Not long after Jagmeet Singh was elected NDP leader, he sat down for an interview with the CBC’s Terry Milewski in early October.
The veteran journalist had spent a great deal of time covering the aftermath of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985. It killed all 329 passengers and crew.
Milewski was the lead CBC national TV reporter on this story nearly 20 years later when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Bruce Josephson acquitted businessman Ripudaman Malik and Kamloops mill worker and Sikh preacher Ajaib Singh Bagri on 329 charges of first-degree murder.
The pair were also acquitted in the deaths of two Japanese baggage handles at Narita Airport in Japan in a separate bombing incident targeting an Air India plane.
A third accused man, bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of 329 passengers and crew. He was sentenced to five years in jail.
Reyat had previously been convicted and served a lengthy sentence for making the bomb that went off at Narita Airport.
At paragraph 1256 of his marathon ruling, Josephson stated that the Crown and defence “generally acknowledged” that Talwinder Singh Parmar was “the leader in the conspiracy to commit these crimes”.
But according to Josephson’s ruling, there was insufficient evidence to find Malik and Bagri guilty of being part of the terrorist plot.
Parmar was never charged in connection with this heinous crime, having died in Punjab in 1992.
Given Milewski’s history covering this story, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that he asked the new NDP leader if he would denounce Parmar—who’s been glorified as a Sikh martyr at the Dasmesh Darbar gurdwara in Surrey.
Singh, a baptized Sikh who wears a turban, replied that “we need to make sure that the investigation results in a conviction of someone who is actually responsible”.
And for a few days, there was a media and social-media firestorm over Milewski’s question, Singh’s answer, and the CBC journalist’s subsequent tweet.
Critics of Milewski said he would never ask this question of a white political leader. Singh himself called the question “offensive”, saying any Canadian would denounce anyone held responsible for terrorism.
Milewski’s defenders, on the other hand, said it was a legitimate question to ask of a man who wanted to become prime minister.
In the midst of this, an Indian newspaper, the HIndustan Times, published a headlinefalsely claiming that Jagmeet Singh was being criticized for “glorifying” Parmar. In fact, Singh sidestepped Milewski’s question, which was asked repeatedly, and focused on the lack of criminal convictions.
In its story the Hindustan Times quoted Shuvaloy Majumdar of the right-wing, Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute, who declared that federal political leaders must “condemn terrorism in all forms unequivocally and give no oxygen to the idea that there is legitimacy behind the Khalistan movement”.
The Indian newspaper also reported that Parmar “was killed in Punjab in a shootout with security forces in 1992”.
In fact, there’s considerable evidence that Parmar was captured, tortured, forced to confess to his role in the bombing, and was then killed by extrajudicial means without ever going to trial.
So what really happened?
This lengthy essay attempts to offer some context to provide open-minded readers with differing views on the Air India tragedy, why Milewski asked that question, and why it elicited such a heated response from some of Singh’s supporters.
So what are my qualifications? In my years working in the Vancouver media, I have written the occasional article about the Air India bombing and the desire for a public inquiry, which was eventually held by retired Supreme Court of Canada justice John Major.
I’ve also edited articles about the Air India tragedy and many years ago, I also booked guests on talk shows to discuss the subject.
In addition, I also used to spend a fair amount of time with a friend who knew more than a dozen people who died on that plane, which provided some personal insights.
I have also read five books on the subject, each with significantly different perspectives, and I’ve read former premier Ujjal Dosanjh’s memoir. I’ll deal with four of those Air India books below.
The premise of Milewski’s question—that Parmar was a central player in the bombing—has not been questioned in any serious way by any of those authors.
But where these books diverge is on the role of outside actors, including the Indian government.
They also differ in the significance they accorded to Malik, Bagri, Parmar, and two other alleged plotters, Hardial Singh Johal and Surjan Singh Gill, who were never charged.
Later in this essay, I will explain how all of this relates to Milewski, Jagmeet Singh, and how Singh might be viewed by some influential older white Canadian journalists.
The worst act of terrorism in Canadian history could conceivably have an impact on Singh and the NDP’s prospects in the 2019 federal election. This is the case even though Singh was only six years old when the Air India plane exploded over the Irish Sea.
