Air India bombers still torment their victims 30 years on

Thirty years on, the families of the Air India bombings feel the same anguish they felt after Flight 182 was blown apart. What remains, too, is the sense that they have been abandoned, Terry Milewski writes.

Portrait of bomber a permanent fixture on the exterior of Surrey, B.C., temple

"Today, we see such propaganda being passed around," Shipra Rana writes about the continuing aftermath of Air India Flight 182. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

June 23 never comes easily for the families. Thirty years on, they feel the same anguish they felt after Air India Flight 182 was blown apart. What remains, too, is the sense that they have been abandoned.

Yes, they eventually got a judicial inquiry — but its recommendations now gather dust. 

And 30 years after the bombing?

"Does anyone — does Canada herself — remember the faces of the murdered?" asks Shipra Rana, writing from Toronto to mark the day when she lost her sister in the bombing.

Do people realize even now, she wonders, that the 329 victims were mostly Canadian citizens? And yet, Rana writes, there are people in Canada who still openly revere the men who placed the bomb.

"Today, we see such propaganda being passed around."

Then, she resorts to all-caps to convey her feelings: "NO ONE HAS THE GUTS TO STOP THEM."

Portrait of a martyred bomber

Here's part of what she's talking about: the large poster placed outside a temple in Surrey, B.C., in honour of — yes, in honour of — Talwinder Singh Parmar.

Talwinder Singh Parmar is portrayed as a martyr outside Dasmesh Darbar Temple in Surrey, B.C.

The poster is a permanent fixture on the exterior of the Dasmesh Darbar Temple. The photograph of it was taken last Friday, June 19. To passers-by, it's just another portrait of some saintly stalwart of the Sikh religion.

Actually, about the only thing the defence, the prosecution and the judge all agreed on at the Air India trial in Vancouver was that Parmar was the mastermind of the Air India bombing.

That makes him the worst mass murderer in Canadian history, by far. And he is publicly celebrated to this day as a shaheed — a martyr — by his devotees.

Parmar was never put on trial for the massacre he designed with great care and determination. Although India had previously tried to extradite him for the murder of two policemen, Canada had refused. He settled in Burnaby, B.C., where he assembled a team to place bombs on two planes connecting with Air India flights.

In the woods near Duncan, on Vancouver Island, CSIS spies tailed Parmar and his chosen bomb maker, Inderjit Singh Reyat, to a test explosion using dynamite bought from a logging company.

Different rules

That was three weeks before the real thing. Neither CSIS nor the RCMP connected the dots in time to stop the plot.

The Indian police played by different rules. Seven years later, in 1992, they caught and killed Parmar while he was on a mission to buy Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the Pakistani Taliban.

Today, Parmar's defenders still find ways to honour him and his cause — the dream of an independent Sikh state, carved out of India, to be called Khalistan.

And, for one reason or another, back in Surrey, nothing prevents the temple management celebrating a man who slaughtered 331 innocents — the passengers and crew of Flight 182, along with two baggage handlers who picked up the other suitcase bomb at Narita Airport in Tokyo.

That's a long explanation of Shipra Rana's anniversary letter. But the other families understand perfectly. The wounds are deep and, by now, they know very well what salt feels like.