Air India Flight 182

Air India Flight 182
Air India Flight 182

Boeing 747-237B Emperor Kanishka landing at London Heathrow Airport on 10 June 1985, a few days before the explosion
Occurrence summary
Date 23 June 1985 (1985-06-23)
Type Bombing
Site Atlantic Ocean, south of Ireland
Passengers 307
Crew 22
Fatalities 329 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing 747-237B
Aircraft name Emperor Kanishka
Operator Air India
Tail number VT-EFO
Flight origin Montréal-Mirabel International Airport, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Stopover London Heathrow Airport, London, England, United Kingdom
Destination Palam International Airport, New Delhi, India

Air India Flight 182 was an Air India flight operating on the Montreal–London–Delhi route. On 23 June 1985, the airplane operating on the route — a Boeing 747-237B (c/n 21473/330, reg VT-EFO) named after Emperor Kanishka — was blown up by a bomb at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 m), and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while in Irish airspace.

A total of 329 people were killed, including 280 Canadians, 27 British citizens and 22 Indians.[1] The incident was the largest mass murder in modern Canadian history. It was the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jet, preceding the better-known 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, which was also brought down by explosives placed in a radio inside a bag without its passenger boarding. The explosion and downing occurred within an hour of the fatal Narita Airport bombing, which also originated from Canada. In this case, a bag exploded on the ground before being placed on another Air India flight. Evidence from the explosion pointed to an attempt to blow up two airliners simultaneously.

Investigation and prosecution lasting almost 20 years made this the most expensive trial in Canadian history, costing nearly CAD $130 million. Although some Sikh supporters blamed the bombing as a "false flag" effort by Indian intelligence to discredit their movement, Canadian law enforcement determined that the main suspects in the bombing were members of the Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa and other related groups based in Canada. Though a handful of members were arrested and tried, Inderjit Singh Reyat was the only person convicted of involvement in the bombing, due to a lack of solid evidence and various legal and investigative errors. Singh pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for building the bombs that exploded at Narita and aboard Flight 182.[2]

The Governor General-in-Council in 2006 appointed former Supreme Court Justice John Major to conduct a commission of inquiry. His report was completed and released on 17 June 2010. It concluded that a "cascading series of errors" by the government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had allowed the terrorist attack to take place.[3]


Background and motivation

Most official accounts place responsibility for the attack on Sikh extremism, though many groups believe their movements have been unfairly blamed. Tensions go back before the Partition of India in 1947, which resulted in much death, violence and hardship. The partition created the largely Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India.

The state of Punjab was also divided. Later, the Khalistan movement arose to create another Sikh homeland in the Punjab region of India, harking back to the 18th century Sikh Empire. Canada's RCMP Security Service had followed the Khalistan movement since 1974, but did not consider it to be a threat until 1981. Sikh immigration to Canada began before the early 1900s, where immigrants suffered discrimination in British Columbia.[4] During the 1970s, many of those who would become the leaders and members of the Babbar Khalsa, such as Talwinder Singh Parmar, Ajaib Singh Bagri, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Inderjit Singh Reyat, had settled in Canada. By the 1980s, the area around Vancouver had become the largest center of Sikh population outside India.[5]

The Babbar Khalsa in its modern day form was created as a result of the violent clash between rival Nirankari and Akhand Kirtani Jatha (AKJ) sects on the festival of Vaisakhi on 13 April 1978, where thirteen Sikhs were killed. The founders of this Panthic group vowed to avenge the deaths of Sikhs. On 24 April 1980, Gurbachan Singh, the Baba (head) of the Nirankaris, was killed; responsibility was claimed by Babbar Khalsa. Talwinder Singh Parmar led the militant wing of AKJ, which became the Babbar Khalsa, to "punish" the Nirankaris who had been cleared on wrongdoing.[6]

On 19 November 1981, Parmar was among the militants who escaped from a shootout in which two Indian policemen were gunned down outside the house of Amarjit Singh Nihang in Ludhiana district. This gained the Babbar Khalsa and its leader notoriety.[7] In 1982, India issued a warrant for Parmar's arrest for six charges of murder stemming from the killing of the police officers.[8] India notified Canada that Parmar was a wanted terrorist in 1981 and asked for his extradition in 1982, which Canada denied in July 1982.[9]

After an Interpol alert, Parmar was arrested while attempting to enter Germany. Germany chose to handle the case locally rather than hand him over to India. Parmar went on a hunger strike to win his right to turban and vegetarian meals in the Düsseldorf jail. After India received information that Parmar had made assassination threats against Indira Gandhi, they found that Germany had decided that the evidence was weak, and he had been expelled and released to Canada on June 1984 after nearly a year in jail.[10]

On 3–6 June 1984, the Khalistan movement was sparked into action as Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star, the violent storming of the most sacred of all Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple[11] Separatists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (who was killed) had allegedly amassed weapons in the Sikh temple. Some independent estimates of the death toll of the operation ran as high as 1500 civilian deaths, which led to an uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide. On 31 October 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards who were honoured[by whom?] in 2008 as "martyrs of the Sikh nation" for avenging the attack on the Golden Temple. After rumours that "Sikhs were distributing sweets" to celebrate the killing, thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984 anti-Sikh riots by an enraged Indian National Congress workers guided by the party leaders.[12]

Shortly after Blue Star, Parmar visited auto mechanic and electrician Inderjit Singh Reyat, who lived in Duncan, British Columbia, a small community north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, to ask him to construct a bomb, though Reyat would later claim he had no idea what it would be used for. Reyat asked various people in the community about dynamite, claiming he wanted to remove tree stumps on his property.[13] Reyat also discussed explosives with a co-worker while expressing anger at the Indian government and Indira Gandhi in particular.[14]

Later that year, Ajaib Singh Bagri accompanied Parmar as his right hand man in the armed struggle against the Indian government. Bagri worked as a forklift driver at a sawmill near the town of Kamloops, but was also known as a powerful preacher in the Indo-Canadian community.[15] The pair travelled across Canada to rally Sikhs to the cause of avenging the attack on the Golden Temple. Meetings were used as fundraisers for Babbar Khalsa. A former head priest in Hamilton testified that Bagri stated "the Indian Government is our enemy, the same way the Hindu society is our enemy” Bagri told the congregation "Get your weapons ready so we can take revenge against the Indian Government". Bagri called for action:

