Today's Big Story

Air India 182: New Questions

This week’s startling revelations raise new issues.

By Crawford Kilian 11 May 2007 |

Crawford Kilian is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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Like a long-buried bomb, Air India 182 exploded this past week.

The public inquiry into the disaster turned up two long-silent witnesses, both disturbingly credible. Ontario Lieutenant Governor James Bartleman told the inquiry he had seen a message saying AI 182 would be targeted within a few days. The Communications Security Establishment had intercepted it and passed it to Bartleman. He had taken it to the nearest relevant Mountie, and been told to butt out.

Bartleman’s story shocked the cops and spooks into major damage control, consisting mostly of trying to damage Bartleman’s reputation.

Then a former Sûreté de Québec dogmaster emerged from Vancouver Island retirement to set off yet another bomb.

Called to Mirabel on the night of June 23, 1985 to check AI 182’s luggage for possible explosives, SQ sergeant Serge Carignan arrived to find the plane had already been authorized to take off for England. Next morning he knew the scale of the disaster he could have prevented, though the RCMP never bothered to ask him about his small role in the affair.

Bartleman’s and Carignan’s unexpected answers have raised questions still more explosive:

Air India, we’ve learned, was demanding extra security. It feared Sikh extremists’ revenge for the Indian government’s storming of the Golden Temple the previous year. But after the bombings, did Air India, or the Indian government, publicly say they’d been denied protection? If not, why not?

Bartleman could remember the intercepted message, and the surly response of the Mountie. But he couldn’t recall the Mountie’s name, he had no copy of the message, and he seems to have told no one else—neither before the bombings nor in their aftermath.

Why would he have kept silent for 22 years, and why would he not have alerted his former colleagues and superiors before he spoke at the inquiry? Perhaps one of them might have dug the intercept out of an old file, or shown him he’d been mistaken about the whole thing.

Carignan’s silence is somewhat more understandable. The silence of the Mounties must have spoken volumes to him: They didn’t talk to him because they didn’t want to hear what he might say. He was still a cop, and cops don’t like to get other cops in trouble.

But once he was retired, why didn’t he speak up? Why did he leave it to his wife to contact the inquiry?

If these two men could hold their silence, others must have also: Traffic monitors in the Communications Security Establishment, Bartleman’s surly Mountie, the Mountie who invited Carignan to Mirabel, and the unknown official who authorized AI 182 to take off.

Rick Crook, a Vancouver cop, got wind of the plot in 1984, eight months before the bombings, and passed the tip along to a police intelligence unit in B.C.

Late last month he told the inquiry the case was taken out of the hands of the Vancouver police. Who made that decision, and who took over the case?

Some of these people are likely dead by now, but not all. Too dumb to prevent the bombings, they were smart enough to cover up their own incompetence -- and that of their colleagues -- for over 20 years. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is whether any of them are now prepared to come forward with some answers.  [Tyee]

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