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The Missing Witnesses

by T. SHER SINGH

 

EDITOR: The following article, first published in May 2007, is being reproduced here in the wake of the most recent media blitz by the Canadian authorities on the 25-year old Air India bombing case. The obfuscation continues. The government is no closer to catching the criminals behind the bombing, but predictably continues to raise smoke-screens and red-herrings. None of the issues raised in this article have been either answered or challenged to date. 

 

The man who was Director of Security and Intelligence for the Government of Canada when the Air India murders occurred on June 23, 1985, threw a bombshell of his own recently at the inquiry currently being led by Retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice,  John Major.

He testified under oath that he became aware of a bomb-plot to blow up an Air India flight at least five days prior to the actual tragedy, and promptly conveyed the information to the powers at the RCMP  -  who, at that point, confirmed that they already knew about it. 

The issue cannot be shrugged off lightly: it's been raised by none other than one who is now the Queen's Representative  -  The Honourable James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

The testimony is startling, particularly since it has surfaced for the first time 22 years after the tragedy. The shock is not because Bartleman did not make it public prior to this date, but because the RCMP has sat on this information all along and chosen to keep it hidden. The simple question is, "Why?"

We also need a full and credible response from the RCMP as to why it failed to act on such information between June 18 and 23 in 1985.

There have been other, equally shocking revelations, since then. An officer from the Quebec Provincial Police, for example, has testified   -  also bringing this to light for the first time in 22 years, and directly contradicting the RCMP position as stated earlier under oath  -  that the Air India flight was given the clearance by the RCMP to take off from Montreal early, even though the bomb-sniffing dogs had yet to inspect the plane. He added that the RCMP officers then in charge knew that the canine squad had already been summoned and was but a few minutes away.

Concerns should now be heightened over the fact that there is yet more, equally startling information  -  this one is already part of the public record  -  which mysteriously continues to be evaded and avoided, investigation after investigation, inquiry after inquiry, year after year.

The latest revelations, added to an already mounting list of questions that remain unsatisfactorily answered by the RCMP, raise the level of concern to a crescendo.

Remember, that a large body of evidence pertaining to the bombing was actually destroyed by our intelligence services during the years following the crime  -  long before the trial. Evidence destroyed? By the police?

Remember, that it took the RCMP more than a decade  -  a decade!  -  before it posted its first reward for information pertaining to the crime. That is, after the key suspect, Talwinder Parmar, had been killed while in "third-party" custody in India.

Remember, the RCMP has, through the decades since 1985, vehemently and consistently resisted the holding of any public inquiry into the crime.

Bartleman's testimony, I suggest, adds a piece to the puzzle. But, in doing so, it also points to another piece of the puzzle for which, I believe, the time has come to address at the inquiry and to give a full and honest airing, if we are ever to get to the truth.

I believe it is time to ask some tough questions. Let me explain:

David Kilgour, like Bartleman, is no ordinary Canadian. He began his career as a Crown Attorney and then, as one of Canada's longest-serving Members of Parliament (25 years),  he had the distinction of having served as cabinet minister in Ottawa in both Conservative and Liberal governments. It goes without saying that he is a greatly respected politician, and continues to be widely acclaimed for his integrity and professionalism.

In 1994, Prentice Hall Canada Inc published a book by him entitled Betrayal: The Spy Canada Abandoned. [This 254-page meticulously-detailed biography can be googled.]

It is about a "KGB-trained Polish intelligence agent" who found himself employed by the RCMP and the CSIS in doing some unsavoury things for them in the mid-1980s.

Kilgour, then Federal MP for Edmonton Southeast, became interested and involved  when this spy  -  his name is Ryszard Paszkowski  -  was being unceremoniously deported from Canada, at the vehement behest of the RCMP and the CSIS. They wanted him out, at any cost. He begged to stay, fearing for his life if he was sent back to Europe  -  because he had done some bad stuff during his strange and multi-faceted career (including a hijacking).