We are slaves in Punjab. Our brothers and sisters are being killed and so we have to stand up for ourselves. Nobody’s going to help us. So to make our own state we need an army, we need ammunition, we need rifles to fight with the Indian Government to make our own state, Khalistan”[16]

Bagri speech

On 28 July 1984, the founding convention of the World Sikh Organization (WSO) was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The WSO's constitution was committed to diplomacy and non-violence, declaring it would "strive for an independent Sikh homeland by peaceful means." Though Parmar was blocked at the border because he had already been put on a 24 hour watch, Bagri gave an hour-long speech in which he declared, "until we kill 50,000 Hindus, we will not rest" before an enraged crowd of 4,000 people; this would become infamous at his later trial.[17] Bagri defended hijackers who had forced the hated Indian government into negotiations with the Sikh leadership, and was critical of Gandhian non-violence. "We are to die in the battlefield, fighting, by sacrificing ourselves. To die such a death, which is the mission of the Khalsa, which is our religion".[18] Militant Islamic Kashmiri and Afghan rebels also were invited to the rally.[19] An Afghan mujahadeen agreed "we well bring together all movements against India because India allies itself with the Third World and the Soviet Union." A professional translator would testify that Bagri's speech in Punjabi had been distorted by failing to understand "its context within Sikh history and literature", denying that Bagri had urged Sikhs to take revenge against all Hindus. However, he allowed that Bagri was trying to "inflame passions and arouse national pride".[20]

Plot preparations

In late 1984, at least two informers reported to authorities of the first abortive plot to bomb Air India Flight 182, which flew out of Montreal at that time. In August 1984, known criminal Gerry Boudreault claimed Talwinder Parmar showed him a suitcase stuffed with $200,000, payment to plant a bomb, but decided "I had done some bad things in my time, done my time in jail, but putting a bomb on a plane … not me. I went to the police." In September, in an attempt to get his sentence for theft and fraud reduced, Harmail Singh Grewal of Vancouver told the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of the plot to bomb the flight out of Montreal. Both reports were dismissed as unreliable.[21]

Moderate Sikh Ujjal Dosanjh had spoken out against violence by Sikh extremists. In retaliation he was attacked on February 1985 by an assailant wielding a iron bar, breaking his hand and requiring 80 stitches in his head. On 5 March 1985, Canada's CSIS domestic intelligence agency obtained a court order to place Parmar under surveillance for one year, just three months before the bombing. Although the Babbar Khalsa had not yet been officially banned, the affidavit stated it "is a Sikh terrorist group now established in Canada", "has claimed responsibility for more than forty assassinations of moderate Sikhs and other persons in the Punjab" and "penned its name to threatening letters [addressed to]... high officials in India".[citation needed] It noted that in Calgary, Alberta, on 15 July 1984, Parmar urged the Coach Temple congregation to "unite, fight and kill" to avenge the attack on the Golden Temple.[22][23]

Explosives and clocks

In April 1985, a Canadian familiar with blasting was asked by Reyat how much dynamite it would take to blow up a tree stump. Another friend who listened in recalled that Reyat was very agitated about "getting even for the sacrilege at Amritsar, he was almost talking like Hitler."[24] Reyat was not shy about telling everyone he knew around Duncan about the need for revenge, or asking about explosives. Reyat sought cases of dynamite and did not care if he had to pay three times the normal price. He eventually confided it was not about stumps, but "trouble in the old country", that he needed "explosives to help my countrymen."[24] One friend declined to get him dynamite, but did lend him a 400 page manual on mining with explosives.[24]

On 8 May 1985, Reyat bought a Micronta digital automobile clock at the Radio Shack store in Duncan.[25] Designed for a 12 volt automobile electrical system, it could also be powered by a 12 volt lantern battery. The 24 hour alarm activated a buzzer, but he returned a week later for an electrical relay after asking how to get the buzzer signal to power another device. Wiretappers recorded nine telephone calls between Parmar's residence in Vancouver and Reyat from either his residence or workplace on Vancouver Island that month, which got Reyat added to the persons being monitored for terrorist activities.[26] The Canadian government would later accuse Reyat of lying in 2003 when at first he said he did not know what three clocks he had bought could be used for. He later said Parmar needed an explosive device to blow up a bridge or something large in India, and that he needed timers for an explosive device. In that case, the relay could be used to trigger the detonator circuit for a blasting cap which would provide the initial shock needed to detonate larger explosives such as dynamite.[13][14]

Reyat later visited a television repair shop with a partially disassembled car clock wired to a lantern battery. He needed help so that the buzzer stayed on rather than intermittent beeps so that it would turn on a light in his camper to wake him up. The repairman knew his friend did not own a camper, and it would even strike Justice J. Raymond Paris at Reyat's 1991 trial as an odd use for a timer.[27]

Bomb tests

By mid-May, Reyat had gone into the woods to test a device with a 12 volt battery, cardboard cylinder, gun powder, and some dynamite, but the device failed to work.[28] Later, Reyat acquired between six and eight sticks of dynamite "to blow up unidentified stumps if need be in the future" from a Duncan well driller after visiting his house to fix a truck. He also obtained a few blasting caps days later. On 31 May 1985, Reyat brought his timer, attached to a "ghetto blaster", into his shop so that his fellow employee at Duncan Auto Marine Electric could help him fix it for a friend, but he returned the radio after it did not work properly.

