No ex-gratia for Kanishka victims in action plan

Canada is set to unveil an action plan to implement the recommendations of the Air India bombing inquiry commission which submitted its report in June.

Toronto: Canada is set to unveil an action plan to implement the recommendations of the Air India bombing inquiry commission which submitted its report in June. But there will be no announcement of ex-gratia payments to the victim families as recommended by the panel headed former Canadian chief justice John Major.

All 329 passengers were killed when the Air India Kanishka Flight 182 from Toronto to Delhi was blown off mid air near the Irish coast on June 23, 1985, by a bomb planted by Sikh extremists to avenge the Indian Army action at the Golden Temple in June 1984.

In its 4,000-page report, the John Major Commission recommended an ex-gratia payment to the victim families and major overhaul of security, intelligence and trial systems to avert such tragedies in the future.

"Tomorrow we`re announcing an `Action Plan` setting out how we will respond to major recommendations of the John Major Commission, but nothing on ex-gratia payments,`` a senior government source said.

"We will propose an Action Plan that will streamline criminal trial processes to better manage the unique complexity of terrorist prosecutions; modify the federal Witness Protection Program to ensure it is appropriately suited to the types of witnesses who need protection in terrorism cases; strengthen Canada`s framework for combating terrorist financing; enhance cooperation among Canada`s law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in particular sharing for national security purposes; and strengthening aviation security over the short, medium and longer term, always focusing on the areas of highest risk,`` the source said in an email.

Though the Canadian government had previously promised to give USD 25,000 each to the victim families before Christmas, the ex gratia issue is now likely to drag on for some time because of "various complications related to differences on the amount and the claimants,`` according to government sources.

The Action Plan addresses all the major recommendations made by Justice John Major in June, the sources said.

Since the main reason for the collapse of the criminal case against the two Air India suspects - Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri - was the lack of credible witnesses barring journalist Tara Singh Hayer who was killed before he could testify, the panel recommended a National Security Witness Protection Coordinator to protect witnesses in such cases in the future.

After surviving an attack in 1988 which left him paralyzed, Hayer was shot dead by militants in his home in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey on November 18, 1998.

The John Major report said, "Hayer`s family testified as to the difficulty in getting the RCMP to take threats against Hayer seriously, even after two attempts had been made on his life.`` Since turf wars between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the newly created spy agency called the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) led to the destruction of tapes on Sikh extremists, particularly the plot mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar, the inquiry commission recommended new powers for the national security adviser to sort out sensitive issues between the various agencies.

The commissioner also opposed terrorism trials as regular prosecutions because of difficulty of disclosing information that impinges national security.

Instead, it recommended a new director of terrorism prosecutions to coordinate terrorism trials and make decisions regarding evidence and disclosure in the national interest.