Canada claimed it owed him nothing. Paszkowski claimed he had done some nasty things for Canada, and that the least he was owed was sanctuary. Things came to a head before the Federal Court of Canada, where Paszkowski  -  fighting for his life, according to him  -   cited a string of examples of yeoman service done by him for the Canadian authorities. The Court heard all the parties ... scrupulously scrutinized, and then accepted the facts presented by Paszkowski, and finally, granted him asylum. He now lives in Canada, despite the continued discomfort of the RCMP, CSIS, et al.

Now here's where both Kilgour and Paszkowski become relevant  -  nay, crucial  -  to the Air India story.

One of the examples of the services provided by Paszkowski to our agents, as presented to the Federal Court, is described in fine detail in Kilgour's book. Here's a bit of the story, as it pertains to the topic in question:

Paszkowski was interviewed by an RCMP officer at the Canadian Embassy in Rome in 1984. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited as a spy, given the name "Robert Fisher" and provided an expedited immigration visa to Canada on November 14, 1984.

Robert Fisher was assigned a number of tasks during the months that followed. In 1986,  he was flown to Rome and directed to meet a Dr Di Marco. Two "Sikhs wearing traditional turbans", an Italian and a German were also present.

In Betrayal: The Spy Canada Abandoned, Kilgour describes in vivid detail what happened:

"The latter [German] chaired the meeting and greeted them in English as all of them spoke the language with differing levels of fluency. The German spoke of the need for international co-operation and how important the mission was for each of their respective governments. He stressed that the group must work closely together. "Some of the tasks," he said, "might appear strange or even incomprehensible to you. Don't worry about that. Let it be the concern of those who sent you here. Your role is to carry out orders to the letter without asking questions." Everyone sat quietly and listened intently. "The job at hand is with the use of explosives to blow up an Air-India plane in Europe. Lives will be lost but we must not think about that. There are more important matters involved. You will stay in your hotels and wait for further details, which are presently being worked on. Each of you will be supplied with documents allowing you to move freely in Europe, weapons, explosives, money, and detailed instructions. I will meet with each of you personally to supply you with all of these. Wait for me and be prepared for action at any time ...

"As Paszkowski was returning to his hotel, his mind was full of what he had just heard. He was to blow up a plane and cause people to die. He started to pull all the threads together. He remembered Maduck [CSIS] stressing the government of Canada's troubles with its Sikh community and that it would be useful to discredit Canadian Sikhs generally. The Air India catastrophe off Ireland, which had killed more than 300 passengers, mostly Canadians, had occurred the previous year. Would this simultaneously do a large favour for the government of India and subdue the Canadian Sikh community as the prime suspects in the Air India crash? It seemed very clear that high-ranking people in these countries and probably others were involved.

"The governments of Canada, India, and Italy, or perhaps rogue branches of each, acting in concert, had decided on this preposterous mission and recruited agents like himself to help carry it out. There was no concern for human life; only political objectives mattered. There were two Sikhs in the group, but who knew their real identity or from which side they really came? There were many other unknown factors to know about the mission, but Paszkowski was certain he wanted none of it.

"He wondered if Maduck or Beech [his CSIS handlers] had known more about this mission. Was it only the Secretary of State, Joe Clark, and high ranking officials at CSIS who knew the full details?"

[Excerpts from Betrayal by David Kilgour, Ch. 9]    

 

According to Kilgour's book, and the evidence presented to the Federal Court, Paszkowski declined to be involved in the plot: he found it too macabre, even for him and even allowing for the vagaries of his "profession".

Much of the rest of the book outlines his trials and tribulations in trying to prevent the Canadian authorities from silencing him thereafter.

Incidentally, one of the RCMP officers then allegedly involved in trying to muzzle Paszkowski was a certain Inspector G. Zaccardelli! [who was later elevated to Chief Commissioner of the RCMP, but then, still later, forced to resign under a cloud of allegations of having lied under oath.]

Now, it is true that all of these "facts" do not allege any involvement in the 1985 tragedy. And, no doubt, these "facts" have only been tested in the context of Paszkowski's immigration troubles.

