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Canada PM launches judicial inquiry into Air India terror bombing after acquittals

[JURIST] Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official website] has launched a judicial inquiry [press release] into the 1985 Air India terrorist bombing [CBC backgrounder] that killed 329 people, most of them Canadians, on a flight over the North Atlantic. The bombing was the largest single modern terror attack before September 11, 2001, and resulted in the longest and most expensive trial in Canadian legal history. Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Sing Bagri were tried on charges [indictment, PDF] of conspiracy to commit murder, first degree murder of the passengers and crew of Air India Flight 182, and attempted murder of the passengers and crew, but were acquitted on all charges [JURIST report] last year. Former Ontario premier Bob Rae was then tasked with determining whether a judicial inquiry was needed and in November 2005 recommended a limited policy-based inquiry [Rae report, PDF].

Harper has appointed retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice John Major [official profile] to lead the inquiry, which will probe Canadian practices in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism, including:

  • whether any systemic issues relating to the assessment of the potential threat posed by Sikh terrorism prior to 1985, and the response to that threat by Canadian government officials, have been resolved and, if not, the further changes in practice or legislation that are required to resolve them,

  • whether any systemic problems in the effective cooperation between government departments and agencies, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in the investigation of the bombing of Air India Flight 182, either before or after June 23, 1985, have been resolved and, if not, the further changes in practice or legislation that are required to resolve them,

  • the manner in which the Canadian government should address the challenge, as revealed by the investigation and prosecutions in the Air India matter, of establishing a reliable and workable relationship between security intelligence and evidence that can be used in a criminal trial,

  • whether Canada's existing legal framework provides adequate constraints on terrorist financing in, from or through Canada,

  • whether existing practices or legislation provide adequate protection for witnesses against intimidation in the course of the investigation or prosecution of terrorism cases, and

  • whether the unique challenges presented by the prosecution of terrorism cases are adequately addressed by existing practices or legislation and, if not, the changes in practice or legislation that are required to address these challenges, in particular whether there is merit in having terrorism cases heard by a panel of three judges.

  • whether further changes in practice or legislation are required to address the specific aviation security breaches associated with the Air India Flight 182 bombing, particularly those relating to the screening of passengers and their baggage.
  • CBC has more.

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