I don’t claim to be an expert on the bombings and I haven’t spent anywhere near as much time on this story as the authors of those five books.
But by comparing and contrasting four of these books, I believe I can help offer some insights into why emotions continue to run so high, particularly when a federal political leader raises questions about who might be responsible for blowing up Air India Flight 182.
The Sorrow and the Terror
The first book I read about the bombing of Air India Flight 182 was The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy.
Written by Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise in 1988, it went out of its way to emphasize that the bombing was a Canadian story.
The vast majority of passengers were Canadian as the flight departed from Montreal bound for London, England.
The alleged perpetrators were based in Canada.
Yet in the eyes of the mostly white Canadian public and the external affairs minister of the day, Joe Clark, it was seen as an Indian tragedy. That smacked of racism.
Clark expressed condolences to the prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, which only served to enrage some of the victims’ Canadian families.
The Mukherjee and Blaise book was stunningly well-written and absolutely heartbreaking as it drove home the losses that Canada suffered when 268 of its citizens perished.
This helped cement in journalists’ minds that this was a made-in-Canada event.
This essentially Canadian quality to the tragedy reflected in the decision to place an Air India memorial in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, listing the names of everyone who lost their lives.
Thirty years later, I can still remember a chilling section in The Sorrow and the Terrorabout how the bomb was timed to coincide with the end of the school year to murder a maximum number of children.
That’s because so many kids would be flying with their parents in late June to visit family members in India.
The only possible conclusion I could draw at that time is that their killers were absolutely heartless and stunningly cruel.
Only later after reading other books did I consider the possibility that the mastermind could have conceivably intended for the bomb to explode while the aircraft was on the ground and after all the children and other passengers had deplaned.
It’s a viewpoint advanced by former Vancouver Province reporter Salim Jiwa, who wrote two books on the Air India bombings.
Of course, this doesn’t exonerate anyone of mass murder and it’s still utterly indefensible to place bombs on passenger airplanes whether they’re intended to explode in the air or on the ground. Period.
But it has given rise to other theories about who might have played a role in the bombing, which I’ll get to later.
The Sorrow and the Terror relied on facts reported in Jiwa’s first book.
Mukherjee and Blaise supplemented this with vivid portraits of the families and included somewhat controversial descriptions of the differences between the Hindu community of southern Ontario and Sikhs who lived in B.C.
There was also a portrait of a man named “Sarkar”, who allegedly played a role in bringing the plane down.
The authors made the case that Canadian multiculturalism policies were a contributing factor, arguing that the U.S. melting pot is preferable than the Canadian government’s promotion of immigrants’ expression of their identities from their homelands.
Mukherjee declared that this helped persuaded her to leave Canada and live out her life in the United States.
The book was published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin, which was by far the most dominant English-language publishing house in India at the time. And its overall perspective—that this was a made-in-Canada tragedy involving mostly Canadian victims that was hatched on Canadian soil—was in accordance with the views of the families of the victims.
The Sorrow and the Terror‘s depiction of the B.C. Sikh community as being less sophisticated and less educated and more violent than Canadian Hindus didn’t sit well with some Canadian Sikhs.
Many of them were already furious over Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi’s decision to launch an Indian Army attack on their holiest shrine in Amritsar, Punjab, in June of 1984.
This military action came after the Golden Temple complex was occupied by armed rebels led by a charismatic and fiery preacher, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He was leading an armed struggle for an independent Sikh nation called Khalistan, which he and his followers hoped would be carved out of the Indian state of Punjab.
The Sorrow and the Terror demonstrated a major rift between Canadian Sikhs and Hindus and conveyed an impression that this was being exacerbated by Canada’s state-sanctioned multiculturalism.
Loss of Faith
Meanwhile, Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan’s 2005 book, Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder, was a skeptical look at the acquittals of Malik and Bagri.
She wrote that after sitting through the trial, she was sure that at least one conviction would be lodged against either Malik or Bagri, but that wasn’t to be.
Bolan also wrote glowingly about long-time Indo-Canadian Times publisher Tara Singh Hayer, who was murdered in his driveway in 1998 after claiming to have heard a confession about the plot.
Former premier Dosanjh, on the other hand, described Hayer as a “tribune of terror” in his 2016 memoir.