On 4 June, CSIS agents Larry Lowe and Lynn Macadams followed Parmar and a "youthful man"[29] (identified only as "Mr. X", "Third Man" or "Unknown Male") as they went from Parmar's house to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, rode the Nanaimo-bound ferry, and visited Reyat at his home and shop at Auto Marine Electric. The three drove to a deserted bush area, where Reyat was observed taking an object into the woods. Staying out of sight, the agents, who did not bring a camera, only heard an explosion which sounded like a "loud gunshot".[citation needed] Later tests showed it could also have been an explosion, and later searches turned up remnants of an aluminum "electrical blasting cap".[30] J.S. Warren, director-general of counter-terrorism at CSIS, would later ask on 16 July 1986 why they did not ask the police to stop and question the suspects, or search the vehicle, which might have deterred the bombing plot.[31]

The next day, Reyat purchased a large Sanyo component tuner, model FMT 611 K, at Woolworths, and left his name and telephone number on the charge slip, which was later found in a search of his home. Reyat also bought smokeless gunpowder from a sporting goods store, signing "I. Reyat" on the explosives log. Study of debris from the Narita explosion would eventually show the bomb had been housed inside a Sanyo tuner with a serial number matching a model sold only in British Columbia, and used a Micronta clock as a timer which powered a relay with an Eveready 12-volt battery to trigger blasting caps to set off a high explosive consistent with sticks of dynamite,[26] all matching items purchased by Reyat. This would lead to his eventual conviction.[26] As late as 2010, Reyat admitted only to buying and assembling some parts, but denied he ever made a bomb, knew what the bomb was to be used for, who was behind any plot, or that he ever asked or knew the name of the man who he said stayed in his house for a week completing construction of the explosive device after his device failed.[32]

On 9 June 1985, a police informer in Hamilton reported that Parmar and Bagri had visited the Malton Sikh Temple, warning the faithful that "it would be unsafe" to fly Air India.[33] Vancouver police also monitored militants 11 days before the bombing. A leader of the International Sikh Youth Federation complained that no Indian consuls or ambassadors had yet been killed, but the response was, "You will see. something will be done in two weeks".[34] TWA Flight 847 was hijacked on 14 June by Shiite Muslim extremists, starting a 17 day ordeal which ended in Beirut when a passenger was killed and dumped on the tarmac.


The suspects in the bombing used pay phones and talked in code. Translators' notes of wiretapped conversations include the following exchange between Talwinder Parmar and a follower named Hardial Singh Johal on 20 June 1985, the day the tickets were purchased:

Parmar: Did he write the story?
Johal: No he didn't.
Parmar: Do that work first.[35]

This conversation appears to be an order from Parmar to book the airline tickets.[36] It is believed that "writing the story" referred to purchasing the tickets; afterward, Johal phoned Parmar back and asked if he could "come over and read the story he asked for", to which Parmar agreed.[37]

Moments after the wiretapped conversation, at 01:00 GMT, a man calling himself "Mr. Singh" made reservations for two flights on 22 June: one for "Jaswant Singh" to fly from Vancouver to Toronto on Canadian Pacific Air Lines (CP) Flight 086 and one for "Mohinderbel Singh" to fly from Vancouver to Tokyo on Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 003 and connect to Air India Flight 301 to Bangkok. At 02:20 GMT on the same day, another call changed the reservation in the name of "Jaswant Singh" from CP 086 to CP 060, also flying from Vancouver to Toronto. The caller further requested to be put on the waiting list for AI 181 from Toronto to Montreal and AI 182 from Montreal to Bombay. The next day, at 19:10 GMT, a man wearing a turban paid for the two tickets with $3,005 in cash at a CP ticket office in Vancouver. The names on the reservations were changed: "Jaswant Singh" became "M. Singh" and "Mohinderbel Singh" became "L. Singh". The reservation and purchase of these tickets together would be used as evidence to link the two flights to one plot, despite some claims that it was only a coincidence.

One telephone number left as a contact was Vancouver's Ross Street Sikh temple. The other number became one of the first leads tracked by investigators, and was traced to Hardial Singh Johal, a janitor at a Vancouver high school.[38][39] Johal was an avid follower of Talwinder Singh Parmar, and thus closely scrutinized in the investigation following the Air India bombing. He was alleged to have stored the suitcase explosives in the basement of a Vancouver school and to have purchased the tickets for the flights on which the bombs were placed. Mandip Singh Grewal recounted how he saw and recognized Johal as his school's janitor when he said goodbye to his father, one of the Flight 182 victims, at the airport on the day of the bombing.[40]

Reyat went to work on 21 June. Phone records show he called Johal at 7:17 pm. A witness whose name was protected testified that Bagri asked to borrow her car the night before the bombing to take some suitcases to the airport, though he himself would not be flying with them.[41]


On 22 June 1985, at 13:30 GMT, a man calling himself "Manjit Singh" called to confirm his reservations on Air India Flight 181/182. He was told he was still wait-listed, and was offered alternative arrangements, which he declined. At 15:50 GMT (7:50 am), M. Singh checked in to a busy line of 30 people for the CP flight from Vancouver to Toronto, which was scheduled to leave at 9:18 am. He asked agent Jeannie Adams to check his dark brown, hard-sided Samsonite suitcase, and have it transferred to Air India Flight 181 and then to Flight 182 to India. The agent initially refused his request to inter-line the baggage since his seat from Toronto to Montreal and from Montreal to Bombay was unconfirmed. He insisted, but the agent again rebuffed him, telling him, "Your ticket doesn't read that you're confirmed" and "we're not supposed to check your baggage through." The man said, "Wait, I'll get my brother for you." As he started to walk away, she relented and agreed to accept the bag, but told him he would have to check in again with Air India in Toronto. After the crash, Adams would realize this deception got the bag on its way to Flight 182. The anxious man was never identified.[42][43] At 16:16 GMT (9:18 am),[16 or 18 minutes past the hour? clarification needed] Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 60 to Toronto Pearson International Airport departed without Singh.[44]

Reyat would later testify that he travelled by ferry from Duncan to Vancouver that morning to work on his brother's truck. Phone records show someone called from his residence in Duncan to Johal's number at 10:50 am and 4:00 pm later that day. Reyat was seen in the company of another East Indian man at the Auto Marine Electric store in Burnaby, near Parmar's house, between 10:00 am and 11:30 am. He bought two 12 volt batteries similar to the one used in the explosive device tested in the woods, and they were to fit into a special metal bracket he had brought with him.[45] Constable Clark-Marlowe later believed there was "ample time for Inderjit Sing Reyat to obtain the batteries at the Auto Marine Electric limited store in Burnaby, incorporate the batteries in the assembly of an explosive device and then have the device transported in a suitcase to the Vancouver airport".[citation needed]

