*** Worthy of note: we've already had a major terrorist attack (by Sikh extremists you should note also) and just look at the out-of-sight out-of-mind attitude on Air India. We need to wake up and stop the willful blindness. MS ***
Jacques J.M. Shore, Norman Boxall and Chris Schafer
The Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182, now quickly approaching its four-year anniversary, will release its final report and recommendations on June 17.
Nearly a quarter of a century since the catastrophe, which entailed the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists, the Air India inquiry is more relevant in today’s world than most of us might expect.
Canadians face increasing threats from homegrown terrorism — similar to what caused the bombing of Air India Flight 182. In June 2006, police carried out a sweeping anti-terrorism raid in southern Ontario that ultimately led to the arrests of 18 people. The “Toronto 18” case encompassed two plots, including an alleged attempt to bomb the Toronto Stock Exchange and other prominent buildings, in addition to attempting to create an Al Qaeda-type cell in Toronto.
More recently, on Dec. 25, 2009, a Nigerian citizen attempted to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while aboard a Northwest Airlines flight en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. This incident caused widespread changes to pre-screening security measures on both domestic and international flights.
These two terrorism-related cases demonstrate that the Air India Flight 182 tragedy speaks directly to the complexities of our modern world.
Through the documents it reviewed and the witness testimony it heard, the Air India inquiry has taken the time to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid such a tragedy from ever happening again.
As the Air India Victims Families Association (AIVFA) awaits the release of the final report, it hopes to see a number of recommendations it believes to be crucial to ensuring that future terrorist acts in the skies are averted.
Canadian air travellers remain vulnerable to aviation-related terrorist attacks because, among other things, there are known gaps in Canada’s aviation security system that need to be addressed without delay. These include the need for an effective air-cargo screening regime and a national aviation security advisory system for high-risk flights.
Currently, air cargo is the biggest gap in aviation security in Canada. Canada needs policies in place for the security of air cargo in the way it does for carry-on and checked baggage, especially in light of the fact that almost three-quarters of the cargo carried on airlines operating in Canada is carried in the cargo hold of passenger airplanes. Unless this happens, the next terrorism-motivated aviation disaster may very well be a result of unscreened air cargo.
In addition, Canadians preparing to travel often have next to no information about the threat level against a particular airline at a particular point in time. If a national aviation security advisory system for high-risk flights had been in place in June of 1985, especially considering the heightened threat environment in which Air India was operating, AIVFA family members may have decided not to travel on that fateful Flight 182.
The broad mandate of the Air India inquiry also covered issues such as terrorism financing and the evidentiary and disclosure standards for the collection of intelligence in counterterrorism investigations, both of which have direct relevance to preventing terrorism and prosecuting terrorists in today’s age.
Terrorists like the underwear bomber often require significant financial resources to carry out their acts of terrorism, which is why it is so important for Canada to enhance its capability to combat the financing of terrorists.
One such way would be for the federal government to work cooperatively with the provinces and territories to reform the Canadian regulatory framework for charitable and non-profit sectors, in order to adopt the model of the Charity Commission of England and Wales.
The U.K. charity commission possesses broader powers to thwart terrorism financing than the Canada Revenue Agency, including the power to conduct covert investigations, remove trustees and seize assets of charities suspected of terrorism financing.
The effective prosecution of terrorism cases, like that of the Toronto 18, requires a greater regard for the necessity of having to move from the collection of intelligence to its use as evidence in criminal trials.
In terrorism investigations, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and other intelligence agencies must constantly evaluate the likelihood of a subsequent prosecution and the effect that a prosecution could have on secret intelligence.
New rules and procedures must be developed to collect and retain information to evidentiary standards in order to ensure that it can be introduced at trial by the Crown in terrorism prosecutions without divulging sensitive intelligence that could be used by our state’s enemies. (MS: That's right because CSIS does not deal with evidence but rather, intelligence.)
With the pending release of the Air India inquiry’s final report, it’s sadly back to the future. The recent terrorist-motivated plots of the Toronto 18 and the underwear bomber demonstrate the continued importance of this inquiry in safeguarding the lives of Canadians against terrorism.
The time to learn from our past mistakes and take responsive steps through concrete government action is fast approaching.
The Air India Victims Families Association will be watching closely how the federal government reacts to the final report and its recommendations. Through the implementation of reforms to laws, regulations and policy, it ultimately will be up to the government to ensure that the lives cut short on Air India Flight 182 were not lost in vain.
We will know soon — finally.
Jacques J.M. Shore and Norman Boxall are co-lead counsel and Chris Schafer is counsel for the Air India Victims Families Association before the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182.