Dosanjh also claimed that Hayer, who was named to the Order of B.C., had a falling out with Parmar after the alleged terrorist didn’t pay for a book printed by Hayer’s company.
It’s interesting to note that while Bolan and Dosanjh have each gone public about being threatened by Sikh extremists—and Dosanjh was even attacked and seriously wounded—they did not see eye-to-eye on Hayer.
Meanwhile Milewski, who appears to be friend of both of them, has not focused anywhere near as much attention on Hayer as Bolan has.
Bolan’s Loss of Faith attempted to link the murder of Hayer to Babbar Khalsa, which was a Sikh extremist group and registered charity created to support an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan.
According to Josephson’s ruling, it was incorporated in B.C. by Parmar, Bagri, Surjan Singh Gill, Avtar Singh Narwal, Gurmit Singh Gill, and Satnam Singh Khun Khun on November 1, 1984.
The previous day, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards just as she was about to be interviewed in her garden by Peter Ustinov.
That led to a wholesale massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, which appears to have been organized by senior members of Gandhi’s Congress party.
The leader of the NDP, Singh, has condemned this pogrom in the Ontario legislature and tried to hold a senior Congress official accountable. In response, the Indian government has refused to grant him a visa to visit India.
One of the alleged conspirators, Gill, split from Babbar Khalsa shortly before the bomb went off, spurring unproven suggestions that he could have been an agent of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or the Indian government.
Bolan tracked Gill down in England to find answers, but he refused to grant her an interview.
Gangs and terrorism
In a chapter entitled “Reasonable Doubt?”, Bolan cited a gangster’s trial in Vancouver in December 2003 in which “a senior investigator from the Vancouver suburb of Delta testified that the accused had told police one of Hayer’s shooters had confessed to him”.
The man “was trying to work out a deal to save his own skin when he told police that the Babbar Khalsa had put up $50,000 to kill Hayer”, according to Bolan’s book.
“The two hired guns did not have anything personally against the Indo-Canadian Timespublisher, but agreed to do the job on behalf of another gangster from a prominent Khalistani family, Ranjit Singh ‘Doe” Bahia,” Bolan wrote.
The accused man was later convicted of manslaughter in a gangland killing, according to Bolan’s book, and sentenced to five years in prison.
She maintained in Loss of Faith that there’s a “connection between Sikh terrorists and Indo-Canadian gangsters”, and that each were not averse to using intimidation to achieve their ends.
“Sometimes the threats had been directed at those, like Tara Hayer, who believed they could implicate the Air India suspects,” Bolan wrote. “And sometimes journalists like me had been threatened.
“That volatile political climate is something Air India journalists had seen and understood,” she added. “It had influenced our analysis of the 115 witnesses who testified at the trial. And it enabled some of us to reach a different conclusion than Josephson’s about the credibility of some of those witnesses.”
Given Bolan’s friendship with Milewski, it’s fair to assume he can be included in the camp of “some of us” who disagreed with the judge.
She also revealed that B.C. journalist and author Terry Glavin, another of her friends, was prepared to testify about his experiences interviewing local Sikh fundamentalists in the 1980s.
Glavin was ready to tell the court about his experiences interviewing Bhindranwale, the fiery preacher whose actions led to the Indian Army attack on the Golden Temple.
Bolan suggested that Glavin’s testimony would have driven home the motive behind the bombing and perhaps led to a different outcome.
I’ve concluded that Bolan’s book implied that the judge was too naive to understand the Sikh community and that the Crown kept things too simple in advancing its case.
Skepticism extended to judge’s ruling on star witness
In Loss of Faith, Bolan also devoted a fair amount of space in her book to the Crown’s star witness against Malik, a woman identified as Ms. D in the judge’s ruling.
Ms. D formerly worked at the Khalsa school that Malik headed. Bolan described how this woman became a source for many of her stories about Malik in the Vancouver Sun before going into the witness protection program.
The woman, whose name is protected by a publication ban, claimed that Malik had confessed his role in the bombing to her in 1996.
However in his ruling, Josephson found that she wasn’t credible when she professed her love for Malik even after he had fired her.