But here are some further  relevant facts: The RCMP has a long history of such operations. Anyone who is old enough to remember the McDonald Commission into RCMP activities in Quebec thirty years ago, will see the connection  -  the force was then found to have committed serious crimes, and made it look like the perpetrators were members of the Parti Quebecois! [The CSIS, Canada's new intelligence agency, was created as a result.]

And the fact is that a string of very serious questions remain unanswered vis-à-vis Air India. They all involve the role of our intelligence and security agencies.

How could there possibly be a proper inquiry without hearing David Kilgour, Ryszard Paszkowski, Giuliano Zaccardelli  ... and, of course, former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who was Canada's External Affairs Minister during the material times. Recall how desperately and deftly the latter avoided being questioned about any Sikh-Canadian matters, during public hearings held in the years immediately following the Air India tragedy?

There may or may not be any meat to Paszkowski's allegations. There may or may not be any nexus between the plot he was dragged into and the actual bombing that preceded it.

But isn't that what inquiries are for? Who will decide whether these questions need to be canvassed? The RCMP?

I fear if these four gentlemen are not called as witnesses, any conclusions arrived at by Mr Justice Major, at the end of the day, will remain unsatisfactory.

ADDENDUM: The above-described Inquiry deftly avoided calling any of the key witnesses, and issued a predictable report which maintained the status quo - the well-cultivated but dishonest impression that Sikh militants were behind the crime, but got away because of technicalities. In the meantime, the key witnesses continue to age, scatter and disppear.  

 

[T. Sher Singh served as a member of  the Ontario Police Commission between 1990 and 1993, and as a member of the 1989 Ontario Task Force on Policing .]

[This article was first published in May, 2007.]

March 18, 2010

 

Conversation about this article

1: BSA (Toronto, Canada), May 14, 2007, 10:12 AM.

An article that should be mandatorily published in every newspaper in Canada and India - a well-written peice of investigative and analytical journalism.

2: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), May 14, 2007, 2:13 PM.

I fear that while we address the machinations of murky, rogue intelligence agencies and their schemes, we should be careful not to let it divert us from recognizing that there were (and still are) some individuals and bodies within our community with dark intents. If the Canadian authorities have to introspect and get to the bottom of what they did or failed to do, and address the wrongs committed in their name, an honest audit within our community, including of the rhetoric used and the denial of some extremism that flourished within us, is also required.

3: Manpreet Singh (Surrey, Canada), May 15, 2007, 1:18 AM.

One cannot know the full extent of extremism in the community without a full airing of the role played by the RCMP, CSIS, RAW and CIA agencies in the Air India tragedy. True, there have been members of the community involved - but we also need to know about their relationship with these groups, and whether they were independent players or mere pawns in an overall strategy to discredit the community and quell the separatist movement in India.

4: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), May 15, 2007, 4:48 AM.

While we await the truth and the full story to emerge from the Air India inquiry, we need to continue to unequivocally condemn and excommunicate all of those in the community who flirt with and use the rhetoric of violence, who intimidate dissenters, who cling to an anti-democratic ideology, who promote hatred.

5: Sarbjit Singh (Los Angeles, USA), May 15, 2007, 1:15 PM.

The so-called biggest democracy in the world - India - is where humans rights are violated every single day by those whose mandate it is to protect them. Illegal cremations of thousands of innocent Sikhs, some as young as 9 years old, killed by the police or under their watchful eyes; and then hurriedly and secretly cremated by police, without notifying the families! Where is the justice for them? It's been more then 20 years. India needs to look deep within itself and find out why its people are driven, over and over again, into senseless violence.

6: Nicola Mooney & Dildeep Singh Dhillon (Toronto, Canada), May 15, 2007, 2:31 PM.

This piece expresses very well the sense of incredulity that has been present in our household while the most recent news on Air India has unfolded in the past few weeks. The mention of Kilgour's book gives some context to the various quietly-expressed conspiracy theories regarding government plots to malign Sikhs that we have heard with regard to Air India over the years. While these theories have largely been directed at India, it is worrisome to contemplate a possible Canadian role in such events.

