VANCOUVER, March 15, 2005:
Amid the whispered rumours and not-so-hushed conversations
about who was involved in the Air India bombings, a growing
distrust of the justice system took hold in the Indo-Canadian
Five years, 10 years, then 15 years passed before the RCMP
charged two men suspected in twin bombings that killed 331
On Wednesday, after 233 trial days, a B.C. Supreme Court
judge will deliver the verdicts in the case against Ripudaman
Singh Malik, 58, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, 55.
They both face eight charges, including first-degree murder,
attempted murder and conspiracy in the bombings.
Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747, crashed into the Atlantic
Ocean off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing
all 329 passengers and crew who had left for Mumbai via
Less than an hour earlier, two baggage handlers at Tokyo's
Narita airport were killed while loading a suitcase onto
another Air India flight that was the intended target of
Investigators suspected sabotage of India's national airline
by B.C.-based Sikh extremists bent on seeking revenge against
the Indian government.
While families were relieved when charges were finally
laid in October 2000, they had grown weary of waiting and
wondered when the suspects would ever face a court of law.
Some in the community say police could have moved faster
to make arrests while others claim that would have been
the case if the victims hadn't been Indo-Canadians.
A prominent member of the community, who did not wish to
be named, said people became disillusioned when so much
time went by without charges.
"When it first happened there was shock and when nothing
was happening it was like . . . 'it's because (the victims)
weren't whites nobody's taking care of it,' " she said.
Over the years, the Air India bombing story seemed to lose
the attention of many media outlets, she said.
"Instead of all these brown faces, if white faces
had perished we would have heard about it over and over
Distrust of police was at an all-time high when the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service erased tapes of Air India
surveillance, which led people to believe justice would
never come, the woman said.
"There was a lot of heartache and pain for the families
and there was a time when everybody forgot about (the case)."
But healing of old wounds in the community started when
the arrests were made five years ago, she said.
"I think people needed the names (of the accused)
. . . to be out in the open so that people felt they were
vindicated in a way and that the justice system was on top
Over the years, when police seemed to forget the Air India
case, many in the Indo-Canadian community believed justice
for the families would be denied, said Sarwan Singh Randhawa
of the Ross Street Sikh Temple.
"After so many years of nothing happening, some people
were saying police just didn't have any evidence and some
very powerful people were going to get away with it,"
"Nobody wanted to speak out and people were scared."
Sgt. John Ward, who heads the RCMP's Air India task force,
said fear kept people from talking and made the investigation
"Within the community there was a lot of fear at the
time as there were so many unknowns that caused people to
be very, very cautious and leery about saying anything,"
He said the logistics of the probe, such as gathering evidence
from the ocean floor so experts could reconstruct part of
the plane, were daunting and had never before been attempted.
"The reality is this is the longest-running investigation
in Canadian history, the most complex and the one that probably
pushed our limits, where we had to be so innovative and
so farsighted to be able to complete this investigation,"
"This was the first time we had to deal with homicide
on such a scale."
Much has changed as the Indo-Canadian community and police
have forged a better understanding, he said.
"We're unbelievably thankful to the families of the
victims for their patience because it has been trying, it
has been a long time."
Ward said the Mounties are continuing their global investigation
of the Air India case and the verdict is just one more step
in that probe.
Geoffrey Gaul, spokesman for the Crown, said he understands
the frustrations of the families but the massive trial moved
along faster than expected because defence and Crown lawyers
agreed on a list of facts early on.
That meant only 88 people testified for the Crown - instead
of the 1,000 people who had been expected to take the stand,
"There is no other trial in Canadian jurisdiction
that you can compare this trial to, in the sense of the
magnitude of the evidence that needed to be prepared and
presented in court."