Canada rebuts racism charges in handling Kanishka bombing

July 11th, 2008 - 10:07 am ICT by IANS  

By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto, July 11 (IANS) The Canadian government has denied charges of racial bias in its response to the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182 that killed all 329 people on board. The issue was raised by a Toronto University professor who in her paper and oral testimony in February to the public inquiry had alleged racial bias in Canadian response to the Air India case - before and after the tragedy.

Prof Sherene Razack, who had done a study on behalf on the families of the Air India victims, concluded that systemic racial bias affected Canadian response - from the plot threat to the criminal investigations - to the bombing which killed 329 people aboard Kanishka flight 182 from Toronto to Delhi June 23, 1985.

She said systemic racism and stereotyping indeed guided Canadian response to the plot and investigations, leading to acquittal of suspects - Ripduman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri. Inderjit Singh Reyat, who was released Thursday after 20 years in jail, was the only person convicted for the mass murder.

Despite the rising Sikh extremism in Canada before the 1985 bombing, she said: “You find a kind of disregard for this that arises out of people being locked in their own world and without a chance to challenge their homogeneity.

Hinting at then prime minister Brian Mulroney’s condolence message to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi even when most victims were Canadian citizens, Prof Razack said: “There was no powerful symbolic gesture that would indicate to Canadians that this is a Canadian tragedy.”

In its submission, made public Thursday, the Canada government (read the attorney general) rebutted her charges of racial bias in handling the case.

The submission said Razack did not have access to sufficient data to base her conclusions, “nor even sufficient time to dissemble the limited body of information that she was provided with which she accepted as fact even though it appears much of it was inaccurate or open to different interpretations.”

To charges of lax security for Air India, it said, “extra security was in place for all Air India flights and that such level of security was not provided for any other airline with the exception of El Al.”

Saying that Air India too was responsible for a number of security measures, including the screening of check-in baggage, it said: “Yet according to Professor Razack any fault that may have existed in security measures taken by Air India could not be attributed to racism.conversely, any deficiencies in measures taken by Canadian agencies can be attributed to racism presumably because of colour differences.”

The attorney general’s submission said Prof Razack was factually wrong in concluding “that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) felt the government of India was exaggerating the threat of Sikh terrorism and that the threat assessment of Sikh terrorism was low, that the main official at Department of Transport Headquarters was never briefed or trained in any way on the issue of Sikh extremism, and that certain family members did not receive a single letter of condolence from the federal government.”

Citing how poorly researched and less than balanced her conclusions were, it said: “For instance, she was unaware that William Warden, Canadian High Commissioner to India, pressed the fact that the bombing was a Canadian tragedy with Indian Foreign Secretary in New Delhi.”

Set up by the government after a hue and cry over acquittal of two Air India bombing suspects in 2005, the public inquiry, headed by former Canadian chief justice John Major, started its work in May 2006 and ended it in February 2008. The inquiry panel will submit its report soon, highlighting what went wrong and where and how to avoid it in the future.

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