Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh reveals that his family planned to board doomed Air India flight 182

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      Canada's worst mass murder occurred nearly 31 years ago when a bomb ripped through an Air India plane over the Irish Sea, killing all 329 passengers and crew.

      But what's never been reported is that a former B.C. premier, his wife, and three sons narrowly missed being among the victims.

      In his new autobiography, Journey After Midnight: India, Canada and the Road Beyond, Ujjal Dosanjh reveals that his family booked flights to India at the end of May, 1985, from Vancouver to Delhi via Montreal and London. This was six years before he was elected as NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington and 15 years before he became premier.

      In February 1985, he had been attacked in an underground parking lot after speaking out against religious extremists. This had left him with a severely damaged hand and 85 stitches in his head. Out of concern for his family's safety, Dosanjh states that he wanted to keep the trip secret.

      "Our flights were booked on Air India for June 23 via Montreal under the names of U. Singh and R. Kaur to avoid the use of 'Ujjal' or 'Dosanjh'," Dosanjh writes.

      However, the family cancelled their reservations a few days before the departure date. According to Dosanjh, he and his wife Raminder began having "second thoughts" about taking their children to the "heat of the plains of northern India".

      "It was not just the weather that was on my mind," he adds. "It was also the security and safety of my family."

      So instead, the Dosanjh family spent their holidays driving across Canada. He acknowledges in Journey After Midnight that he had been hearing rumours of "various people" urging a boycott of Air India at the time.

      "I did not particularly like the service aboard Air India, remembering our terrible experience in 1977," Dosanjh writes. "I had decided to fly Air India solely as a gesture of defiance against the boycotters."

      Dosanjh went numb over news of bombing

      What he didn't know was that Burnaby resident Talwinder Singh Parmar and his associates "had warned temple audiences a couple of weeks prior to the bombing not to travel by Air India".

      This occurred a year after the Indian Army's attack on the Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, in June 1984. Tensions rose even higher after then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984, triggering a mass murder of nearly 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi.

      Dosanjh declares in his book that he and his wife "went numb" hearing news reports that Air India flight 182 had exploded 30,000 feet in the air on June 23, 1985.

      "We were sure this was sheer coincidence," he writes. "Surely the extremists would not have designed their most evil deed around me, a small fry in the scheme of things. Their target was India, the idea of India as pluralistic, secular and united. Then again, killing two birds with one stone would not have hurt the effort."

      In the book, Dosanjh states that he and his wife never went public about their near-miss, noting that this information was only shared with close friends.

      Parmar was later identified as the ringleader of the plot. He was killed by Indian police in 1992.

      The only person convicted in connection with the crime was Inderjit Singh Reyat. He made the bombs that exploded on Air India flight 182 and on the tarmac of Japan's Narita Airport, which killed two Japanese baggage handlers.

      Vancouver businessman Ripudamen Singh Malik and Kamloops mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted on Air India-related charges in 2005.

      The Air India Memorial in Stanley Park includes the names of all 329 passengers and crew members who died.
      Charlie Smith

      In 1985, Dosanjh was practising law. He recalls in his book that two suspects in the plot, Hardial Singh Johal and Surjan Gill, asked if he would represent them when they were being held in a police cell. Dosanjh declined to do so, noting that his specialty was not defending people charged with murder.

      "Each of them said I could retain any senior criminal defence lawyer I wanted as my co-counsel; money would be no object," he writes. "They were scared and desperate, and it was obvious they wanted to inoculate themselves against accusations of terrorism by retaining me, someone who had spoken out so strongly against terrorists."

      In November, 1985 Vancouver mill worker Jaspal Atwal was acquitted of attacking Dosanjh in an underground parking lot earlier that year. He was later convicted in the attempted murder of a Punjabi cabinet minister, Malkiat Singh Sidhu, while he was visiting Vancouver Island in 1986.

      Punjabi-language journalist criticized

      Some of Dosanjh's harshest words in his book are directed against deceased Punjabi-language newspaper owner Tara Singh Hayer. The former premier describes Hayer's Indo-Canadian Times as "an unbridled mouthpiece of hatred and violence against India and Hindus" in the 1980s.

      Dosanjh notes that Hayer described Parmar as a "living martyr" on his newspaper front page after Parmar had been accused of involvement in the killing of several Indian police officers in 1982.

      "Over time scores of others were glorified by Tara for perpetrating terror in Canada and India, including violent Khalistani jihadists in India," Dosanjh writes.

      He also accuses Hayer of being "unrelenting in his vicious and demeaning attacks upon my character, my integrity and my family, including my then long-dead father, who had been Tara's teacher and for whom Tara had previously professed admiration". And the former premier describes Hayer's publication in that era as "a paper of record for terrorists".

