harper2-india-apolo-cbc-300-100623

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology Wednesday night to the families of the victims of the Air India bombing. ((CBC))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology Wednesday night for the "institutional failings" that led to the Air India bombing and the "administrative disdain" in which the victims' families were later treated.

In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of the attack, Harper stressed that it is not enough to say the system failed, as that would only "sanitize with words a succession of woeful inadequacies."

He cited the scathing report released last week by former Supreme Court justice John C. Major which blamed a "cascading series of errors" by government, the RCMP and the country's spy agency for failing to prevent the disaster.

"These are things for which honour and duty require that the Government of Canada — the government that called this inquiry — now apologize," Harper said in Toronto at a national memorial for victims of the attack.

"I stand before you, therefore, to offer on behalf of the Government of Canada, and all Canadians, an apology for the institutional failings of 25 years ago and of the treatment of the victims families thereafter."

The government's first obligation is the protection of its citizens, Harper said, but the destruction of Air India Flight 182 is evidence that something went "very, very wrong."

"For that, we are sorry. For that, and also for the years during which your legitimate need for answers and empathy, were treated with administrative disdain," Harper said.

Harper said Major's 3,000 page report can be reduced to a few words: "This should not have happened."

The government cannot defend and "has no wish to defend" the actions that occurred before and after the fact, Harper said.

He said the government is reviewing the recommendations in the report, but he made no specific mention of compensation.

Flight 182 went down in the Atlantic Ocean near Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 people aboard, most of them Canadians. A separate luggage bomb destined for a second Air India flight killed two Japanese baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita airport.

The "evil" attack was perpetrated by "cowards — despicable, senseless and vicious," Harper said.

"I will make no attempt to make sense of it. Nor will I speak of roads to healing. Some wounds are too deep to be healed, even by the remedy of time."

The bombing was not an act of foreign violence, Harper stressed, but an "atrocity" that was "conceived in Canada, executed in Canada, by Canadian citizens, and its victims were themselves mostly citizens of our country ."

Inderjit Singh Reyat was the only person ever convicted in the case. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2003.

Suspected ringleader Talwinder Singh Parmar died in India in 1991, and the RCMP's two main surviving suspects — Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri — were both acquitted in March 2005 after a 19-month trial. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Josephson ruled that the Crown's case against the two was too weak for a conviction.