Josephson also concluded that the “confession” she described was cribbed from public records months after she began meeting with Canadian Security Intelligence Service and RCMP officers.
“The core details of the conspiracy that Ms. D testified Mr. Malik revealed to her were in publications in the public domain, with one minor exception,” Josephson wrote in his ruling. “The migration of factual errors from those publications to the information she attributed to Mr. Malik leads to no other reasonable inference that Ms. D crafted a false confession from those publications.”
In her book, Bolan pointed out that women have been known to remain in love with men who commit atrocious crimes, including murder. And it seemed to her that there was a double standard at play, because the wife of convicted bomber Inderjit Singh Reyat was not criticized for maintaining her love with her husband even after he was found guilty of a horrific crime.
“Many women, including some victims’ relatives, found Josephson’s logic sexist,” Bolan declared.
Margin of Terror
Salim Jiwa’s 2006 Margin of Terror: A Reporter’s Twenty-Year Odyssey Covering the Tragedies of the Air India Bombing (cowritten by Don Hauka) offered a distinctly different view of the ruling and the credibility of Ms. D.
It was Jiwa’s second book on the subject and delivered a more nuanced view of the crime than his first.
Jiwa was quite dismissive of the case presented by the Crown, suggesting it was riddled with holes from the very beginning.
The veteran journalist also wrote very respectfully of the judge’s intellect and experience, and seemed to endorse his findings. Malik is portrayed far more sympathetically in this book than he came across in Loss of Faith.
Margin of Terror focused a great deal of attention on Babbar Khalsa cofounder Hardial Singh Johal.
The Vancouver school janitor was spotted at the Vancouver International Airport on the day the plane carrying the bomb left Vancouver. Johal died of natural causes in 2002 without ever being charged.
Jiwa stated in his book that he found it very odd that Ms. D said in 1998 that she was helping Johal in his candidacy to defeat Malik in an election to chair the Khalsa credit union.
As a reader, I found it peculiar that someone linked to the Air India plot would be running in an election against someone who allegedly financed Babbar Khalsa. Jiwa didn’t elaborate on this.
However, Jiwa reported that Johal was given visas to travel to India even after being publicly identified as having a connection to the mass murder.
In fact, Josephson’s ruling noted that a telephone number that formerly belonged to Johal was given to the agent by a man who booked reservations for a passenger on Air India Flight 182. Johal’s number was also given for a reservation on the other flight that carried a bomb to Narita Airport.
The passengers never boarded these flights.
Johal also received a call from the only man convicted in the terrorist act, Inderjit Singh Reyat, on the evening of June 21, 1985. Johal called Reyat twice on the following day, according to Josephson’s decision.
It created an impression among readers that something was amiss about these visas even though Jiwa never came out and claimed that Johal had any relationship with spies working for India’s security service.
Nor for that matter did Jiwa suggest that Johal had been turned into a secret informant by Canadian or Indian authorities in return for not being charged.
Indo-Canadian Times publisher Tara Singh Hayer was murdered in his driveway in 1998.
Two versions of Hayer’s murder
Jiwa’s book also pointed to the role that Johal played in an upsurge in fundamentalism in the Sikh community in 1998.
This came just as the Indo-Canadian Times publisher, Hayer, was coming under severe criticism for gleefully condemning the followers of a high priest in India.
The coverage of Hayer’s murder differed markedly between the Bolan and Jiwa books, even though were both employed by newspapers owned by the same parent company.
Bolan’s book linked the murder of Hayer in 1998 to the murder of a Punjabi publisher, Tarsem Singh Purewal, in England in 1995.
She suggested both heard had heard confession about the Air India bombing from a Babbar Khalsa member.
“Hayer knew the motive behind the assassination [of Purewal] better than anyone else,” Bolan asserted in her book. “Purewal and Hayer both knew about a key conspirator in the Air-India bombing who had confessed in Purewal’s office a decade before.”
Jiwa, on the other hand, reported that the RCMP had declared there was no connection between the murders of Purewal and Hayer.
“It is believed Purewal was killed as a result of a private dispute while Hayer died because of his row with the traditionalists over the furniture in temples struggle and for bad-mouthing the high priest, which had resulted in many threats against the editor,” Jiwa wrote. “Scotland Yard, in an interview with the BBC, insisted that any suggestion that Purewal’s murder in England was motivated by his knowledge of the Air India bombing, was purely ‘speculation’ fuelled by the media.”
