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Relatives of victims demand federal inquiry for Air-India bombing


Vancouver, March 17, 2005

Upset relatives of some of the victims of the 1985 Air-India Kanishka bombing are demanding a federal inquiry into the acquittal of the two accused Indo-Canadians by a court here.

Sushil Gupta, the son of one of those killed, who along with others is demanding a federal inquiry into the whole process, said: "The fact remains that our government systems failed - and no one has been held accountable for that."

Canadian Judge Ian Bruce Josephson declared the two accused Indo-Canadians - Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Babri - innocent in a historic judgment that came 20 years after the disaster.

"Today, 20 years later, we have lost our families all over again," said another family member of a victim.

"The government needs to be held accountable for this betrayal..." said Lata Pada, a noted dancer and choreographer in Greater Toronto, who lost her husband and two children, and was present when the verdict was delivered Wednesday.

The British Columbia attorney general said his office would be looking closely at the 600-page verdict and decide whether an appeal would be filed based on that assessment.

Pronouncing his verdict, Judge Josephson called the evidence presented by the witnesses as inconsistent and accused Canadian security agencies of gross negligence in investigations into the 1985 bombing of Air-India Flight 182 over Ireland that killed 329 people, and two baggage handlers killed in Narita Airport, Japan.

Relatives of the victims gathered in the heavily fortified British Columbia Supreme Court gave out a gasp of disbelief as the "innocent" verdict was read out.

The accused, Ripudaman Singh Malik, a Vancouver businessman, and Ajaib Singh Babri, a millworker and religious activist, have been standing trial for two years and the judge's surprising verdict is considered stunning with 115 witnesses testifying over these years.

Hundreds of journalists gathered from across the world to hear the verdict in what has been called the most expensive trial in Canadian history costing more than $100 million and one that has thrown up questions about the credibility of this country's security agencies and processes including issues of inbuilt racism.

Most of the 329 victims were Indian-Canadians, plus the two baggage handlers who were killed at Narita Airport in Japan when a bomb was set off as they were transferring luggage.

The Judge took some 90 minutes to read out the executive summary of the verdict rather than just deliver the bare bones.

The verdict based on circumstantial evidence in a 20-year long trial has thrown up questions about the Canadian security services like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the highly esteemed Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP.

Some of the critical circumstantial evidence was given by the alleged girlfriend of Ripudaman Singh Malik, who is now under the Witness Protection plan. The judge did not put store on her testimony and questioning and he characterized the witnesses' testimony as "inconsistent" and said what the CSIS had done was "unacceptable".

Kim Bolan, longtime journalist for the Vancouver Sun, who covered the Air India bombing story from its inception and has followed families as they recovered from the tragedy, told CBC she also came to the court looking for justice just like the families.

She had written about Malik even before he was held for the crimes, relating to his businesses, and had received death threats several times. "As a result I felt very strongly that I had to continue. ... So I wanted to be there every day to show that I was not intimidated."

One journalist was killed while reporting as well.

Reports of Canada's security agency, CSIS destroying reams of taped evidence and other bungles, as well as allegations of a power struggle between the RCMP and CSIS have surfaced over the years, further reducing the credibility of the process of prosecuting those accused.

Malik and Bagri stood accused of conspiracy and mass murder, of placing two bombs in two planes, one of them bound for Mumbai from Vancouver via Toronto, Montreal and London. The act was considered a revenge for the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by Indian security forces under orders from then prime minister Indira Gandhi, herself murdered by one of her security guards in 1984.

Another accused, Inderjit Singh Reyat, an electrician earlier pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was handed a five-year jail term on top of the 10 years he was already serving given on charges of manslaughter and explosives charges on the Narita airport bomb explosion that killed two baggage handlers there.

Bagri's daughter read out a statement on behalf of her father in which he said he acknowledged that he was an activist back in 1985 but that he had nothing to do with the Air India bombing. Malik's family released a statement saying the judge had handed down a correct decision and that the Malik family sympathizes with the victims' families.

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