7: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), May 15, 2007, 2:42 PM.

The human rights record of India is separate from the issue of the Air India bombing and the elements of extremism within the community. The people on board the Air India flight, which included 80 children, were not responsible for what happened in India. Just because India has a poor human rights record is no reason not to get to the truth of what happened in 1985, or to address the menace of extremism. Just because India does not address its murky past is no reason for Canada not too. In fact it is a sign of the maturity of Canadian society that it can deal with these issues in contrast to the Indian state. Sikhs should be brave and honest enough to also address issues of extremism amongst us, which also constitute a threat to us all.

8: Pushproop Singh (Brampton, Canada), May 15, 2007, 7:09 PM.

It is very sad and tragic that the 300+ innocent lives could not be saved. If the agencies had acted more responsibly and seriously, this dark tragedy could've been prevented. Here, I would also like point out that at least the Canadian government is trying, albeit belatedly and reluctantly and half-heartedly, to bring out the truth. The Indian government, on the other hand, is yet to face and acknowledge the well-planned pogroms in which thousands of innocent citizens and taxpayers across the country, including in its very capital, were murdered in cold blood - with the full complicity of its politicians, the police, etc. In fact, some of the culprits became cabinet ministers in the country's federal government!

9: Sarbjit Singh (Los Angeles, USA), May 15, 2007, 8:35 PM.

Let's face it: our lives are tied to India with an umbilical cord. And so is the whole saga of the Air India tragedy. It's purely an Indian issue; those people who ever did this were obviously affected by what happened in Punjab and the rest of India in 1984. Sad thing is that the folks who are born in the UK/USA/Canada do not know the full details of the horrors of 1984 because foreigners were not allowed into Punjab for a long time. And who can believe what we were told by the state-controlled media? I truly feel sorry for the victims. If we're really looking to solve the puzzle, we'll have to start in India ...

10: Satvinder Singh (London, England), May 16, 2007, 2:57 AM.

We are not unique, and need not carry any collective guilt if we do have "some individuals and bodies" amongst us "with dark intents". Show me a community that doesn't. But before we go pointing fingers at those who have gone mad, let's first look at those who drove them to madness. It would be a travesty if we only pre-occupy ourselves with the former, while letting the latter go scot free.

11: Harinder (Pune, India), May 16, 2007, 3:29 AM.

The tale of Harishchandra, the ancient Indian king of legend and lore, teaches us of the absolute importance of truth in the lives of those who enjoy the privilege of power over others. Without it, it is unrealistic to expect order and justice to prevail in society.

12: Sukhminder Singh (London, England), May 16, 2007, 3:32 AM.

After reading the article, you can't help feeling a little skeptical now about anything the RCMP says. Latest News: "RCMP dogs busy training weekend of Air India", Updated Tuesday, May 15 2007, Canadian Press - OTTAWA - No bomb-sniffing dog was on duty in Toronto the weekend of the 1985 Air India bombing because the RCMP had sent every such canine it had on a training course, a public inquiry has heard. That left the baggage loaded onto the ill-fated Flight 182 to be screened by an electronic detector that had failed a test conducted six months earlier. ...

13: Sonu S. K. (San Diego, USA), May 17, 2007, 1:36 PM.

The measure of a democracy is in its pursuit of justice for the people. India's apathy towards 1984+ is just a slap in the face for all of us, and is the mere tip of the iceberg. There are enormous resources in place in India today to erase the Sikh identity through miseducation, drugs, booze, etc. If Sikhs deem themselves distinct, then we should act like it, and demand better leadership.

14: Harjot (Toronto, Canada), June 07, 2007, 10:57 AM.

There has been a lot of media coverage on this case. Very few people are talking about the role of the Indian Government. Please check out www.airindiatragedy.com

15: Gurteg Singh (New York, U.S.A.), March 18, 2010, 10:03 AM.

