Gurpreet Singh: One convicted man for 331 murders is not enough
Just one conviction in the Air India bombings that left 331 people dead on June 23, 1985 is not going to bring closure for the victims’ families, who continue to suffer after more than 25 years.
Other potential suspects still remained unindicted even as Inderjit Singh Reyat, the bomb maker, was convicted for a third time in connection with the worst attack in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11.
On January 7, Reyat was sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court to nine years in jail for lying under oath in the Air India trial, which ended with the acquittal of two suspects: Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri.
Reyat has earlier served 15 years in jail for his involvement in the two bombings—one above the Irish Sea that killed all 329 people aboard and one at Tokyo's Narita Airport, which killed two baggage handlers.
The bombings were blamed on Sikh extremists seeking revenge for the ugly events of 1984: the military attack on the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, India, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs; and the anti-Sikh violence following the assassination of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
Reyat was first convicted in 1991 for his role in making the bomb that exploded at Narita, receiving a 10-year sentence. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received five years imprisonment for his role in the midair bombing of Air India Flight 182. However, he was not forthcoming during the Air India trial against coaccused Malik and Bagri, lying under oath. This prompted the Crown to charge him with perjury.
Reyat did not tell the court that who accompanied him and Talwinder Singh Parmar, a mastermind behind the attack, to a bomb test in Duncan on June 4, 1985.
Parmar died at the hands of the Indian police in 1992. The identity of the third person remains a mystery.
Thanks to Reyat’s stubborn refusal to name him, the unidentified man came to be known as "Mr. X". Reyat testified that he couldn't remember the man's name even though he had stayed at the Reyat home for several days.
As a result of these lies, a jury found Reyat guilty of perjury in September.
Obviously, Reyat was not alone in the crime, and other potential suspects remain at large. His repeated convictions are therefore not sufficient and should not give any false hope to the public and the victims’ families.
On the final day of his sentencing hearing on November 18, he surprised everyone in the court by issuing an apology to the victims' families, which was understandably a ploy for lighter punishment. At the end of the hearing, Reyat’s lawyer, Ian Donaldson, read out a statement on his behalf that said: "I sincerely apologize to each and every one of the victims who have been left with such a deep burden to bear."
Reyat, who is a baptized Sikh, also maintained in his statement: "I pray every day that God will ease the terrible burden of loss that so many people continue to suffer as a consequence of these terrible events that go on. I will pray each day for the rest of my life for God to grant faith, courage, and strength to each victim in order to help them continue to live in hope with the tremendous loss they have suffered."
As far as his sentencing is concerned, Reyat deserves no sympathy. If Reyat is a religious man, then he should show genuine remorse and be truthful, instead of shedding crocodile tears.
If he is really burdened by the loss of the victim families, he should help the police in arresting Mr. X, and help the Crown in the prosecution.
Reyat's silence is helping mass murderers, which is not appropriate for a devout Sikh, whose daily prayer ends with the phrase "Tere Bhaane Sarbat da Bhala" (Lord may everyone in the world prosper)."
Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.