      "He distorted beyond recognition every word I uttered or wrote," Dosanjh alleges in the book. "He published defamatory rubbish written about me by other people."

      This led Dosanjh to file a defamation suit. He writes that the case was dropped after the bombing of Air India flight 182.

      Murdered newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer comes under severe criticism in Ujjal Dosanjh's memoir.

      Dosanjh also claims that Hayer's support for Parmar "cooled" after he wasn't paid for a book that Hayer's company printed.

      "An attempted bomb attack on Tara's offices at the Times in 1986 had been the result of an internecine struggle for supremacy among the terrorists," Dosanjh speculates. "It may have also been that they knew about Tara having overheard a Bagri confession related to the Air India bombing in 1985 in London; he was no enemy of terrorism at the time, but he had since fallen out with one group of them over money."

      Dosanjh adds that it's also conceivable that the bomb was "an act of revenge" by someone whose daughter, sister, wife, or mother had been "brutally insulted" in the Indo-Canadian Times.

      "His published attacks on the female relatives of his enemies were well known," Dosanjh writes.

      After Hayer was paralyzed after a shooting in 1988, he was lauded as a man of peace in the mainstream media. Hayer later gave a statement to police about the Air India plot before being murdered in 1998.

      That led to a wave of tributes, including the creation of the Tara Singh Hayer Press Freedom Award by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Hayer was also inducted posthumously into the Canadian News Hall of Fame and was named as one of the International Press Institute's 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 50 years.

      (Hayer's son Dave was elected to the B.C. legislature in 2001 as a member of the B.C. Liberals. While in office until 2013, Dave Hayer was a consistent outspoken critic of terrorism.)

      In 2005, Tara Singh Hayer received the Order of B.C.

      "As a symbol of the struggle for human rights, peace and freedom of expression, Tara Singh Hayer has paid an enormous personal price for his beliefs," the Order of B.C. website states. "Aware that discrimination thrives on ignorance, Mr. Hayer has worked tirelessly to promote understanding between ethnic and cultural groups."

      For his part, Dosanjh writes that he never tried to correct the record about Tara Singh Hayer, declaring that this would have been "insensitive" after he had been shot.

      "Only Punjabi speakers knew full well that he had been the victim of his own success as a tribune of terror," Dosanjh writes.

      Political battles recalled in book

      Ujjal Dosanjh's decision to join the Liberal Party in 2004 upset many New Democrats.

      Journey After Midnight also offers Dosanjh's side of the story in his decision to go public with news that his boss, then premier Glen Clark, was the subject of a criminal investigation in 1999. Dosanjh was attorney general at the time.

      "I advised Clark that in their investigation of his actions, the police represented the Crown, as he did in his capacity as premier," Dosanjh writes. "It was in his capacity as premier that police were investigating his actions, and as an element of the Crown, he had an ethical and legal obligation to aid others, including the police."

      Moreover, Dosanjh writes that he told Clark that if he insisted on remaining silent, he would have to resign.

      Not long afterward, former NDP premier Dave Barrett visited his office. According to Dosanjh, Barrett issued this threat: "If I hear of you undermining Clark I shall smash your political career to smithereens. You will never again amount to anything in politics in B.C."

      Clark remained on the job and on August 19, 1999, Dosanjh told the media that the premier was under criminal investigation just as affidavits were about to be released outlining the nature of the allegations. On August 21, 1999, Clark stepped down.

      "As soon as Glen Clark resigned, his supporters started spreading the lie that I had been signing up members across B.C. since the spring of 1998," Dosanjh writes. "They repeated the falsehood often enough that it bothered me. I had signed up some people in my riding in 1998 to bring my own membership to a respectable level; nothing more."

      Dosanjh later won the party leadership in an acrimonious contest with Gordon Wilson, Corky Evans, Joy MacPhail (who quit midway through the race), and labour leader Len Werden. The following year, the NDP was wiped out by the B.C. Liberals and Dosanjh was defeated in his Vancouver-Kensington constituency.

      In 2002 Clark was acquitted in B.C. Supreme Court on criminal charges related to work done on his home by a man who received a provincial casino licence.

      In 2003, the federal Liberal government offered Dosanjh the post of consul general in Chandigarh, which is the capital of the Indian state of Punjab. Dosanjh turned it down.

      He resurfaced in 2004 as the federal Liberal candidate in Vancouver South, winning the election and becoming health minister in the short-lived Paul Martin government.

      "After thinking it through, I did not foresee any philosophical challenges to joining the federal Liberals," he writes. "But I realized that joining them would mean angering the cultists in the NDP."