....... transforms the work of the Air India inquiry
Jim Brown, Canadian Press
Published: Monday, May 21, 2007
OTTAWA (CP) - When John Major began his inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing, cynics wondered how he could possibly discover anything new about a tragic event so far in the past.
The former Supreme Court judge and his staff of lawyers have since provided a dramatic answer to that question, as witnesses step forward to tell stories they had kept to themselves for more than two decades.
"In my heart of hearts I hoped we would have that," says Jacques Shore, a lawyer for the families of the bombing victims. "When I spoke of that openly at the very beginning of the commission, people said I was being naive and maybe too hopeful."
In the last three weeks, however, the inquiry has heard startling testimony from:
-(at)Former diplomat James Bartleman, who says he shared intelligence with the RCMP before the bombing indicating that Air India was about to come under attack, only to be told by the Mounties that they already knew about the threat and didn't need his help to do their job.
-(at)Former Justice Department lawyer Graham Pinos, who says he heard Mel Deschenes, a top CSIS anti-terrorist officer, predict just days before the attack that Sikh extremists would bring down a plane sooner or later.
-(at)Former Quebec provincial policeman Serge Carignan, who says his sniffer dog never got a chance to check most of the baggage aboard Flight
182 because it took off before he arrived.
-(at)Former Burns Security guard Daniel Lalonde, who says Air India's security chief John D'Souza appeared anxious to get the plane off the ground for economic reasons, even if there hadn't been a full-scale luggage check.
Shore sees the flood of testimony as a kind of psychological cleansing for many of the witnesses.
"There was no place (until now) to unload the information that had been obviously sitting on these people's minds for so long. People had to clear their conscience but there wasn't an opportunity to do so."
He's hoping the trend will continue this week as the focus shifts to surveillance carried out by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on Sikh militants in the months preceding the June
It's known that CSIS had wiretapped most of the key suspects and had many of them under physical surveillance as well. The question has always been why nobody managed to piece the puzzle together in time to head off the bombing.
Mark Freiman, chief counsel to the inquiry, has not only welcomed the unexpected volunteers who have come knocking at his door to date, but has issued a public appeal for more.
"We are continuing to hear from people who are coming forward," said Freiman. "This is one of the benefits of a public inquiry . . . I encourage people who have relevant information to contact the commission."
It's a far cry from the course Major charted when he started his work. He thought then that most of the facts were long since on the public record, and his main task would be to draw lessons from them for future anti-terrorism policy.