Evidence - Part 1
Plotted in plain sight?
Updated April 30, 2007
In 1987, Canada's solicitor-general James Kelleher declared: "I should point out to the House that there was no indication that there was a specific threat to Flight 182."
Sixteen years later, then federal solicitor-general Wayne Easter repeated the assertion: "They were not in a position to know that there would be a terrorist attack on an Air India aircraft."
Were they right? Was there really no warning — or was the Air India bombing plotted in plain sight?
In 1982, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi complained to prime minister Pierre Trudeau that Sikh extremists in Canada were financing and organizing terrorist attacks against Indian targets.
Three years later, on June 22, 1985, two bombs placed by Sikh militants in Vancouver killed 331 people. Air India Flight 182 blew up as it approached the coast of Ireland, killing 329 people. Two baggage handlers died earlier during a blast at a Tokyo airport.
Ever since, successive Canadian governments have insisted that Canada's security agencies could not have prevented the bombing because there was no warning.
But this version of history will be tested when a judicial inquiry under former Supreme Court Justice John Major begins to hear evidence on just how much the authorities knew.
A CBC News investigation has uncovered a gusher of information that flowed from CSIS surveillance and wiretaps, from local police, from the RCMP, from a network of informers, from the Indian government and from Air India itself.
A year before the bombing, amid increasingly violent demonstrations by Sikh separatists in Canada, police heard from several informers who told of a plot against Air India. Air India had only one weekly flight from Canada, so there was only one possible target: Flight 182.
None of the informers were deemed reliable.
- August 1984: A known criminal, Gerry Boudreault of Calgary, claims that he was offered $200,000 in cash to place a bomb on Air India's flight from Montreal: Flight 182. (The Toronto leg was added in January 1985). Boudreault names Talwinder Parmar, a Canadian who heads the armed Sikh separatist group, the Babbar Khalsa.
- September 1984: A Vancouver man, Harmail Singh Grewal, tells CSIS and the RCMP of the same plot.
- June 1985: Paul Besso, a paid RCMP informer, says he recorded Sikhs on Vancouver Island discussing an attack on Air India. Besso told the CBC in 1987 that he used an RCMP "body pack" to tape conversations with suspected Sikh drug dealers in Port Alberni and Duncan.
- RELATED LINK: "Coverup," CBC documentary, September 2003
"This guy met me with a suitcase," Boudreault told me. "A Sikh. 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."— Calgary Sun, Feb. 14., 1999, by Peter Smith.
"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. But the deal fell through after Grewal was dismissed by authorities as 'unreliable.' … 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, Sept. 23, 1987, by Neil Macdonald and Terry Glavin.
The "French-Canadian" was later confirmed to be Gerry Boudreault.
Grewal's lawyer, George Angelomatis, now a provincial court judge, declined to comment for CBC News. But, at the time, he told the Citizen that police refused to offer Grewal a deal.
"The police would not put anything down on paper. They just kept stringing him along, saying they'd get back to him about a deal."
"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, Sept. 22, 1987.
Besso was also interviewed that day for CBC's The Journal by host 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?" Besso: "Yes." Frum: "And they had transcripts of that session with these guys saying that Air India was a target?" Besso: "Yes." —
CSIS brands Parmar a 'terrorist.'
Official awareness of the threat from Sikh extremists predated the existence of CSIS.
Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi complains to Trudeau that Canadian Sikh separatists are behind terrorist attacks against Indian targets. India requests the extradition of Talwinder Parmar for the murder of two policemen in India. Canada turns down the request on the grounds that India does not recognize the Queen as Head of State, so that the Commonwealth extradition protocol does not apply.
June: The Indian Army attacks armed Sikh separatists at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Sikh demonstrations in Canada turn violent. Indian diplomats and missions are attacked.
July: The RCMP Security Service is replaced by CSIS, which concludes in the fall of 1984 that the Indians are correct about extremism in Canada.
October: Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; this sets off riots in which Delhi mobs kill thousands of Sikhs.
CSIS gets a court order to place Parmar under surveillance. This ensures that Parmar is watched and wiretapped for three months before the bombing.
Excerpts from affidavit of CSIS Deputy Director Archie Barr, March 1985:
CSIS says Parmar's Babbar Khalsa threatened to kill in Canada, too:
Canada turned down India's request for extradition:
CSIS says Parmar is urging Canadian Sikhs to carry out terrorist attacks:
June 1985, Air India sounds the alarm.
On June 1, 1985, three weeks before the bombing, Air India headquarters in Bombay reported to the RCMP in Toronto that it had intelligence regarding a plot to place time-bombs on Air India flights from Canada — timed to explode over Europe.
Although Air India had only one weekly flight from Canada — Flight 182 — the RCMP nevertheless maintained that the threat to attack Air India was not "specific."
From the RCMP's February 1992 submission to the Security Intelligence Review Committee of Parliament:
But the RCMP did know of specific details in the report from Air India headquarters, which it did not share with CSIS — so that CSIS had no grounds upon which to revise its threat assessment.
CSIS, though, had its own intelligence.
The test bombing
On June 4, three days after the Air India tip came to the RCMP and two days before its substance was passed to CSIS headquarters, CSIS agents followed Talwinder Parmar and Inderjit Reyat to a test bombing on Vancouver Island.
CSIS agent Larry Lowe and his partner, Lynn Macadams, followed Parmar and Reyat into the woods. Lowe testified at Reyat's trial on Sept. 21, 1990:
Even so, CSIS did not ask the RCMP to stop and question the suspects, or to search the trunk. Recriminations about this led to a letter by J.S. Warren, director-general of counter-terrorism at CSIS, on July 16, 1986:
Inderjit Singh Reyat, Parmar's host at the test bombing, was convicted of assembling the dynamite, relays, and timers that blew up Air India. Reyat faces a further charge of perjury.
The Hamilton tip
Soon after the test bombing, Parmar and his co-founder of the Babbar Khalsa, Ajaib Singh Bagri of Kamloops, flew to meet supporters in Hamilton, Ont. A police informer later contacted local police:
- MORE: Evidence Part 2