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Pondering Reyat's Sentence
The Globe and Mail, Feb. 12, 2003
"In principle, only one punishment would be truly just for someone who played a key role in the deaths of 329 people. Life in prison. Anything less would trivialize mass killing and terrorism. It would cheapen the value not only of the lives that were taken but of life itself. Canadians are being asked to accept that Inderjit Singh Reyat's involvement in the 1985 Air-India bombing, the world's deadliest act of terrorism before Sep. 11, 2001, was worth five years in jail for manslaughter on top of the time he had already served. He had spent five years in custody awaiting trial. And he had previously been sentenced to 10 years on two manslaughter convictions in connection with a bomb that killed baggage handlers Hideo Asano and Hideharu Koda at Tokyo's Narita airport 54 minutes before the Air-India explosion."
"Appraising this plea bargain is difficult because so much has gone on behind closed doors. Perhaps this is as it must be, at least until two other men alleged to be the principal perpetrators have had their trials. If, for instance, something happened recently to weaken the Crown's case against Mr. Reyat (he had been charged with first-degree murder), and if Mr. Reyat was at the same time supplying or offering to supply valuable information against co-accused who were suspected of being far more serious players, it might be one of those deals with the devil that, regrettably, are necessary from time to time."
"Still, the first purpose of sentencing, according to Martin's Annual Criminal Code 2003, is to 'contribute to the respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.' Plea bargains must not call the justice system into disrepute. Deal-making in a case of this magnitude has just that potential. Unless the rationale is clear and widely accepted, a plea bargain can produce a corrosive cynicism that over time tends to undermine the rule of law. The statement of facts accepted by the Crown and the defence says that Mr. Reyat helped others make bombs, believing those bombs would be sent to India to blow up a car, a bridge or something heavy, and that he did not believe deaths would occur. The internal logic is baffling. Mr. Reyat understood that the bomb was to be used in an act of terror; by its nature, such an act may kill even when that result isn't intended. Shouldn't the bomb-maker be held responsible for any deaths that occur?"
"Yes, said Chief Justice Donald Brenner of the British Columbia Supreme Court, but 25 years in total was appropriate. (The five years spent in jail awaiting trial are counted as 10 for purposes of sentencing.) That total was not only for Air-India but also for the blast that killed the Tokyo baggage handlers. According to what sentencing principle was this appropriate? Against what other manslaughter cases is the judge measuring this one? Manslaughter - an unlawful act that leads to death - carries a maximum penalty of life in jail. Why is this not the worst case?"
"Return, for a moment, to the 1991 trial at which Mr. Justice Raymond Paris of the B.C. Supreme Court sentenced Mr. Reyat to 10 years for the Tokyo explosion - a sentence we suggested at the time might be an inadequate deterrent. As in the current case, Judge Paris noted that the prosecution did not allege or prove that Mr. Reyat knew others intended to use his bomb to kill anyone. But his actions were 'knowingly dangerous.' Were they not, then, knowingly dangerous in the Air-India case? Geoffrey Gaul, a spokesman for the prosecution, said the first-degree murder trial of the two other suspects in the Air-India case will take less than the two to three years previously expected. To what extent was expediency involved in the decision to seek a plea bargain? Perhaps it was an unsatisfactory but necessary factor, especially given recent concerns that a prolonged legal process could result in a mistrial."
"Did the state find itself unlikely to win a conviction even for manslaughter? Was it receiving key information on the co-accused? If the answer to both questions is yes, then we might reluctantly support the outcome. But if not, the state should have proceeded to trial and sought a life sentence if Mr. Reyat was convicted. Mr. Reyat admits he helped make a bomb to be used for terrorist acts. He did not stand up in court to express his remorse. He merely smiled when the sentence was read out. Parole for such a man would be hard to come by. But now it is virtually a non-issue; soon enough he will be back on the streets."