As I mentioned earlier, Jiwa made the case that the bomb was timed to go off well after Air India Flight 182 was scheduled to have landed at Heathrow Airport.
The plane was delayed for more than an hour because of problems with security checks in Canada. This meant that the bomb went off while it was over the Irish Sea.
The bomb placed on the other Air India jet went off when the plane was on the tarmac at Narita Airport.
Another oddity of this story is that Malik secured a $2-million loan from the State Bank of India less than three months before Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to attack the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
It raises questions why Malik would want to alienate the Indian government by participating in a plot to blow up a plane belonging to the national airliner.
This is one of many points made in the most controversial book about the bombing—Soft Target: India’s Intelligence Service and Its Role in the Air India Disaster.
Written by former Globe and Mail reporter Zuhair Kashmeri and former Toronto Starreporter Brian McAndrew, it described activities of Indian intelligence agents, mostly in Ontario, in the period leading up to and following the bombing. The second edition was published in 2005.
They wrote that India was refusing to give Malik a visa to travel to India “on the grounds of security”. However “its own bank, aware that a portion of Malik’s earnings went to help the Babbar Khalsa and Parmar, maintained a $2-million like of credit for him.”
On page 116 of the book, Malik maintained that he wasn’t an enemy of the government of India and was on friendly terms with Jagdish Sharma, who was India’s consul general in Vancouver when the bombing occurred.
Malik also claimed to believe in the progress of the Sikhs but “would not express unequivocal support for the concept of Khalistan”.
“CSIS had no evidence to link Malik with the Air-India bombings, but Pat Olsen and Fred Gibson [pseudonyms for anonymous CSIS sources] confirmed that his dual allegiances helped the agency develop the theory that the Indian government had a hand in carrying out the double sabotage,” Kashmeri and McAndrew wrote. “In the fall of 1985, CSIS had viewed the Babbar Khalsa as the biggest security threat among Sikhs in Canada. Now it suddenly discovered that the Babbar Khalsa had links with the government of India. As a result, Olsen said, CSIS agents were not surprised that Parmar’s associates could visit India with ease despite his fiery views about Khalistan.”
One shortcoming of Soft Target is the lack of attribution for statements like the one in the preceding paragraph. But it has resonated with some Sikhs.
At the core of the book is an argument that the Indian government was intent on smearing the Sikh community as violent and disruptive in Canada. And this coincided with a period in which repressive acts were being perpetrated against Sikhs in India.
The authors also maintained in their book that Bhindranwale was encouraged by Gandhi’s Congress Party to foment trouble and promote Sikh fundamentalism in Punjab in the early 1980s.
“The party’s strategy can be loosely compared to the setting of a controlled forest fire in order to check the spread of a greater fire—in this case the political opponents of the Congress Party,” Kashmeri and McAndrew wrote. “But the scheme ran into problems. The deliberately set fire took on a life of its own. Bhindranwale carried on with his mission even after the Congress Party won Punjab.”
Meanwhile, Indian intelligence operatives were stepping up surveillance of Sikh separatists and others abroad in the early 1980s as appetite was growing for an independent Khalistan.
The authors cited an India Today news report from 1985 saying these agents “have been posted under diplomatic cover” in several cities, including Vancouver and Toronto.
This was the backdrop for Parmar and Bagri wanting to attend a World Sikh Organization meeting in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Parmar wasn’t allowed to cross the border but at that event, Bagri gave a thundering speech in which he declared that 50,000 Hindus would die. This was presented at the trial in which he was acquitted of mass murder.
The International Sikh Youth Federation, which advocated for Khalistan, had already been formed by two of Bhindranwale’s nephews: Jasbir Singh Rodé and Lakhbir Singh Brar.
Soft Target reported that its spokesperson in London was a man named Harpal Singh Ghumman. But when Rodé arrived in England, he was arrested and eventually wound up in jail in India. Ghumman came to Canada to set up the ISYF here.
Ghumman also happened to be inside the Golden Temple with Bhindranwale but escaped before the Indian army onslaught in 1984.