The repeated over-enthusiasm and advice of Jagdeep Singh to defame Sikhs and his wish that we "excommunicate all of those in the community who flirt with and use the rhetoric of violence, who intimidate dissenters, who cling to an anti-democratic ideology, who promote hatred" is only matched by his his totally underwhelmed response and advice to ignore massive human rights abuses by India and its shameless role in the Air India crime. We must also never forget the key evidence that clearly points a finger towards Indian involvement. All along, we have been told that Talwinder Singh Parmar was the key plotter of Air India bombing. It is also now confirmed beyond any doubt that he was eliminated while in the custody of India Government. Why was the so-called main culprit who blew up its national carrier was not handed over to Canada so that the entire conspiracy and all the culprits could be caught and punished? We should also never forget that during that tumultuous period in 1984-1986, India had specially deputed its top spy, Krishana Maloy Dhar, who has recently publically admitted in his book to engineering infiltration and destabilization in the Canadian Sikh community.

16: M. Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 18, 2010, 5:09 PM.

I find it very troublesome contemplating an RCMP role in the Air India bombings. Stories like this make me question the extent to which governments of nation-states are willing to forgo law and morality in order to advance their agendas. Do people in power justify their actions, no matter how wrong, based on a desirable end? Is the world we live in so dangerous that thinking it's wrong to kill is considered naive? [EDITOR: Official commissions and public inquiries during the last several decades have often found criminal wrong-doing by the RCMP - not by rogue elements within the force, but in officially sanctioned operations. Canada is not unique in this. India has taken this pattern of behaviour to a virtual policy level. To clarify: the evidence points to the fact that the RCMP was dragged into this mess by the Indian operatives without knowing - naively on the part of the RCMP - what the Indians were up to. Once the crime was committed, the RCMP has been preoccupied covering up its role to avoid culpability and liability.]

17: M. Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 18, 2010, 5:12 PM.

I found the meeting of Paszkowski with the Italian, German and the two persons posing as 'Sikhs' incredibly curious. If such a meeting really did occur, it opens a chest-full of questions about what happens behind closed doors at the highest levels of power. I wonder if the Italian presence in the Congress party of India or their decision to appoint a Sikh PM is in anyway related. Further, I also find the obsession with Sikh persons in the Indian media and Bollywood in the last 5-8 years very curious as well, considering we make up 2% of India's population.

18: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), March 20, 2010, 9:57 AM.

Gurteg Singh from New York seems to have projected meanings, resonances and attitudes onto my comments based on his own reflexes and not on what I actually think or said. It's such a shame, because apart from asserting things about my personal attitudes that he knows nothing about, he also gets it spectacularly wrong. The point is, that decrying hatred, violent rhetoric, racism and bigotry within one's own community does not preclude decrying it in others too. Once you understand this basic concept, it's not too hard to see how it fits together. It is not a zero sum game. A very simple point, that I find hard to understand how anyone can disagree with it.

19: J. Kaur (United Kingdom), March 20, 2010, 12:29 PM.

I think that Jagdeep Singh has forgotten the concept of 'Miri' and 'Piri'. The Sikhs as a community have never resorted to violence except to deal with an oppressor or top defend itself against an invader - and even then, always as a last resort, in accordance with Guru Gobind Singh's dictum and the rules of civilized society. [We, of course, have our fair share of individual criminals and each society has laws to deal with them.] We have to be careful that we don't disarm ourselves with this concept of being 'passive' and 'non-resistant' - we don NOT believe in turning the other cheek - the principle that kept Hindus as slaves for more than a millennium! Although much applauded in the western communities, it is interesting that these concepts have never been practiced by them! A note in point is President Obama's speech when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize where he openly advocated the use of arms to defeat one's enemies. Let us not criticise those who took up arms in Punjab as they were fighting for a just cause against a regime which has more than once shown itself as corrupt, ruthless and murderous! Asking for more autonomy in its affairs, including the rights to its water and its own personal laws as practiced in other states of India, is not extremism by any definition. No extremism existed in the Punjab as Sikhi is not an extremist religion, like hindutva, the RSS, etc. This is a red herring which has been created by anti-Sikh elements in order to crush any resistance to domination by its right-wing hindu nuts.

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