Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Apr. 04, 2005)

Air India Fallout

  By John Martin

Two days after the Air India verdict I had the opportunity to tour the reassembled wreckage of Flight 182 at a warehouse in Vancouver.  Even though just a portion of the plane was recovered, the reconstruction speaks volumes to the split-second horror the occupants must have endured.  Walking through the wreckage, seeing suitcases that miraculously survived intact and inspecting the shreds of torn steel was as frightening and depressing an experience as I can recall.  Those who have seen the wreckage will never forget it.

The verdict, not totally unexpected, has been the subject of much debate and fury.  The questionable working relationship between CSIS and the RCMP has come under fire.  The fact that it took ten years for anyone from the RCMP to contact the victims’ families has raised allegations that the ethnicity of the victims de-prioritized the case. And the issue of whether to call a public inquiry is the source of considerable anger.

One issue that the Air India tragedy makes clear though, is the difficulty we face prosecuting cases involving terrorism under the traditional criminal justice system.  The burden of proof, the need to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the stipulations of due process make this type of case near impossible to get a conviction in.  The legal requirements of proving intent were designed and have evolved for cases involving much more mundane criminal activities.  Mass murder and terrorism were not part of the legal blue print.

As an example, our legal system has rules of disclosure.  The defence must have full and complete access to all relevant documents and materials in the Crown’s possession.  This is a time honoured legal tradition and makes perfect sense; one has a right to know ahead of time what the substance and source of the allegations against him are.

The problem is, in cases like Air India, the information is typically gathered through intelligence and informants; and often collected by foreign governments and investigators.  They are quite reluctant to share such sensitive materials with Canadian prosecutors, knowing full well that these will be made available to the accused and could compromise their sources and intelligence procedures.  They literally fear that sharing such material with Canadian authorities will put the lives of their informants and investigators in peril.  Consequently, other countries have a very good reason not to assist Canada in such prosecutions.

There is absolutely no doubt that Canada has long been a safe haven for terrorists.  Jean Chrétien would always fondly claim, “der are no terrorists in da Canada” even though CSIS had previously warned him that more than fifty terrorist cells were active in this country.  Shocked and dumbfounded that the Prime Minister would so recklessly lie to the nation, CSIS shared the information with the media.  A petty and vindictive Chrétien responded by slashing their budget.  Terrorists were always thrilled that not only could they raise funds in Canada, but they could even submit documentation for a tax deduction for such activity.

It has also come to light that the Liberal government is very concerned that cracking down on terrorists, such as the Tamil Tigers, could cost them votes in selected ridings in the Toronto area.  And that has to be one of the ugliest incidents of racism in this country’s history.  Consequently, we now have a Prime Minister who, rather than outlaw the Tamil Tigers as is the case in Britain and the U.S., actually attends their fund raising events.  And he does so with full knowledge via CSIS, what types of activities are being funded; mass murder, suicide bombings and other acts of terror.  They force children as young as ten into warfare and instruct them to swallow a cyanide capsule if they’re ever caught. But hey, gotta make sure those Tamils keep voting Liberal.

The Air India verdict, rightly or wrongly, will surely serve to reaffirm the belief that Canada is soft on terrorism.  Not only do our laws and court rulings make it difficult and complicated to monitor and investigate suspected terrorists, but now there is a perception that we don’t have the legal tools necessary to secure convictions in such cases. Compound this with the disgraceful fact that the Government of Canada doesn’t want to offend those who may be sympathetic to terrorist groups.

As one victim’s family member noted, “Air India was our 911.  And we blew it.”

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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