Soft Target reported that there were suspicions in the Sikh community that Ghumman had sold out Rodé. And the book noted that a man named Ghumman “was working for the Indian government as an infiltrator of the Khalistan movement”.
This was covered in a book written by a BBC news journalist, Satish Jacob.
“Ghumman denies the allegations and insists that he’s a Sikh loyalist,” Kashmeri and McAndrew stated, “although he did acknowledge meeting Jacob and escorting him to an AISSF [All India Sikh Student Federation] meeting in the Golden Temple.”
Back in 1980 and 1981, Parmar was in Punjab preaching his hardline Sikhism, according to the Soft Target authors. He was accused of murdering two police officers but Kashmeri and McAndrew noted that Parmar had claimed he was actually in Nepal.
“But his innocence—if in fact he was innocent—did not stop him from using the episode to promote himself at home in Canada,” the authors wrote. “He bragged among small groups of followers of his daring escape from the raid and from the clutches of the ‘evil Hindu empire’.”
This was far more appealing to militant Sikhs in Canada than the reasoned arguments for an independent Khalistan coming from the movement’s leader, Jagjit Singh Chauhan.
Parmar began setting up chapters of Babbar Khalsa in Canada, giving the Sikh independence movement a far more militant and menacing image with his flowing robes to match his flowing beard and his extra-tall, shimmering blue turban. This, in turn, shaped Canadians’ perceptions of Sikhs.
One could argue that Parmar’s militancy turned some Canadians against Sikhs and helped undermine support for an independent Khalistan, particularly in the wake of the Air India bombing. Poll results reported in Soft Target indicate that there may be truth to this.
Meanwhile, websites have pointed out that there were rifts between Babbar Khalsa and Bhindranwale. If so, is it conceivable that Babbar Khalsa created by intelligence agents as a means to counter and undermine Bhindranwale, who couldn’t be controlled?
It’s not a subject that was ever probed by Air India inquiry commissioner John Major.
He refused the World Sikh Organization’s application to have Soft Target coauthor Kashmeri testify, ruling that this was not within his terms of reference.
Moreover, Major stated that this has been previously addressed by a Security Intelligence Review Committee review.
Yet Kashmeri and McAndrew cited a memo in their book by a former RCMP assistant commissioner, Gary Bass, who acknowledged that the Mounties “never thoroughly investigated this issue”.
Bass cited “serious concerns regarding possible Indian Government involvement, which at trial may permit the defence to explore very deeply into what the RCMP know on this issue”.
“As I understand it, this is not an area CSIS and our government will not wish to get into as it may severely impact relations with India,” Bass wrote.
In the late 1980s, the Conservative government was hoping that a Canadian company, Nova, would win a major pipeline contract in India.
Babbar Khalsa leader Talwinder Singh Parmar has always been a prime suspect in the bombing of Air India Flight 182.
Did Parmar meet an Indian spy?
Meanwhile, Kashmeri and McAndrew reported that in early 1985, Parmar met India’s vice-consul and alleged intelligence agent, Davinder Singh Ahluwalia, at the home of Gurbachan Madpuri in Mississauga.
“Neither Parmar nor Ahluwalia would reveal what it was they discussed, and the secret remains between them,” Kashmeri and McAndrew wrote.
Parmar subsequently denied meeting the vice consul general.
“By the time CSIS put all its information together, it found itself bogged down in a sea of overwhelming contradictions,” the authors concluded.
There were differences among militant Sikhs in that era.
In January 1984, India Today carried a story about how extremists within the Akali movement were “vying for the limelight”.
One of the lesser known groups at the time, Babbar Khalsa, reportedly had “stepped out of the shadows to claim credit for the killing of 35 Nankiris”. The Nankiris were a breakaway sect of Sikhs seen as heretics.
“The Babbar Khalsa’s efforts to project itself as the most radical of all the extremist groups have pushed moderate Akalis back onto the defensive,” wrote India Todayjournalist Gobind Thukral at the time. “For months now they have been adamantly maintaining that no criminals are sheltering in the Golden Temple complex.”
Meanwhile, one of the most enduring mysteries about the Air India bombing is the identity of a so-called Mr. X, who accompanied Reyat and Parmar into the woods near Duncan, B.C., and set off a bomb on June 4, 1985.
