Hijacker says he's changed, shouldn't be deported

A Sikh man facing deportation from Canada for hijacking an Indian airliner 24 years ago says he's a changed man and should be allowed to remain in Canada to practise law.

A Sikh man facing deportation from Canada for hijacking an Indian airliner 24 years ago says he's a changed man and should be allowed to remain in Canada to practise law.

In 1984, Parminder Singh Saini was the ringleader of a militant Sikh student organization thathijacked an Indian Airlines plane with 264 people on board. They threatened to blow up the plane if their demands for an independent homeland for Sikhs in India weren't met.

After negotiations, the plane landed safely in Lahore, Pakistan. No one was seriously hurt and the hijackers surrendered.

Saini was convicted and sentenced to death, although that was later commuted to life in prison. He spent 10 years in jail in Pakistan.

In 1994, Saini, using a false name, came to Canada and applied for refugee status. He says he holds no passport because India stripped him of his following the hijacking.

When Canadian authorities discovered Saini was in the country, they ordered him deported.

While in Canadian custody, Saini received a pardon from Pakistan, wiping out the hijacking conviction in that country.

However, a Canadian judge later ruled on Saini's case, writing: "The conviction in this case was for an offence so abhorrent to Canadians, and arguably so terrifying to therest of the civilized world, that our court is not required to respect a foreign pardon of such an offence."

A Canadian deportation order for Saini is still active.

'I won't advocate violence'

In an exclusive interview with CBC news, Saini said his days of militancy are behind him.

Saini, who recently earned a law degree from the University of Windsor, has a job articling with a suburban Toronto law firm. He said he's now focused on the law rather than politics.

"I have been trained by renowned professors at Canadian universities. I learned international human rights," he said. "If a minority wants an independent state, you have legal ways to achieve that. So I won't be advocating violence. So I won't be training them to go and commit acts of violence."

Saini said he's no longer a threat to the public.

"They shouldn't fear me. I am here to help them, with my legal education and training," he said.

He hopes to be admitted to the bar, a decision that will rest with the Law Society of Upper Canada.

His lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said his client deserves a second chance.

"People make mistakes and Parminder has been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to show that despite this very serious mistake, he has been able to turn his life around and I think he should be given the opportunity," Waldman said.

Community divided

Saini's future is a hot topic of discussion at a Sikh temple in Toronto.

Gurdev Singh Mann, who runs the North York Sikh Temple, said he doesn'tsupport Saini's bid to remain in Canada.

"I have objection because he got background, he had links with the terrorists, hehad terrorist activities which is that he hijacked a airplane.And who knows that he can do something here too?" he said.

But others believe he should be allowed to remain.

Paul Ocheje, who taught Saini at the University of Windsor's law school, said he'sa changed man.

"I look at him as a remarkable example of someone who's been through dauntingodds, and who has risen above that to rehabilitate himself and become a useful member of our society," said Ocheje.