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   Vol. 67/No. 23           July 7, 2003  
Canadian police frame up
Sikhs for Air India crash
VANCOUVER, British Columbia—The opening here April 28 of the trial of two men accused of responsibility in an Air India crash in 1985 marked a new stage in the police campaign of harassment of people of the Sikh religion or Punjabi origin in Canada. The two accused, Ajaib Singh Bagri, a woodworker from Kamloops, British Columbia, and Ripudamin Singh Malik, a businessman in Vancouver, are Sikh religious leaders.

Bagri is also a leader of Babbar Khalsa, a group that advocates independence for the Punjab, a state in northwest India. On June 18, the Canadian government banned Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh World Federation as “terrorist” organizations.

On June 23, 1985, an Air India flight exploded near Ireland killing 329 people, mainly of Indian origin. The media widely proclaimed that a bomb explosion brought down the plane. But this assertion has never been proven.

In a report for Lloyds of London dated March 21, 1988, Eustace Roskill wrote, “None of the recovered parts of the aircraft showed any sign whatsoever of damage from explosives. None of the 131 bodies… showed any sign of death having been caused by explosive injuries or by shrapnel.”

Bagri and Malik are also accused of responsibility in the death of two airport attendants who died when a bomb exploded at Tokyo’s Narita airport on the same day as the Air India crash. They were originally arrested on Oct. 27, 2000, and have been held without bail ever since. It has taken two and a half years for the case to come to trial.

The charges against the defendants are based on hearsay evidence. The main witness against Malik is a woman who said that he confessed his involvement in the crash to her on more than one occasion. A witness who claims he heard Bagri also confess to the crime has been paid $300,000 to testify since he lives in the United States.

Another person accused in the Air India crash, Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on February 10 and was sentenced to five years in jail. The statement of fact in his conviction reads, “Reyat acquired various materials for the purpose of aiding others in the making of explosive devices…. he did not arm an explosive device, nor did he place an explosive device on an airplane, nor does he know who did or did not do so.”

Reyat had previously been sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter in the death of the two airport workers at the Narita airport. His conviction was based on circumstantial evidence. Just prior to his mandatory release for those charges, he was charged in the Air India case.

The Air India investigation was launched by Ottawa in the context of a big campaign by the Indian government against forces advocating independence for Punjab.

On June 5, 1984, there was an assault by the Indian army on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the most important Sikh holy site. Many hundreds of people died in the aftermath of the assault. As part of the reaction to this assault, India’s prime minister at the time, Indira Ghandi, was assassinated Oct. 30, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards. Following the killing, the Congress Party, which Ghandi led, organized the slaughter of thousands of Sikhs.

One example of police harassment was the treatment of Kulwarn Singh Parmar whose brother, Talwinder Singh Parmar, was a police suspect in the Air India crash. In 1992 Indian police killed Talwinder Singh Parmar after torturing him. In September 2002 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers visited Kulwarn Singh Parmar at his workplace in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, and offered him $1 million to testify in the Air India trial.

There have been many incendiary headlines in the newspapers about the Air India case. When Reyat was convicted the headline in the Vancouver Sun read “Killer of 329 makes deal.”

The anti-Sikh campaign waged by the government has whipped up racist attitudes toward Punjabis. In 1998, Nirmal Singh Gill, a caretaker at a Sikh temple in Surrey, near Vancouver, was beaten to death by a group of racist skinheads. In response, 1,000 people rallied to protest this anti-immigrant attack.

In June 2002 Ian Bruce Josephson, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge, ruled that the rights of Bagri had been violated. The judge said the reason was that 70 percent of the tape recordings of phone calls by Talwinder Singh Parmars made by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) prior to the plane crash had been erased.

The last few weeks accusations have been swirling in the media that CSIS had advance information about the bombing through an informer. In documents released by the court, RCMP officers are quoted as saying this is why CSIS erased many tapes.  
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