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Reyat's Plea Bargain Hurts Global War on Terror
By MARGARET WENTE
The Globe and Mail, Feb. 13, 2003
"After a 17-year investigation, Canada's mighty justice system has produced a mockery of justice in sentencing Inderjit Singh Reyat to five years for manslaughter. He could be eligible for day parole by year's end. We thought Air-India was a unique event back in 1985. It turned out to be a taste of things to come: a slaughter of the innocents in the name of an obscure foreign cause - a fight for independence by extremist Sikhs against the Indian government. It was a message that terror had gone global. But we didn't hear it. Even Brian Mulroney, then prime minister, thought it was India's problem. The verdict is a sign that we still don't get it. 'This might have made perfect sense in the very limited context of a criminal proceeding,' says University of Toronto security expert Wesley Wark. 'But it makes almost no sense in the context of a global war on terror.' "
"When Air-India Flight 182 went down off the coast of Ireland, Canadian security was going through enormous institutional upheaval. C.S.I.S., the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was in its infancy, and it was engaged in bitter turf wars with the R.C.M.P. Both agencies had pieces of the case. But so deep was the rancour that a C.S.I.S. officer destroyed a massive cache of surveillance tapes rather than turn it over to the R.C.M.P. That spectacular bungle will no doubt make for juicy moments in the trial of the other two Air-India suspects, which starts next month. 'C.S.I.S. and the R.C.M.P. are going to come under some scrutiny here, unlike they've had before,' predicts former cabinet minister Ron Atkey, who once chaired the oversight committee that monitors C.S.I.S."
"The prosecutors' job was already tough enough. Nobody in the tightknit Sikh community would talk. The pieces of the plane were at the bottom of the Atlantic. And all the evidence was circumstantial. Mr. Reyat's amazing plea bargain . . . makes it plain that after 17 years of trying, the prosecution had almost nothing. They bragged that they had a million pages of documents and hundreds of witnesses. What they didn't have was a case. Mr. Reyat served 10 years for a second bombing that took place on the same day, killing two baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita airport. Yet his defence has never changed. A man stayed with him at his home in British Columbia; he never knew his name. He helped this man buy bomb material. He accompanied this man and a friend, Talwinder Singh Parmar, into the woods where they practised setting off a bomb. Mr. Reyat says he had no idea how the bomb would be used, or how it got on the plane."
"Meantime, the suspected ringleader, Mr. Parmar, has eluded us for good. He and three other suspects fled back to India, where they were dealt a rougher justice. The Indian secret police simply shot them. At the time, a lot of us thought that terrorism had nothing to do with us. 'These folks aren't Canadians,' we said, even though the families of the victims were, and are. We resented the Sikh community for importing fights that weren't our problem and never would be. The events of 9/11 taught us otherwise. Or did they? Sometimes, I'm not so sure. One certainty is that this miserable plea bargain sends an awful message to the world. 'It says we have no idea how to come to grips with terrorism.' says Mr. Wark. It says we let terrorists off the hook. It says our justice system hasn't got a clue."