Crown asked CSIS for Air India wiretap evidence right away, inquiry told

A former B.C. prosecutor testified at the Air India inquiry on Tuesday that he made immediate and repeated requests of Canada's security agency for all wiretapping evidence on suspects.

A former B.C. prosecutorsaid at the Air India inquiry in Ottawa on Tuesday that in the months following the disaster, he made immediate and repeated requests of Canada's security agency forall wiretapping evidenceon suspects.

James Jardine testifiedthe first thing he asked the RCMP to do was check on whether they could get access to wiretaps made by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service before the bombing, sotheycould be used infuture criminal prosecutions.

The recordings of phone calls made in 1985 by Talwinder SinghParmar, a well-known Sikh extremist and a prime suspect in the Air India bombing, were later erased by CSIS.

Jardine, now a provincial court judge,testified that when he heard that the tapes were erased, he jotted down a four-word note to himself: "Inconceivable, incomprehensible, indefensible incompetence."

Hetold the inquiry he wrote the note "in the heat of the moment."

The wiretap recordings were made three months before the flight blew up on June 23, 1985 off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people aboard, including 280 Canadians.

Strained dealings with CSIS

Early in his testimony, Jardine recalled first asking for information from CSIS in July 1985 as he began an application to authorize telephone intercepts on suspects. 

"I put it this way: 'If there are watchers, there will likely be wires,'" Jardine told the inquiry. "I certainly made it clear what I required."

During his testimony, Jardine was askedto give his overall impressions of the level of co-operation he received from CSIS while trying to build a case.

"Would you describe your relationship with CSIS as open and co-operative?" commission counsel Mark Freiman asked.

"No," Jardine replied bluntly.

"Would you describe your relationship with CSIS as forthright?"

"No," he again replied.

Jardine didn't go so far as to suggest the loss of the tapes was fatal to the prosecution of any of the suspects. But he made it clear that it complicated the difficulties already faced by the RCMP and the Crown.

"Those tapes would have been a very helpful piece of evidence, either to demonstrate a person's involvement or to demonstrate that a person was not involved," Jardine told the inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major.

On Monday, a senior RCMP official told the inquiry he believed the task force probing the bombing had a deal with CSIS to retain any tapes that could be used as evidence.

Air India Flight 182 explodedover the coast ofIreland as it flew from Canada to India, via London. A second bomb exploded at Tokyo's Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers.

Tapes revealed conversations about assassination plot

In 1991, Jardine was in charge of prosecuting Inderjit Singh Reyat, the only person ever convicted in connection to the bombings. Reyat was found guilty on a reduced charge of manslaughter for building the bomb.

The CBC's Terry Milewski, who has been covering theinquiry, said the erased tapes made Jardine's job difficult.

"His main problem was those tapes — what happened to those tapes," Milewski said. "Jardine knew he'd have to disclose to the defence the fact that the tapes had been wiped out and he knew it would be a field day for Reyat's lawyers."

Milewski said that when Jardine questioned CSIS officers about the erasure, one replied that officers did so because they were neophytes.

CSIS has always said there was nothing of value on the Parmar tapes and that erasing them was routine procedure. But at the Air India trial in 2003, defence lawyers forced the government to concede that it was a case of "unacceptable negligence."

Debate has raged for years over whether the tapes — had they survived — could have led to any convictions.

While the tapes were destroyed, the transcription notes survived. They indicate Parmar had conversations with a contact in Germany about a plot to assassinate former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The conversations were recorded using a wiretap on the phone in Parmar's Burnaby, B.C., home. Parmar moved to India and was killed in 1992 by police in India, an event that will be examined by the inquiry.

The bombs were planted in baggage loaded in Vancouver. One bomb wentto Toronto, where it was transferred to Flight 182, which stopped in Montreal before exploding near Ireland.

The other bomb went onto a plane to Tokyo and exploded there while the luggage was being transferred to an Air India plane.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge in 2005 acquitted Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri on eight charges related to the bombing.

With files from the Canadian Press