washingtonpost.com  > World > Americas > North America > Canada

For Canada's Police Agencies, 'A Multidimensional Failure'

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A20

VANCOUVER, B.C., March 17 -- In the end, the judge did not believe her. The woman on the witness stand said she loved Ripudaman Singh Malik so much that she had to identify him as the linchpin of a terrorist act.

It was all a charade, concluded Ian Bruce Josephson, a British Columbia Supreme Court justice, meant to hide her malice toward the accused man who had spurned her.

An unidentified man wept after a judge found two Canadian Sikhs not guilty in the 1985 bombings. (Andy Clark -- Reuters)

With that, Josephson rejected what experts consider an astonishingly flimsy case against Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, both Canadian Sikhs, and acquitted them. They had been charged with planting bombs intended for Air India planes, one of which brought down Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing 329 people. The other bomb killed two baggage handlers in Tokyo.

Canadian law enforcement agencies were left reeling after the acquittals Wednesday. On Thursday, government officials were trying to answer how the country's longest, most extensive and most costly investigation could have failed so spectacularly.

"The government needs to be held accountable for this betrayal to us," said Lata Pada, whose husband and two daughters were aboard the Boeing 747 on Flight 182. "There were severe and unforgivable lapses in the system that need to be investigated."

Legal analysts said the government would probably face an embarrassing official inquiry.

"We had a multidimensional failure here," involving intelligence and law enforcement agencies, federal ministers, Parliament members and prosecutors, said Stuart Farson, who directed research for an intelligence oversight committee established by Parliament that saw problems in the Air India case 15 years ago. No matter, "we were told not to touch Air India," he said.

There were well-publicized rumors -- even published hints -- in Vancouver's Indian community about who was involved in the bombings shortly after they occurred. But the difficulties and political sensitivities of carrying out an investigation in the Sikh community stalled action until the late 1990s. By then, political pressure finally forced prosecutors and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to go ahead with a weak case, according to critics.

"The RCMP kept building up the hopes of the victims. They kept saying they had a very strong case. People expected something, but when it came down, they had only circumstantial and hearsay evidence," said Schinder Purewal, a political science professor at Kwantlen University College who is in close touch with the families of the victims.

The prosecution alleged that Malik, a Vancouver millionaire, made the airline reservations that were used to check in the bomb-laden bags. The chief witness against him was a 43-year-old woman who worked for him from 1992 to 1997. Her identity is concealed by a government witness-protection program.

She presented emotional testimony saying Malik had twice confessed to her more than a decade after the bombings. Even though Malik fired her, suspecting she was a police spy, she still loved him, she said in tearful testimony. She appealed to him from the witness stand to believe her.

Josephson did not accept her testimony. In his decision Wednesday, he suggested she was "misleading the court to believe she is a loving confidante" and said her testimony "edges toward incredulity."

Purewal said the acquittal was predictable.

"If you are building your whole case -- in which 331 people died, a mass murder unprecedented in history, a major aviation disaster -- on one woman who is inconsistent and unreliable, you have to ask what the hell the RCMP was doing," he said.

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company