quest to End Solitary Confinement (Durvile & UpRoute Books). Contact him at johnlornehill@hotmail.com.

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