Punjab politics is back
Bill Warden took the oath, climbed into the witness box and wearily recounted what it was like to be Canada's High Commissioner in India, under Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, back in 1984 and1985.
The complaints never stopped. One week, he'd be summoned to be lectured about the indifference of Canadian politicians to violence by Canadian Sikh separatists. The next week, he'd be berated for the sloppy security that allowed Air India 182 to be blown up.
The saddest part, as Warden testified at John Major's Air India inquiry, was that the Indians were right. He really had no defence to offer. There was no way around it: the bombings killed 331 innocent civilians. The warnings were clear, but we were looking the other way.
Fast forward now to the current campaign — and what have we learned?
Not much. In Vancouver South, we have a Conservative candidate, Wai Young, who has openly sought and received the endorsement of a founder-member, and financier, of the Babbar Khalsa terrorist group which blew up Air India.
First, let's be clear about those facts — which Ripudaman Singh Malik does not deny.
Malik was, indeed a close associate of the mastermind of the Air India bombing, Talwinder Parmar. Parmar's brother, Kulwarn, has told CBC News that he was present when Malik pledged $50,000 in support to the Babbar Khalsa.
Malik has acknowledged as genuine his membership card in the B.K. — now banned as a terrorist group. Malik has also acknowledged that he gave at least $100,000 in support to the family of the thrice-convicted Air India bomb-maker, Inderjit Reyat. He has never explained this generosity.
Reyat's most recent conviction was for perjury, at the trial in which Malik and his co-defendant, Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted of involvement in the bombing.
Of course, Conservatives are not alone in averting their gaze from such unpleasant facts. Liberal candidates, too, have welcomed the support of Sikh extremists and continue to do so. Only last week, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff granted an interview to a radio host, Sukhminder Hansra, who has applauded the 1984 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Hansra also applauded the near-fatal beating of a young Ujjal Dosanjh in 1985, after Dosanjh condemned the use of violence by Sikh extremists.
Nobody suggested, though, that Hansra was a personal friend or financier of the Air India bombers — so the case of Wai Young is really in a class of its own. The endorsement of a man like Ripudaman Singh Malik is something most politicians would run away from as fast as they can.
Time was, the Air India families felt warmly towards Stephen Harper's Conservatives — who gave them the judicial inquiry denied them by the Liberals. Since then, though, the mood has soured. Anil Hanse, the son of the pilot on the ill-fated Flight 182, looked at the lukewarm government response to the inquiry and summed it up: 'Same old --it.'
Now, Hanse and the hundreds of other victims' relatives must consider this: a Conservative candidate is working with a friend of the Air India bombers to defeat a lifelong enemy of separatist terror, Ujjal Dosanjh. Twenty-five years on, you can see what Anil Hanse is getting at.