Sometime before 20:22 GMT (1:22 pm), L. Singh (also never identified) checked in for the 1:37 CP Air Flight 003 to Tokyo with one piece of luggage, which was to be transferred to Air India Flight 301 to Bangkok.[46] However, L. Singh did not board the flight.[44]

At 20:22 GMT, Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 60 arrived in Toronto twelve minutes late. Some of the passengers and baggage, including the bag Singh had checked in, were transferred to Air India Flight 182. In response to threats from Sikh activists, Air India had requested extra security, leading Canada to assign extra policemen in terminals in Toronto and Montreal, and that all baggage was to be checked by X-ray or by hand.[47] But after x-ray machine broken down that day, inspectors used a portable PDD-4 explosive sniffer. An Air India security officer had demonstrated that it made a loud scream at a lit match held an inch away, and it should be used around the edge of a bag. Between 5:15 and 6:00, the sniffer was heard to beep at a soft sided maroon suitcase with a zipper going all around, and it beeped in a low volume near the zipper lock. But Air India was not informed since they were not instructed on how to react to only a short beep, letting the bag pass on its way. Later investigation would determine that the two containers that could have contained M. Singh's bag were placed close to the sensitive electronic bay of the aircraft.[48][49]

At 00:15 GMT on 23 June, Air India Flight 181, a Boeing 747-237B named "Emperor Kanishka" departed Toronto Pearson International Airport for Montréal-Mirabel International Airport. The aircraft was an hour and 40 minutes late because a "fifth pod" (a spare engine) was installed under the aircraft below the left wing to be flown to India for repairs. Some of the parts had to be stored in the rear cargo compartment. The plane arrived in Montréal-Mirabel International Airport at 01:00 GMT. There, it became Flight 182.

Flight 182 departed for London Heathrow Airport, en route to Palam International Airport, Delhi, and Sahar International Airport, Bombay. 329 people were on board: 307 passengers and 22 crew. Captain Hanse Singh Narendra served as the commander,[50] with Captain Satwinder Singh Bhinder as the first officer[51] and Dara Dumasia as the flight engineer.[52] Many of the passengers were going to visit families and friends.[48]

At 07:14:01 GMT, the crew of the Boeing 747 "squawked 2005"[53] (a routine activation of its aviation transponder) as requested by Shannon International Airport Air Traffic Control (ATC), then disappeared. A bomb in a Sanyo tuner[54] in a suitcase in the forward cargo hold had exploded while the plane was at 31,000 feet (9,400 m) at 51°3.6′N 12°49′W / 51.06°N 12.817°W / 51.06; -12.817Coordinates: 51°3.6′N 12°49′W / 51.06°N 12.817°W / 51.06; -12.817.[55] It caused rapid decompression and the breakup of the aircraft in mid-air. The wreckage settled in 6,700 feet (2,000 m) deep water off the south-west Irish coast, 120 miles (190 km) offshore of County Cork. No "mayday" call was received by Shannon ATC. ATC asked aircraft in the area to try to contact Air India, to no avail. By 07:30:00 GMT, ATC had declared an emergency and requested nearby cargo ships and the Irish Naval Service vessel Aisling to look out for the aircraft.

A commemorative plaque presented to the citizens of Bantry, Ireland by the government of Canada for the residents' kindness and compassion to the families of the victims of Air India Flight 182.

The second bag, checked in by L. Singh, went on Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 003 from Vancouver to Tokyo. There were no x-ray inspections of luggage on this flight.[48] Its target was Air India Flight 301, due to leave with 177 passengers and crew bound for Bangkok-Don Mueang, but 55 minutes after the Flight 182 bombing, it exploded at the terminal in Narita Airport. Two Japanese baggage handlers were killed and four other people were injured.[56]

Recovery of wreckage and bodies

By 09:13 GMT, the cargo ship Laurentian Forest discovered the wreckage of the aircraft and many bodies floating in the water. India's civil aviation minister announced the possibility that the plane had been destroyed by a bomb, and the cause was probably some sort of explosion.[57] Previous 747's had been damaged or destroyed on the ground, but if this were a bombing, it would be the first jumbo jet downed by sabotage.[58]

The bomb killed all 22 crew and 307 passengers. 131 bodies were recovered; 198 were lost at sea. Eight bodies exhibited "flail pattern" injuries, indicating that they had exited the aircraft before it hit the water. This was a sign that the airplane had broken up in mid-air. Twenty-six bodies showed signs of hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Twenty-five, mostly victims who were seated near windows, showed signs of explosive decompression. Twenty-three had signs of "injuries from a vertical force". Twenty-one passengers were found with little or no clothing.[59]

One official quoted in the report stated, "All victims have been stated in the PM reports to have died of multiple injuries. Two of the dead, one infant and one child, are reported to have died of asphyxia. There is no doubt about the asphyxial death of the infant. In the case of the other child (Body No 93) there was some doubt because the findings could also be caused due to the child undergoing tumbling or spinning with the anchor point at the ankles. Three other victims undoubtedly died of drowning."[60]

Additional evidence to support a bombing would have to be retrieved from the broken up aircraft which lay on the sea bed at a depth of 6,700 feet (2,000 m).[61] The British vessel Guardline Locator, equipped with sophisticated sonar, and the French cable-laying vessel Léon Thévenin, with its robot submarine Scarab, were dispatched to locate the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) boxes. The boxes would be difficult to find and it was imperative that the search commence quickly. By 4 July, the Guardline Locator detected signals on the sea bed. On 9 July, Scarab pinpointed the CVR and raised it to the surface. The next day, the FDR was also located and recovered.


Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Canada 270 0 270
 United Kingdom 27 0 27
 India 1 21 22
 Soviet Union 3 0 3
 Brazil 2 0 2
 United States 2 0 2
 Spain 2 0 2
 Finland 1 0 1
 Argentina 0 1 1
Total 307 22 329

The casualty list is provided by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.[62]


Within hours, Canada's Indian community was soon a focus of attention both as victims and hints that officials were investigating connections to the Sikh separatists who had threatened and committed acts of violence in retaliation against Hindus.[63] In the subsequent worldwide investigations over six years, many threads of the plot were uncovered. Based on recovery of wreckage and bodies from the surface, it was decided to retrieve wreckage and recorders from the bottom of the sea. That voice and flight recorders were cut out at the same time, and damage to parts recovered from the forward cargo bay consistent with a blast established that it was probably a bomb near the forward cargo hold that brought the plane down suddenly. The flight was also soon linked to the earlier bombing in Japan which had also originated from Vancouver, tickets for both flights had been purchased by the same person, and in both cases the planes were carrying bags without the passenger who checked them in.[64]

No bomb parts were recovered from the ocean, but investigations of the blast at Tokyo established that the bomb had been placed in a Sanyo stereo tuner of a series that had been shipped to Vancouver in Canada. The RCMP assigned no less than 135 officers to check every store that could have sold Sanyo tuners, leading to the discovery of a recent sale to mechanic Inderjit Singh Reyat in his hometown of Duncan B.C. RCMP contacted the CSIS intelligence agency and found they were already investigating the Sikh activists and found out they had already had wiretaps and had observed Reyat and Parmar at the test blast near Duncan, and the recovery of blasting cap shunts and a paper bundle wrapper from a blasting cap [65] A search recovered the receipt for a Sanyo Tuner Model FMT-611K with invoice with his name and phone number, along with sales of other bomb components.[66] It was not until January 1986 that Canadian investigators at the Canadian Aviation Safety Board concluded that a bomb explosion in the forward cargo hold had downed the airliner.[67] On February 26, 1986, Supreme Court Judge Kirpal of India presented an Inquiry report based on investigation conducted by H.S. Khola (Khola Report). The report also concluded that a bomb originating in Canada brought down the Air India flight.[68]

Based on observations, wiretaps, searches and arrests of persons believed to be participants, the bombing was determined to be the joint project of at least two Sikh terrorist groups with extensive membership in Canada, United States, England and India. Their anger had been sparked by the June 1984 assault on the Golden Temple by the Government of India.[29]


The main suspects in the bombing were members of a Sikh separatist group called the Babbar Khalsa (banned in Europe and the United States as a proscribed terrorist group) and other related groups who were at the time agitating for a separate Sikh state called Khalistan in Punjab, India.[69]

  • Talwinder Singh Parmar, a Canadian citizen born in Punjab and living in British Columbia was a high ranking official in the Babbar Khalsa. His phone was being tapped by CSIS for three months before the bombing.[70] He was killed by the Punjab police in 1992 while in custody.
  • Inderjit Singh Reyat worked as an auto mechanic and electrician in Duncan, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. Investigation of the bombing in Tokyo led to discovery that he had bought a Sanyo radio, clocks and other parts found after the blast. He was convicted of manslaughter for constructing the bomb. As part of a deal, he was to testify against others, but as he declined to implicate others, he would be the only suspect convicted in the case.[71]
  • Ripudaman Singh Malik was a Vancouver businessman who helped fund a credit union and several Khalsa schools. He was found not guilty of any involvement in the bombings.[72]
  • Ajaib Singh Bagri was a mill worker living in Kamloops. He said in a 1984 speech, after Hindu mobs had murdered thousands of Sikhs in Delhi[73] that "Until we kill 50,000 Hindus, we will not rest."[74] He and Malik were found not guilty in 2005.[75]
  • Surjan Singh Gill was living in Vancouver as the self-proclaimed consul-general of Khalistan. Some RCMP testimony claimed he was a mole who left the plot just days before its execution because he was told to pull out, but the Canadian government denied that report. He later fled Canada and is believed to be in hiding in London, England.[76]
  • Hardial Singh Johal and Manmohan Singh were both followers of Parmar and active in the Gurdwaras where he preached. On 15 November 2002, Johal died of natural causes at 55. His phone number was left when ordering the airline tickets, he was seen at the airport the day the luggage was loaded, and he had allegedly stored the suitcases containing the bombs in the basement of a Vancouver school, but was never charged in the case.[77]
  • Daljit Sandhu was later named by a Crown witness as the man who picked up the tickets. During the trial, the Crown played a video from January 1989 in which Sandhu congratulated the families of Indira Gandhi's assassins[78] and stated that "she deserved that and she invited that and that's why she got it".[citation needed] Sandhu was cleared by Judge Ian Josephson in a 16 March judgment.
  • Lakhbir Singh Brar Rode was the leader of the Sikh separatist organization International Sikh Youth Federation. In September 2007, the commission investigated reports, initially disclosed in the Indian investigative news magazine Tehelka,[79] that Parmar had allegedly confessed and named the hitherto unnamed Lakhbir Singh Brar Rode as the mastermind behind the explosions.[80] This claim appears to be inconsistent with other evidence known to the RCMP.[45]

On August 17, 1985, Inderjit Singh Reyat became a third suspect once the receipt for the tuner is found with his name. 6 November 1985, the RCMP raided the homes of suspected Sikh separatists Talwinder Singh Parmar, Inderjit Singh Reyat, Surjan Singh Gill, Hardial Singh Johal, and Manmohan Singh.[81] In a 4 1/2 -hour interview, Reyat denied all knowledge of the test blast or even Parmar. After he was told the CSIS had seen both of them, he changed his story that Parmar really wanted to build a device powerful enough so that he could take the device back to India to destroy a bridge. He explained that the gunpowder in the test was a failure as the device fizzled. The search of Reyat's house produced a carton with an unusual green tape also found in the Narita blast, a can of Liquid Fire brand starting fluid matching fragments found at blast, along with blasting caps and dynamite, including a pound of dynamite in a bag taken out its original tube casing, though none was consistent with blast residue. Reyat insisted only the clock, relays and tuner had been purchased for other than "benign purposes". There was insufficient evidence to hold Parmar as charges are dropped days later.