That was less than three weeks before the bomb blew apart Air India Flight 182 on its way to London.
This third man and Parmar were followed by agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on a ferry to Vancouver Island, but the intelligence officers never took photographs of him.
Kashmeri and McAndrew claimed that the the name CSIS agents “came up with” was a 35-year-old Sikh named Shera Singh, who ran a string of businesses in Punjab. The authors acknowledge this was never confirmed.
“He was a supporter of India’s Congress Party, a necessity if he wanted to maintain the government-issued licences required to run his businesses,” they wrote. “Through his trucking business, he belonged to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), one of the largest trade union bodies in India. INTUC is controlled by the Congress Party”.
Singh was shot and killed in dispute in India in 1986. Intriguingly, Singh’s brother was reportedly Madpuri, who allegedly hosted the event in which Parmar met the Indian vice consul.
Madpuri, then the president of the Overseas Congress Party, also reportedly told the RCMP that his brother visited Canada on July 5, 1985, which was two weeks after the bomb went off.
But one Babbar Khalsa member in Hamilton told Parmar that Madpuri’s brother was going to be in Canada in May of 1985 and would act as a financial courier for Babbar Khalsa. The bomb blast in the woods near Duncan was in early June.
“Members of Babbar Khalsa knew of Shera Singh as a man who was to carry money raised from Sikhs in Canada back to India, purportedly to assist the widows and children of men killed in the separatist struggle,” Kashmeri and McAndrew reported.
Unlike Jiwa’s book, Soft Target focuses very little attention on Hardial Singh Johal. Curiously, the Toronto-based authors described Johal as being known for having moderate political views.
“He had been brutally beaten once by alleged Sikh militants as he went to raise the Canadian flag on the pole outside the school where he worked,” Kashmeri and McAndrew reported.
This sharply contrasted with other reports about the Air India bombing that portray Johal as an irredeemably radical Sikh extremist and a cofounder of Babbar Khalsa.
Soft Target described a plot to place bombs on two Air Lanka planes in 1984 with a goal of having them go off on the tarmac. ROLF WALLNER
Tamil terrorism and Air India
One of the more alarming passages in Soft Power concerns a 1984 report of terrorism allegedly involving Tamil separatists from Sri Lanka.
It bore some of the hallmarks of the bombs that were placed on Air India planes leaving Canada the following year.
The manager of the airport in Madras (now Chennai) in South India received an anonymous call saying explosives were in two suitcases in the customs-inspection area. The bombs detonated, killing 29 people.
“The police investigation uncovered a plot by Tamil separatists to plant two explosives-filled suitcases on board a flight from Madras to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka,” Kashmeri and McAndrew reported. “The baggage was tagged by an accomplice at the Madras airport so the bags would be automatically loaded in the cargo hold of two Air Lanka planes bound for London and Paris. The bombs were timed to go off while the airplanes were still on the ground at Colombo Airport.”
The ticket buyers did not show up for their flight and the bags were separated from other cargo
“CSIS found the similarities between the Madras plot and the bombings in Narita and aboard Air-India remarkable, especially regarding the intended times of detonation,” Kashmeri and McAndrew wrote. “Air-India flight 182 was not supposed to blow up mid-air. The bomb was timed to explode on the ground at Heathrow International Airport during the london refuelling stop.”
Furthermore, the authors alleged, Tamil extremists had ties to an Indian intelligence group called the Third Agency.
“The Indian government had created this top-secret organization in the early 1980s to encourage extremist activities by Sikh radicals in Punjab,” Soft Target reported. “The aim was to rally support for the government throughout the rest of the country.”
The Air India Memorial in Vancouver’s Stanley Park serves as a permanent reminder of the loss of 329 lives on Air India Flight 182. CHARLIE SMITH
How this relates to Jagmeet Singh
Significant numbers of Canadian Sikhs believe there’s a reasonable chance that the Indian government played a role in bombs being placed on two Air India jets that flew out of Canada in June 1985.
But this view has not been given any credence by Bolan, Milewski, Glavin, Dosanjh, the Canadian government, the RCMP, and much of the mainstream Canadian media.
