Air India families find no closure in report

There will never be closure on the 1985 Air India bombings, despite the release of a long-awaited report on the matter, relatives of the victims say.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with members of the Air India Victims Families Association in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday. ((Chris Wattie/Reuters))

There will never be closure on the 1985 Air India bombings, despite the release of a long-awaited report on the matter, relatives of the victims say.

"I think closure is a word that continues to haunt us," said Lata Pada, whose two teen daughters and husband perished in the bombings. "We can never have closure from a tragedy of this enormous devastation.

"What we can have is the satisfaction that we've come to a point where an inquiry has actually happened and an extensive report with recommendations has actually become a reality."

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday, family members said the inquiry into federal mismanagement of the investigation of the bombings answers many of their concerns and confirms it was not an accident that their loved ones died.

Shipra Rana wipes an eye as she talks to the media following a meeting with the prime minister and other members of the Air India Victims Families Association on Parliament Hill on Thursday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

"I think the report addresses most of the concerns that the families raised.… It confirms what families suspected when asking for the inquiry: that it was not a sheer accident, that it was a compounding of mistake after mistake after mistake," said Bal Gupta, who lost his wife in the bombings.

The report and the government's acknowledgement of the tragedy has been a long time coming, added Gupta.

"We were not allowed to meet any government minister for almost 10 years," he said. "The first time we met with the government was in 1995.… We were treated like troublemakers."

The report will have international implications, said Pada.

"For over two decades, Canada was seen as a country that harbours terrorism, is soft on terrorism. I think this report and the strong recommendations it makes is going to prove that Canada is going to continue to be as vigilant as it can be against ongoing acts of terrorism."

Changes needed, report says

The commission of inquiry was created in May 2006. In his report released earlier Thursday, retired Supreme Court justice John C. Major blamed a "cascading series of errors" by government, the RCMP and the country's spy agency for failing to prevent the disaster.

Lata Pada, left, and Bal Gupta, who both lost relatives in the 1985 Air India bombing, speak to reporters Thursday in Ottawa. ((Chris Wattie/Reuters))

Major called for sweeping changes to Canada's national security system, including an enhanced role for the national security adviser to oversee and mediate between the RCMP and CSIS and report directly to the prime minister.

"If the government implements the recommendations, Canada will be a much safer place," Gupta said.

In responding the report, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the government is "very committed" to implementing the recommendations.

"And if there is no good reason to implement a recommendation, that would have to be carefully explained to the Canadian people and specifically the victims."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the report a "damning indictment of many things that occurred before and after the tragedy" which the government is "determined to avoid in the future."

Harper said the government takes Major's report "very seriously" and will "respond positively" to his recommendations for an apology and compensation for families.

Harper said the inquiry was called "to bring closure to those who still grieve and to ensure that measures are taken to prevent such a tragedy in the future."

"We thank Commissioner Major for his work and once again extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends for the loved ones they lost," Harper said. "Our thoughts are with them on this day."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff spoke of the "tremendous burden" on families of the victims and said he hoped Major's report would give them "some measure of closure."

"As a Canadian, my hope is some of that burden will be lifted," Ignatieff told reporters in Ottawa.