Bagri would later state before his later trial that he knew was probably a suspect by October 1985 but insisted he would have faced charges if there were any evidence he had anything to do with the bombing.[82] It was established by November that it was a man with a Sikh name who probably checked the bag in Vancouver that caused the crash.[83] Talwinder Singh Parmar was not seen in Canada sometime after late 1986, as authorities believed him to be living in Pakistan where he continued operations against India.


Authorities initially lacked evidence to link Reyat directly to either the Narita or Air India blasts and pursue a conspiracy to commit murder charge. Instead, Reyat pleaded guilty on April 29, 1986, to possession of an explosive substance and possession of an unregistered firearm. His sentence was a light $2,000 fine. Just three months later, Reyat moved his family from Canada to Coventry, near London. Reyat was soon hired at a Jaguar factory where he worked for nearly two years.[84]

RCMP Mounties working with prosecutor Jardine, RCMP and Japanese experts eventually determined the components of the bomb from fragments and matched them with items that Reyat possessed or had purchased. Prosecutor Jardine visited Tokyo five times to meet with Japanese authorities, and Canada formally asked that evidence to be sent to Canada. Still lacking sufficient evidence for a murder charge, Jardine recommended two manslaughter charges and five explosives-related counts, resulting in a request to Britain to extradite Reyat, who was arrested on Feb. 5, 1988 as he was driving to the Jaguar car plant. He was flown to Vancouver BC on Dec. 13, 1989 and his trial began Sept. 18, 1990. On 10 May 1991, after lengthy proceedings to extradite Reyat from Britain, he was convicted of two counts of manslaughter and four explosives charges relating to the Narita Airport bombing. He was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.[85]

Fifteen years after the bombing, on 27 October 2000, RCMP arrested Malik and Bagri. They were charged with 329 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the people on board Air India Flight 182, conspiracy to commit murder, the attempted murder of passengers and crew on the Canadian Pacific flight at Japan's New Tokyo International Airport (now Narita International Airport), and two counts of murder of the baggage handlers at New Tokyo International Airport.[86][87] It became known as the "Air India Trial".[88]

On 6 June 2001, RCMP arrested Reyat on charges of murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy in the Air India bombing. On 10 February 2003, Reyat pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and a charge of aiding in the construction of a bomb. He was sentenced to five years in prison.[89] He was expected to provide testimony in the trial of Malik and Bagri, but prosecutors were vague.[citation needed]

The trial of Malik and Bagri proceeded between April 2003 and December 2004 in Courtroom 20,[90] more commonly known as "the Air India courtroom". At a cost of $7.2 million, the high-security courtroom was specially built for the trial in the Vancouver Law Courts.[91] On 16 March 2005, Justice Ian Josephson found the two accused not guilty on all counts because the evidence was inadequate:

I began by describing the horrific nature of these cruel acts of terrorism, acts which cry out for justice. Justice is not achieved, however, if persons are convicted on anything less than the requisite standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite what appear to have been the best and most earnest of efforts by the police and the Crown, the evidence has fallen markedly short of that standard.[92]

In a letter to the Attorney General of British Columbia, Malik has demanded compensation from the Canadian government for wrongful prosecution in his arrest and trial. Malik owes the government $6.4 million and Bagri owes $9.7 million in legal fees.[93]

Reyat's perjury trial

In February 2006, Inderjit Singh Reyat was charged with perjury with regard to his testimony in the trial.[94] The indictment was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia and lists 27 instances where he allegedly misled the court during his testimony. Reyat had pleaded guilty to constructing the bomb, but denied under oath that he knew anything about the conspiracy.

In the verdict, Justice Ian Josephson said:

I find him to be an unmitigated liar under oath. Even the most sympathetic of listeners could only conclude, as do I, that his evidence was patently and pathetically fabricated in an attempt to minimize his involvement in his crime to an extreme degree, while refusing to reveal relevant information he clearly possesses."[95]

On 3 July 2007, with perjury proceedings still pending, Reyat was denied parole by the National Parole Board, which concluded he was a continued risk to the public. The decision meant Reyat had to serve his full five-year sentence, which ended 9 February 2008.[96]

Reyat's perjury trial began in March 2010 in Vancouver, but was abruptly dismissed on 8 March 2010. The jury was dismissed after "biased" remarks about Reyat by a woman juror.[97]

A new jury was chosen. In September 2010, according to the Lethbridge Herald newspaper, jurors were told Reyat had lied 19 times under oath.[98][99] On 19 September 2010, Reyat was convicted of perjury. On 7 January 2011, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.[100] In February 2011, Reyat filed an appeal stating that the judge "erred in law, misdirected the jury and failed to tell jurors there was no evidence to support portions of the Crown's closing address." and called it "harsh and excessive", asking for a new trial. [101]

Alternative theories

Not all parties believe the blame lies primarily on Sikh extremists or that the airliner was even bombed. In 2000, the World Sikh Organization promoted a theory that "Sikhs did not bomb Air India 182", claiming it was a cargo door which blew off. By 2007, WSO had accepted it was a bombing, but blamed Indian agents aiding Sikh separatists to discredit them as terrorists, as some observed was similar to claims that 9/11 was staged by the US or Israel to frame the Muslims or justify attacking Afghanistan. The World Sikh Organization of Canada maintained that if Parmar was killed in a staged encounter, it was to "shield the involvement of Indian agents in the Air India tragedy".[102]

Cargo door

Independent investigator John Barry Smith compiled a detailed report which concluded that the cause was "rupture open in flight probably at one or both of the midspan latches leading to an explosion of explosive decompression"[103][104] for not only Flight 182, but also Pan Am Flight 103[105] and TWA Flight 800[106] In November 2000, Smith contacted the World Sikh Organization that the flight "was not 'bombed' by anybody, certainly not Sikhs, but was brought down by explosive decompression caused by an open cargo door in flight."[107] The website for the World Sikh Organization posted his theory that "Sikhs did not bomb Air India 182", and that a cargo door fell off the plane.[108] In 2006, his findings were offered to the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182, but were not taken seriously[109]

