The B.C. Court of Appeal has granted bail to Inderjit Singh Reyat, the only person convicted in the Air India bombings.
"He's been in jail a long time.… He doesn't know yet, but I'm sure that he'll be pleased when he hears," said his lawyer, Ian Donaldson, outside the Vancouver court after Wednesday's decision."
Reyat has served more than 20 years in jail. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his role in the bombing that blew Air India Flight 182 out of the sky near Ireland in June 1985, killing 329 people. It was the worst mass murder in Canada's history. Reyat was also convicted of two counts of manslaughter for his part in building a connected bomb that was taken off another Air India plane and exploded at Narita International Airport in Tokyo in 1985, killing two baggage handlers.
It's believed the plot against Air India was hatched by militant Sikh extremists in B.C. who were allegedly retaliating against the government of India, which owns the airline, for a raid on the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for the Sikh religion.
Reyat had finished serving his sentences, but he remained behind bars awaiting trial for perjury for his testimony in the trial that acquitted two other men of murder in the bombings.
Reyat is accused of lying 27 times during the trial of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri.
Justice Ian Josephson labelled Reyat an "unmitigated liar under oath" in his ruling acquitting Malik and Bagri of the bombing deaths.
In March, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Patrick Dohm denied Reyat bail on the perjury charges on the grounds that his detention was necessary to maintain confidence in the justice system.
Reyat's lawyer asked the B.C. Court of Appeal in June to reconsider, and on Wednesday the B.C. Court overturned that earlier decision and granted Reyat bail.
Bail conditions not yet released
The conditions of Reyat's bail haven't been released, but they are expected to be strict, according to B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal
The Attorney General said the Crown opposed the granting of bail to Inderjit Singh Reyat for several reasons.
"Because of the nature of the crime that was committed, because the lawyers in the ministry felt it would be contrary to the public interest to have him released; as well, there was concern on the part of the lawyers relating to his background," Oppal told the CBC on Wednesday morning.
Reyat's trial on the perjury charges is scheduled for next January. A further appeal of the decision to grant bail to the Supreme Court of Canada was unlikely, but the final decision will be up to special prosecutor Len Doust, who is handling the case for the Crown, Oppal said
"You can always appeal these things, but it's not normally done," said Oppal. "There has to be some serious error in law before something like that is done. And while I haven't seen the reasons, it is rare for appeals on bail to be granted from the Court of Appeal."
But Ujjal Dosanjh, the federal Liberal's public safety critic and a former B.C. attorney general, said he expects the B.C. Crown to appeal Reyat's release to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Victims families still have questions
Bal Gupta, the chairman of the Air India Victims Families Association, said Reyat's release was worrying.
"Well I just got news about five minutes ago and … the concern is, No. 1, that he may leave the country, and the second thing is that he'll be free to consult and bond with the other conspirators of this Air India bombing," he said.
Rene Saklikar, whose aunt and uncle were killed in the bombing, told CBC that Reyat's release was troubling for her.
"I'm deeply uneasy, and I just have a lot of questions. I'm unclear on how this happened, and it's painful. And I want to stress that it's painful not just for the families, but for all citizens," said Saklikar.
"We have to ask ourselves what is going on in our justice system," said Saklikar. "Will the Air India epic— it's a saga now — will it ever be resolved so there's justice?"
The suitcase bomb that destroyed the Air India jumbo jet was originally placed on a connecting CP flight in Vancouver as unaccompanied baggage and was transferred onto Flight 182 in Toronto, along with many of the Vancouver passengers.
The flight also made a stopover in Montreal before flying on to Heathrow airport in London.