With India and Canada sparring once more over Canadian support for Khalistani terrorists acting against Indian interests, it is important to remember that the Canadian state has been callous to Indian security interests on Canadian soil for more than four decades now.
This is a story of the worst airline terrorist attack before 9/11.
Murder Most Foul
On 19 November 1981, members of a terrorist group known as Babbar Khalsa shot and killed two police officers in Punjab, India. Soon afterwards, one of those involved in the killings fled to Canada. His name was Talwinder Singh Parmar.
Shortly afterwards, Indian courts issued a warrant for Parmar. There were six charges framed against him for the killings, including two for murder. On 29 April 1982, the Indian government formally requested that Parmar be extradited to India to face those charges.
Pierre Trudeau’s government denied the request in July that year. The reason given was extraordinary: Even though India was a member of the Commonwealth, since India did not recognise the Queen as Head of State, Trudeau claimed that the Commonwealth extradition protocol did not apply.
CSIS Finally Takes Heed
During his time in Canada, Parmar travelled extensively and portrayed himself as the leading pro-Khalistan voice in Canada, demanding the creation of an ethno-religious sovereign state (Khalistan) out of parts of India.
He publicly called for violence and terrorism against the Indian state and people in Canada.
On 21 July 1984 during a speech in Toronto, he called for the killing of 50,000 Hindus in addition to blowing up Indian embassies all over the world. During June 1984, Indian diplomats and missions in Canada were attacked.
Parmar’s activities led to tensions within the Indian diaspora in Canada, and particularly within the Sikh community there.
Moderate leaders of the community reached out to Canada’s intelligence service, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), providing information on Parmar and begging the Canadians to act.
These requests to CSIS were augmented by a few supporters of the Khalistan movement in Canada who were worried by Parmar’s extremism.
Taking heed of these inputs, Archie M Barr, deputy director of CSIS filed an affidavit along with a request for a warrant under Section 21 of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to tap Parmar’s communications and place him under surveillance from 5 March 1985.
Everything written up until this point is reflected, among other places, in Archie Barr’s affidavit.
But months prior to that affidavit, informants were desperately contacting Canadian security services with intelligence about a bomb plot.
In August 1984, Gerry Boudreault of Calgary went to the police. Gerry was an acquaintance of Parmar. He was also a petty criminal. He reported to the police that Parmar had shown him a suitcase filled with $200,000 in banknotes.
The money was his, Parmar had told him, if Gerry would only plant a bomb on an Air India plane.
He opened it up and there it was stuffed with $200,000, and all I had to do was put a bomb on an Air India plane. I had done some bad things in my time, done my time in jail, but putting a bomb on a plane … not me. I went to the police.
—Gerry Boudreault | Calgary Sun, 14 February 1999, by Peter Smith.
Gerry’s warning was ignored.
A month later, Harmail Singh Grewal of Vancouver informed CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of the same plot.
In September, 1984, Vancouver liquor store employee Harmail Singh Grewal tried to bargain down his sentence on theft and fraud charges with information to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP about a plot to put a bomb aboard an Air India flight out of Montreal … Grewal told the agents the story how he and a French-Canadian man had become involved with a group of Sikh militants who wanted to plant a bomb…
— Ottawa Citizen, 23 September 1987, by Neil Macdonald and Terry Glavin
The sentencing deal, however, fell through. Afterwards, in an unbelievable display of callousness, CSIS and the RCMP both dismissed Grewal as unreliable, and the intelligence he shared was ignored. It later became clear that the French-Canadian man he had referred to was none other than Gerry Boudreault.
In June 1985, an RCMP informant was working undercover with suspected drug dealers in Port Alberni. Paul Besso was wearing a device to record conversations with the suspects. This was monitored by the RCMP, and Besso later confirmed that the RCMP had transcripts.
"I was wearing a body pack and my van was wired, so the RCMP actually have a transcript of a tape telling them of a plot against Air India days to a week before it happened."
—RCMP informer Paul Besso on CBC's The National, 22 September 1987.
He was interviewed by CBC’s The Journal by Barbara Frum.
Besso: "That turned my head around. Wait a minute — this is not drugs, this is not about making a little money we're talking about, this is weapons. We're talking about killing people. This is not cool. … All they basically said to me was that Air India was a target of theirs."
Frum: "Did they wiretap that meeting?"
Frum: "And they had transcripts of that session with these guys saying that Air India was a target?"
Besso: "Yes." —
Besso’s claims are borne out by a 167-page affidavit later filed by RCMP Constable Gary Lamont Clark-Marlow.
Evidently, suspects talking about blowing up a commercial airliner and attempting to obtain firearms and explosives isn’t a big deal in Canada, and the security apparatus is under no obligation to take these things seriously.
Once again in June 1985, another source informed the RCMP that Gurmej Singh Gill, a leader of Babbar Khalsa in London, had stated in November the previous year that anyone flying Air India would be killed either in Britain or in India by Babbar Khalsa.
Clark-Marlow’s affidavit states that this information was neither substantiated nor refuted. After everything narrated until now, it’s safe to assume that this input was also ignored.
On 4 June 1985, CSIS agents followed Parmar to the residence of Inderjit Singh Reyat, and then to a deserted area. The agents observed Reyat take a device into the woods.
The agents later heard a loud bang, which they dismissed as a gunshot. Testing later revealed that Reyat had detonated a blasting cap to test his bomb circuit. The agents did not see fit to have the police stop and search the suspects.
Sometime before 9 June 1985, Parmar and a collaborator visited the Malton Sikh Temple near Toronto. On 9 June, an informant warned the police that Parmar had warned the congregation there:
“it would be unsafe” to fly Air India.
Vancouver police intercepted a conversation of a leader of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) with a known extremist. When the ISYF leader complained that no Indian consuls or ambassadors had been killed, he was told, “You will see. Something will be done in two weeks”.
Shambolic security and intelligence efforts usually lead to horrific consequences, and this case wasn’t any different.
On 23 June 1985, a bomb hidden in a suitcase transiting through New Tokyo International Airport exploded at 06:19. The premature detonation was on account of Reyat and Parmar not knowing that Japan did not follow Daylight Savings Time. Two baggage handlers were killed and four others were injured.
An hour later, a Boeing 747-237B operated by Air India from Montreal to Bombay disintegrated in mid-air off the coast of Ireland due to a bomb blast. All 329 people on board were killed.
The CSIS and RCMP botched the investigation as well, and only one person was ever convicted: Inderjit Singh Reyat. On 28 January 2016, he was released on parole.
The prosecution was hampered substantially because CSIS had erased 156 out of 210 tapes of telephone conversations involving Parmar, Reyat, and their collaborators. No transcripts were made.
This article was first published on the author's substack.
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