Treachery as Public Policy

by , July 19, 2010

“The bombing of Air India Flight 182 on June 23, 1985, was an act of terrorism. Three hundred and twenty-nine persons – passengers and crew – died in the North Atlantic off the coast of Ireland. The majority of the passengers were Canadian; one quarter of the victims (82) were under the age of 13. Their families still grieve for them here in Canada.

“The bomb that blew up Air India Flight 182 was manufactured in Canada as part of a plot that was developed in Canada. The bomb was hidden in luggage that was placed on a Canadian plane in Vancouver and later transferred to Air India 182 in Toronto, which stopped in Montreal to pick up additional passengers before it commenced its fatal flight. Another bomb was placed on a Canadian plane in Vancouver, in luggage destined for an Air India flight, and exploded in Narita, Japan, killing two baggage handlers.

“I stress that this is a Canadian atrocity. For too long the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has been somehow relegated outside the Canadian consciousness.”
– The Honorable John C. Major, C.C., Q.C., “Opening Remarks” [.pdf] on the release of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182, June 17, 2010.

One of the beauties of Canadian judicial inquiries [.pdf] is that the commissioners don’t mince words. We saw that in the recent past with the Maher Arar [.pdf] commission, and now with the Air India report. Reading between Justice Major’s lines, no difficult task given the commissioner’s stark language, we reach the terrifying conclusions that the current government of Canada has corrupted the Department of Justice, resulting in duplicitous, amoral, and criminal behavior in the department’s uppermost echelons, and that the corruption starts at the top, most obviously with Rob Nicholson – sorry, the Honorable Rob Nicholson, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.

I suggest that this is treachery, an abrogation and betrayal of everything Canada has tried to achieve in its social and international evolution since confederation, such that eminent Canadians like Col. James Farqhuarson McLeod of the North-West Mounted Police would be shocked and appalled.

Now let’s return to the Air India inquiry report. Justice Major, as I say, didn’t mince words about the government’s legal representation.

For those of you not familiar with this matter, James Bartleman came forward with evidence that he had seen a telex sent from Air India to the government of Canada, warning of exactly the type of bomb that was subsequently planted on Air India 182 (via CP Air, a Canadian airline); that he had tried to warn the RCMP in person; that the telex was not passed on to the RCMP in Vancouver; and that the message itself could not be found.

The government of Canada, at our expense, tried to discredit Mr. Bartleman, and I quote from the government’s brief [.pdf]:

“184. Some of the most surprising and it is submitted, inaccurate testimony at the Inquiry, was given by the Honourable James K. Bartleman, who at the time of his testimony was the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. At relevant times in 1985 Mr. Bartleman was the Director General of Intelligence, Analysis and Security in what was then the Department of External Affairs.”

As Justice Major said:

“The Commission accepts the evidence of Bartleman, and finds that he delivered a message to the RCMP identifying a direct threat to Air India 182 the weekend of the June 22, 1985, flight. In accepting Bartleman’s testimony, it is significant to note that he had nothing to gain by coming forward with his testimony, and stood only to suffer a loss to his reputation in facing government-wide efforts to impugn his credibility.

“Contrary to the argument advanced by the Attorney General of Canada, the importance of Bartleman’s evidence is not that it, and it alone, points to a ‘specific threat’ to Air India Flight 182. Rather, Bartleman’s evidence is important because it reveals one more direct threat in a crescendo of threats that, like the others, was neither noticed nor understood as information that should be taken seriously. The threat seen by Bartleman – like the other direct threats before it – could, and should, have led the intelligence and security communities to anticipate the outcome and to adopt appropriate anti-sabotage measures to respond to precisely the events that occurred on June 23, 1985. Clearly, they did not do so.” (Emphasis added.)

Major went on to say:

“Almost immediately after the bombing, the government of the day, and subsequent governments, chose to speak with ‘one voice.’ This approach continued up to and through our hearings and continues still. This made our assignment more difficult and often frustrated our attempts to find out what really went wrong.

“The Final Submissions of Government counsel tended to paint a picture of harmony and understanding, where little existed. At the same time, and somewhat inconsistently, the Government argued, ‘That was then, this is now,’ basically suggesting that whatever weaknesses or deficiencies existed in 1985 have been fully recognized, analyzed, and rectified in the present day. This Commission rejects that position.” (Emphasis added.)

So let’s put all this together, people. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is crying crocodile tears for the Air India families and promising to compensate them, having previously, through his minister of justice and attorney general, the “Honorable” Rob Nicholson, engineered a government legal strategy, at our expense, that tried to smear James Bartleman and paint a picture of everything having been fixed. The commissioner concluded, if I can paraphrase freely, that the government was trying to put lipstick on a pig.

The scale of the hypocrisy is appalling. All of the legal written representations went out over the signature of John Q. Sims, then deputy attorney general of Canada (who recently resigned without explanation), and was therefore the direct responsibility – by Harper’s own alleged standards – of the attorney general of Canada, the “Honorable” Rob Nicholson. Nicholson should have resigned or been fired. At best, the government displayed absolutely no interest in the truth at the Air India inquiry, and at worst conspired to obstruct or pervert the course of justice. A “robust legal strategy” it wasn’t: the government held all the cards and had limitless resources. Furthermore, it knew the truth.

The Right Honorable Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada, is a weasel.

Read more by Neil Kitson