Soft target

Canadian journalists Brian McAndrew and Zuhair Kashmeri from the Globe and Mail wrote the 1989 book Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada promote a conspiracy theory that the bombings were part of RAW's operations to malign Canadian Sikhs participating in the Khalistani movement and make them suspects in the eyes of the Canadian authorities. Kashmeri also authored The Gulf Within: Canadian Arabs, Racism and the Gulf War on police and security services targeting Canadian Arabs and Muslims, and disapproved of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden[110] Based on activities before the actual bombing they allege that CSIS and the Indian High Commission in Canada knew about the incident in advance. The authors also allege that Indian High Commission in Canada misled RCMP and CSIS for years and worked to spy on and destabilize Sikh community in Canada. In 1992, the RCMP indicated that it possessed no evidence to support the allegations made in the book that the government of India was involved in the Air India bombing.[111]

False flag

Some activists have written: "Most Sikhs believe that the bombing was a staged false flag operation to brand Sikhs internationally as a 'terrorist community' and neutralize their attempts to mobilize international human rights pressure on abuses by the Indian Army and Hindu mobs let loose to terrorize and massacre the Sikh population of Punjab.". Some believe there is "direct evidence that Parmar and Reyat were agents of Indian intelligence"[112]

Alleged Parmar confession

In July 2007, the Indian investigative weekly, Tehelka, reported that fresh evidence had emerged from a confession by militant Talwinder Singh Parmar to the Punjab police days before his death on 15 October 1992[79] in which he named Lakhbir as the mastermind behind the Air India bombing. According to this article, this evidence had been collected by the Punjab Human Rights Organisation (PHRO), a Chandigarh-based group that had been conducting interviews of Parmar's associates for over seven years.

The purported confession presented the following story:

"Around May 1985, a functionary of the International Sikh Youth Federation came to me (Parmar) and introduced himself as Lakhbir Singh and asked me for help in conducting some violent activities to express the resentment of the Sikhs. I told him to come after a few days so that I could arrange for dynamite and battery etc. He told me that he would first like to see a trial of the blast...After about four days, Lakhbir Singh and another youth, Inderjit Singh Reyat, both came to me. We went into the jungle (of British Columbia). There we joined a dynamite stick with a battery and triggered off a blast. ...
Then Lakhbir Singh, Inderjit Singh and their accomplice, Manjit Singh, made a plan to plant bombs in an Air India plane leaving from Toronto via London for Delhi and another flight that was to leave Tokyo for Bangkok. Lakhbir Singh booked a seat from Vancouver to Tokyo and then onwards to Bangkok, while Manjit Singh booked a seat from Vancouver to Toronto and then from Toronto to Delhi. Inderjit prepared the bags for the flights, which were loaded with dynamite fitted with a battery and transistor." – from the confession by Talwinder Singh Parmar[79]

Lakhbir Singh Brar Rode, who is the head of the banned terrorist organization, International Sikh Youth Federation, has an Interpol Red corner warrant A-23/1-1997 against him.[79] In 1998, he was arrested for carrying 20 kg of RDX explosive near Kathmandu, Nepal.[113] The PHRO has stated that at the time of Flight 182, Rode was an undercover Indian agent and that Parmar was murdered in order to protect his identity and India's role in the bombing.[79]

Subsequently, a translation of the confession was presented to the Inquiry Commission on 24 September. The confession, which had been billed as "seismic evidence", had elements that had already been investigated by the RCMP, and some details were found to be false.[45]

The confession had identified the mysterious "Third Man" or "Mr. X" as Lakhbir Singh Brar Rode, noted Sikh militant and nephew of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Inspector Lorne Schwartz said that the RCMP had interviewed Lakhbir in Pakistan in 2001. At the time, he had pointed to several others as having a hand in the bombing. Also, it was unlikely that Lakhbir was Mr. X, Schwartz claimed, because Mr. X appeared considerably younger.[80]

Also, the RCMP had known about the purported confession for several years. They believed, despite official denials, that Parmar had been captured alive, interrogated and only then killed.

Retired Punjab Police DSP Harmail Singh Chandi, who had personally been involved in the confession, travelled to Canada in June to present the evidence to the Inquiry Commission, but did not testify because he could not obtain a guarantee of anonymity.[80] The story was leaked in Tehelka after his return to India.

Mistakes and missed opportunities

Previous warning

The Canadian government had been warned by the Indian government about the possibility of terrorist bombs aboard Air India flights in Canada, and over two weeks before the crash CSIS reported to the RCMP that the potential threat to Air India as well as Indian missions in Canada was high.[30]

Destroyed evidence

In his verdict, Justice Josephson cited "unacceptable negligence"[114] by CSIS when hundreds of wiretaps of the suspects were destroyed. Of the 210 wiretaps that were recorded during the months before and after the bombing, 156 were erased. These tapes continued to be erased even after the terrorists had become the primary suspects in the bombing.[115]

Because the original wiretap records were erased, they were inadmissible as evidence in court.[116] CSIS claimed the wiretap recordings contained no relevant information, but an RCMP memo states that "There is a strong likelihood that had CSIS retained the tapes between March and August 1985, that a successful prosecution of at least some of principals in both bombings could have been undertaken."[117]

Murdered witnesses

Tara Singh Hayer, the publisher of the Indo-Canadian Times and a member of the Order of British Columbia,[118] provided an affidavit to the RCMP in 1995 claiming that he was present during a conversation in which Bagri admitted his involvement in the bombings.[119] While at the London offices of fellow Sikh newspaper publisher Tarsem Singh Purewal, Hayer claimed he overheard a meeting between Purewal and Bagri in which Bagri stated that "if everything had gone as planned the plane would have blown up at Heathrow airport with no passengers on it. But because the plane was a half hour to three quarters of an hour late, it blew up over the ocean."[120] On 24 January that same year, Purewal was killed near the offices of the Des Pardes newspaper in Southall, England, leaving Hayer as the only other witness.[121]

