John Major's Air India report recommends beefing up terrorism investigations and prosecutions
Retired Supreme Court of Canada justice John Major's long-awaited report into the most deadly aviation attack prior to 9/11 is called Air India Flight 182: A Canadian Tragedy.
"I stress that this is a Canadian atrocity," Major said in releasing his report. "For too long the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has been somehow relegated outside the Canadian consciousness."
He noted that the bomb that exploded on Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985 was manufactured in Canada. It was placed on a Canadian plane in Vancouver bound for Toronto, where it was transferred onto the doomed Air India flight.
A majority of the passengers who were among the 329 people killed were Canadian. A quarter of the victims were under the age of 13. The bomb was timed for after the Canadian school year ended, ensuring a maximum number of kids would be slaughtered.
Despite the overwhelming Canadian nature of the tragedy, the Conservative government sent its condolences to the Indian government, then headed by Rajiv Gandhi, which angered the victims' families.
Major stated that the federal government and its agencies were not prepared for a terrorist act such as the bombing of Air India Flight 182.
"Although the threat of sabotage was well-known by the early 1980s, Canadian agencies still focused on hijacking and operated as if it was the primary threat," he said. "Communications within and between security, law enforcement and transport agencies were often flawed or non-existent."
Major concluded that the RCMP provided "erroneous information" to Bob Rae, who conducted an investigation on behalf of the federal government prior to being elected to Parliament as a Liberal candidate.
"This alone is disturbing, but there were other instances we discovered where government agencies were not always forthcoming with the Commission," Major said.
He cited the examples of Brian Simpson and James Bartleman.
Simpson had claimed that as a summer cleaner employed by Air Canada, he was able to board the Air India plane on June 22, 1985 without being detected.
Bartleman, the former head of intelligence with the foreign affairs ministry, told the commission that he received information about a specific threat to Air India just days before the tragedy.
Major concluded that attempts by the government to discredit the testimony of Simpson and Bartleman were "ineffectual".
"During the investigation that followed the boming, and is continuing to this day, CSIS and the RCMP were unable to cooperate effectively, or sometimes at all," Major stated.
He also found that the Communications Security Establishment had "highly classified" information about threats. Even without this and Bartleman's evidence, Major noted that "the amount of information collectively held by the Government made the failure to implement appropriate anti-sabotage measures inexcusable".
His primary recommendation is for the government to enhance the role of the national security advisor in the Privy Council Office. He indicated that this will ensure greater cooperation between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies in addressing terrorism.
In Major's view, the RCMP "is not properly structured to deal with terrorism prosecutions". In response, he called for greater specialization in the investigation of terrorism and in supporting prosecutions relating to national security.
"Perhaps the time has arrived to re-assess the role of the RCMP in providing contractual policing services in many of the provinces," he stated.
This comment is noteworthy because the B.C. government's contract with the RCMP to provide provincial policing services expires in 2012. So far, the B.C. government has given no indication that it is considering dumping the Mounties.
In addition, Major recommended the creation of a new position, the director of terrorism prosecutions. As well, he recommended amendments to the Canada Evidence Act so that a trial court in a terrorism prosecution will deal with confidentiality measures regarding national security, rather than having that passed along to another court.
Major also called for the creation of a new position, a national security witness protection coordinator, to oversee the safety of witnesses in terrorism prosecutions.