Robert Matas, Vancouver (Globe and Mail) – The RCMP has spent $15.3-million over the past four years on the Air India task force investigating the deaths of 331 people in two horrific explosions on flights from Vancouver 26 years ago.
The investigation continues with a staff of 17. So far, Vancouver mechanic Inderjit Singh Reyat is the only person convicted in the Air India case. He served 20 years in prison for bringing together material that was used in the bombs. Two suspects in the case were acquitted in a first-degree murder trial in 2005.
Financial records released by the RCMP also show that an additional $3.1-million has been spent over the past four years on Project Expedio, an investigation into several murders in the Lower Mainland, including the assassination 13 years ago of publisher Tara Singh Hayer. A fearless and outspoken journalist, Mr. Hayer agreed shortly before his assassination in 1989 to testify against a suspect in the Air India case.
The costs of the two investigations were released in response to an access-to-information request from Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin. The RCMP declined on Monday to release any information about their work.
“I could not speak to the details of an ongoing investigation,” RCMP Corporal Annie Linteau said in an interview. She also declined to comment on whether an end to the prolonged investigations was near.
Bal Gupta, who has often spoken on behalf of the families of Air India victims, said in an interview he was aware that police officers continued to work on the case but he did not know how much money was being spent.
He said he felt 26 years was a long time for police to be working on a case. “But it is difficult for the families to accept that, apart from Reyat, no one has been convicted for these deaths. It is very disturbing,” he said.
Mr. Gupta said he is not being critical of either the RCMP or the government for how they are handling the Air India case. His concern is related to those who blew up the planes. “[Those who put the bombs on the planes] are still running loose in society. We hope sooner or later they will be caught and brought to justice,” he said.
The financial information indicates that the Air India task force may be cutting back. Spending tapered off to $3-million in the fiscal year April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011, from $4.75-million four years earlier. The operating and maintenance budget, which includes travel costs, dropped to $473,993 in 2010/2011 from $1.8-million in 2007/2008.
The number of officers is also dropping. The task force currently has 17 people, while former deputy commissioner Gary Bass said in February that it had 22 or 24.
The two bombings occurred on June 23, 1985, on opposite sides of the world. Police believe both bombs were put on flights leaving Vancouver by members of a Vancouver-based radical Sikh separatist group fighting with the government of India.
An explosion at Tokyo’s Narita airport killed two baggage handlers. Less than an hour later, a mid-air explosion aboard an Air India flight from Canada to England killed 329 passengers and crew members. The bombings remain the deadliest terrorist attacks in Canadian history. At least $130-million was spent during the first two decades of the RCMP investigation.
Mr. Hayer, publisher of the Punjabi-language Indo-Canadian Times, was killed while getting out of his car in the garage outside his home. His son David said in an interview he believes the RCMP were doing “the best job possible under very difficult circumstances.”
He remains optimistic about the chances for arrests. “The system works slowly, but sooner or later, it does get [those responsible],” he said.