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Stephen Harper says the Air India inquiry 'is about finding answers to several key questions about the worst mass murder in Canadian history.' (CBC)

The Conservative government has launched a full public inquiry into the investigation of the Air India bombing, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.

Harper said his government decided on the terms of reference for the inquiry after retired Supreme Court Judge John Major, who will lead the probe, consulted with family members of some of the victims.

Harper said the "thorough and compassionate investigation" cannot find fault or repeat the criminal trials that have already taken place.

"This inquiry is not a matter of reprisal, nor is it intended to go back over the criminal trial. That would serve no purpose," Harper said in the House of Commons. "It is about finding answers to several key questions about the worst mass murder in Canadian history."

"It is our duty as Canadians to do everything in our power to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again," he said.

Hopefully the inquiry can bring "a measure of closure to those who still grieve for their loved ones," said Harper.

The Prime Minister has long supported a full judicial inquiry into the investigation and prosecution of the bombing, which killed 329 people aboard Air India Flight 182 as it was travelling off the coast of Ireland in June 1985.

Weeks after winning the Jan. 23 parliamentary election, Harper asked Major to meet with the victims' families.

Flight 182 originated in Vancouver, stopped in Toronto and Montreal and was en route to India via London when the bomb went off.

A second, linked bomb – which was planted in a suitcase on another Air India flight in the same day – killed two baggage handlers when it exploded at Japan's Narita airport.

The call for an inquiry became more heated when two men who had been charged in the bombings were set free after a lengthy trial found them not guilty.

B.C. residents Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik were acquitted in March 2005, after a judge ruled that the Crown's case against them was too weak.

Investigators alleged the men were radical Sikh separatists who wanted to punish India for a 1984 attack on a temple.

Reyat appears in court

Only one person has ever been convicted in the attacks – Inderjit Singh Reyat. He was sentenced to five years in 2003 after being convicted of manslaughter and with assisting in the construction of the bomb.

Reyat had a court appearance Monday for allegedly lying at the Air India trial. He appeared in a B.C. courtroom via videolink on charges he lied during Malik and Bagri's trial.

In November 2005, the then-Liberal government accepted Bob Rae's recommendation to hold a focused inquiry into the Air India investigation and prosecution. The former Ontario premier, now a Liberal leadership candidate, had been asked to advise the government on the issue.

Rae recommended the inquiry focus on:

  • Whether the assessment that the bombings were linked to Sikh militants – who wished to create an independent homeland – was adequate in light of available information.
  • Whether the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service co-operated adequately in the investigation.
  • The relationship between intelligence gathered and evidence presented at trial.
  • Any breaches of airport security and if those issues have been addressed.