Judging from various media reports, the consensus among non-Sikhs is that the Air India mass murder was a made-in-Canada plot by local Sikh extremists who were enraged by attacks on Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. According to this perspective, they were driven by religious fervour and a desire for revenge.
This was the prevailing view back in the 1980s, and was perhaps most eloquently expressed in The Sorrow and the Terror.
One of Milewski’s allies is well-known Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay. The former Walrus editor once wrote a book exploring the mindset of conspiracy theorists, explaining why they tend to gravitate toward explanations of events that paint government officials in the most sinister light.
On CBC TV, Kay has described Milewski as an “expert” on the Air India bombing.
Yet these conspiracy theorists clutch onto the book by Kashmeri and McAndrew—and the decision by retired justice Major not to hear Kashmeri’s testimony—as evidence that the role of the Indian government has never been thoroughly canvassed in a public setting.
Meanwhile, Dosanjh recently revealed that he planned to board the flight but cancelled reservations a few days before the departure date.
In his 2016 memoir, the former B.C. premier stated that he and his wife decided that they didn’t want to expose their children to the blistering summer heat in India.
He wasn’t the only high-profile person who narrowly escaped losing family members.
Bolan wrote in Loss of Faith that “a last-minute illness” kept the family of then Vancouver Indian consul general Jagdish Sharma off the flight, according to the widow of one of the victims.
These explanations seem innocent enough to anyone who believes the bombing was the work of homegrown B.C. terrorists. But they can add fuel to the fire of conspiracy theorists who believe there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
In an alleged confession that became a topic at the 2007 at the Air India Inquiry, Parmar told Indian police he was acting at the behest of Lakhbir Singh Brar, the head of the International Sikh Youth Federation. Brar lived in Canada in 1985 and was deported several years later.
Brar is the nephew of Bhindranwale, a man whom some Sikhs say was at odds with Babbar Khalsa.
Parmar’s revelation came after he was allegedly captured by Indian police, tortured, and killed—rather than being killed in a shootout, as was recently alleged by the Hindustan Times.
Bolan reported that the RCMP checked out the details and found inconsistencies with the known record. As a result. the RCMP ruled out that Brar was the so-called Mr. X.
Meawhile, Jiwa noted in his book that while Parmar appears to have been murdered by police when he returned to India, Hardial Singh Johal was able to travel to his destinations unscathed in that country and return to Canada.
To Milewski, Bolan, and other seasoned white journalists who’ve covered the story for decades, it’s obvious that Parmar was a ringleader.
Two Canadian journalists of South Asian ancestry, Kashmeri and Jiwa, have left the door open to primary participation involving players other than the clique that formed Babbar Khalsa and Malik.
This doesn’t let Parmar off the hook, but Soft Target and Margin of Terror remain open to the possibility that he may have been used by others to achieve larger geopolitical aims. But there’s still no smoking gun proving that this was true.
Then there’s Jagmeet Singh, a trained criminal defence lawyer who says he would like to see convictions before commenting on who’s responsible. And as long as Singh maintains this position, he can expect to be roasted periodically by those who utterly reject that proposition and insist that it’s been proven that Parmar was the mastermind.
The Air India bombing occurred more than 30 years ago and at this stage, it appears unlikely that anyone else will be charged.
But it still has the potential to play a role in the 2019 federal election. This is particularly true if Singh’s point of view comes under criticism from his Liberal and Conservative opponents, senior Canadian journalists, former B.C. premier Dosanjh, and relatives of deceased passengers.
The Air India bombing still matters for a multitude of reasons, especially for the painful losses endured by so many Canadian families. Many of them were appalled by Josephson’s court ruling in the case involving Malik and Bagri and these relatives likely won’t stay silent about potential prime minister who refuses to condemn Parmar.
But the way this dastardly crime was investigated—and lingering questions about the actions of the Indian and Canadian governments in the 1980s—have also created a loss of faith, to borrow Bolan’s title, within elements of the Sikh community.
If Jagmeet Singh decides to take on the senior white journalists regarding their perspective, it could conceivably turn the 1985 Air India bombing into a significant 2019 Canadian election issue. The reverberations could be felt from Ottawa to New Delhi.