On 18 November 1998, Hayer was shot dead while getting out of his car in the garage of his home in Surrey.[122] Hayer had survived an earlier attempt on his life in 1988, but was paralyzed and used a wheelchair.[122] As a consequence of his murder, the affidavit was inadmissible as evidence.[citation needed]

CSIS connection

During an interview with Bagri on 28 October 2000, RCMP agents described Surjan Singh Gill as an agent for CSIS, saying the reason that he resigned from the Babbar Khalsa was because his CSIS handlers told him to pull out.[123]

After the subsequent failure of CSIS to stop the bombing of Flight 182, the head of CSIS was replaced by Reid Morden. In an interview for CBC Television's news program The National, Morden claims that CSIS "dropped the ball" in its handling of the case. A Security Intelligence Review Committee cleared CSIS of any wrongdoing. However, that report remains secret to this day. The Canadian government continues to insist that there was no mole involved.[124]

Public inquiry

On 1 May 2006, the Crown-in-Council, on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper,[125] announced the launch of a full public inquiry into the bombing, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice John Major, in order to find "answers to several key questions about the worst mass murder in Canadian history."[126] Initiated later in June, the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182 was to examine how Canadian law restricted funding terrorist groups,[127] how well witness protection is provided in terrorist cases, if Canada needed to upgrade its aviation security, and if issues of cooperation between the RCMP, CSIS, and other law enforcement agencies had been resolved. It was to also provide a forum wherein families of the victims could testify on the impact of the bombing and would not repeat any criminal trials.[128]

The inquiry's investigations were completed and released on 17 June 2010. The commission expressed the view in their dossier that "Talwinder Singh Parmar was the leader of the Babbar Khalsa, a pro-Khalistan organization at the heart of radical extremism, and it is now believed that he was the leader of the conspiracy to bomb Air India flights"[129] Major concluded that a "cascading series of errors" by Crown ministries, the RCMP, and CSIS allowed the terrorist attack to take place.[3][130]

After the release of the findings, Stephen Harper announced in the media, on the 25th anniversary of the disaster, that he would "acknowledge the catastrophic failures of intelligence, policing and air security that led to the bombing, and the prosecutorial lapses that followed" and deliver an apology on behalf of the sitting Cabinet.[125]


'A Canadian tragedy'

Air India Flight 182 memorial in Toronto, Ontario
Monument and playground in Stanley Park, Vancouver, commemorating victims of Flight 182, dedicated July 2007

Twenty years after the downing of Air India Flight 182, families gathered in Ahakista, Ireland to grieve. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, on the advice of Prime Minister Paul Martin declared the anniversary a national day of mourning. During the anniversary observances, Martin said that the bombing was a Canadian problem, not a foreign problem, saying, "Make no mistake: The flight may have been Air India's, it may have taken place off the coast of Ireland, but this is a Canadian tragedy."[131]

In May 2007, Angus Reid Strategies released the results of public opinion polling of whether Canadians viewed the Air India bombing as a Canadian or Indian tragedy and who they blamed. Forty-eight per cent of respondents considered the bombing as a Canadian event, while twenty-two per cent thought it was a mostly Indian affair. Thirty-four per cent of those asked felt both CSIS and airport security personnel deserved a great deal of the blame in addition to twenty-seven per cent who believed the RCMP were largely to blame. Eighteen per cent mentioned Transport Canada.[132]

Ken MacQueen and John Geddes of Macleans said that the Air India bombing has been referred to as "Canada's 9/11." They disagreed, however, stating:

In truth, it was never close to that. The date, 23 June 1985, is not seared into the nation's soul. The events of that day snuffed out hundreds of innocent lives and altered the destinies of thousands more, but it neither shook the foundations of government, nor transformed its policies. It was not, in the main, even officially acknowledged as an act of terrorism.[133]

Memorials were erected in Canada and elsewhere to commemorate the victims. In 1986, a monument was unveiled in Ahakista, West Cork, Ireland, on the first anniversary of the bombing.[134] Subsequently, a groundbreaking occurred on 11 August 2006 at a playground that would form part of a memorial in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, British Columbia.[135] Another memorial was unveiled on 22 June 2007 in Toronto, the city where most of the people killed had lived. The memorial features a sundial, the base of which consists of stones from all provinces and territories of Canada, as well as the countries of the other victims, and a wall, oriented toward Ireland and bearing the names of the dead.[136]

A 4th memorial was unveiled in Lachine, Quebec on the 26th Anniversary of the tragedy.[137] There are no memorials in India as yet.[137]

Recognition in media

Documentaries about the bombing were made for Canadian television audiences. CBC Television announced the start of filming for Flight 182, a documentary about the tragedy directed by Sturla Gunnarsson.[138] It was changed to Air India 182 before premiering at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto in April 2008. It was subsequently made its TV premiere on CBC Television in June.[139] Mayday, a TV show that covers aviation accidents and incidents, also documented the bombing on its episode "Explosive Evidence".[140]

Many journalists have commented on the bombing throughout the decades since it occurred. Eight months after the bombing, The Province newspaper reporter Salim Jiwa published "Death of Air India Flight 182".[141] Other were also written. Loss of Faith: How the Air-India Bombers Got Away With Murder was published by Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan in May 2005.[142] Jiwa and fellow reporter Don Hauka published Margin of Terror: A reporter's twenty-year odyssey covering the tragedies of the Air India bombing in May 2007. In her short story, "The Management of Grief," Indian-Born American writer Bharati Mukherjee uses fiction to explore the enduring grief of relatives of Air India 182 victims. "The Management of Grief" was originally published in the fiction collection The Middleman and Other Stories.[143] Mukherjee also co-authored, The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy (1987) with her husband, Clark Blaise.[144] Inspired by mainstream Canada's cultural denial of the Air India tragedy, Neil Bissoondath wrote The Soul of All Great Designs.[145]

Timeline of events

For a summarized timeline, see Timeline of the Air India Flight 182 affair.

See also


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