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Did Reyat Get Away With Murder?
National Post, Feb. 12, 2003
"The attack turned out to have been planned by a Sikh terrorist cell operating in British Columbia . . . One of a number of Sikh fundamentalists living in B.C. in the 1980s who were angered by the Indian government's treatment of their co-religionists, Reyat admitted to having obtained the ingredients to make a bomb, but has always maintained he did not know others would use them to blow up Flight 182. . . . Even if true, the penalty would hardly fit the crime. Under the terms of his plea bargain agreement with B.C. prosecutors, Reyat will serve just 5.5 days for every life ended prematurely through his (allegedly unwitting) role in the Flight 182 tragedy. Reyat may not even have to testify against two Sikh extremists police believe were involved in the bombing, who go to trial in Mar. To top it all, Reyat may soon be transferred to a minimum security jail, and could become eligible for parole in just 18 months."
"One's first response to this sequence of events is to declare it an outrage, a travesty, an insult to Flight 182's doomed passengers. But outrage soon gives way to questions. How did it come to this, nearly 18 years after the fact? Two years ago, after a pre-trial hearing, the Crown boasted that it had compiled one million pages' worth of documentation and a witness list of 800 names connected to the Air India disaster. The R.C.M.P. has ploughed $41-million into investigating the bombing. To what avail? When prosecutors opt for plea bargains, it's usually for one reason - they don't have the evidence to convict a defendant on all the charges against him. In Reyat's case, the Crown evidently decided it lacked the hard facts necessary to nail him on the most serious crimes he was charged with - murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and endangering an aircraft."
"This is not entirely surprising. For one thing, the Crown could not call to the stand the Sikh terrorist thought to have played an important role in planning the Flight 182 bombing, Talwinder Singh Parmar, who was killed in a gun-fight with Indian police in 1992. But Parmar might have been a witness even then. In 1985, Parmar was living in British Columbia, under constant C.S.I.S. observation. C.S.I.S. agents made tape-recordings of Parmar's phone conversations, which reportedly demonstrated his role as a terrorist cell organizer - and proved a relationship between him and Reyat. Unfortunately, last June, the Crown revealed that C.S.I.S. had destroyed 200 of these tapes. More questions: How did these tapes come to be destroyed? By whose order? Why?"
"As if that were not enough, last summer, it emerged that two of Reyat's older children held positions on his original defence team and were paid tens of thousands of dollars of government money through a numbered company for their work on the case. This, too, cries out for investigation. Air-India Flight 182 mirrors, in many ways, the attacks of Sep. 11. In both cases, religious extremists used innocent airline passengers to strike at governments they hated. Both raised concerns of serious oversights by those responsible for our security: before the fact or after. The Americans responded by launching a far-reaching inquiry into what went wrong, and who should be held to account. The fiasco surrounding the Flight 182 investigation demands no less."