Statement on Air India Bombing

“Time flies/Suns rise and shadows fall /Let it pass by/ Love reigns forever over all.”

These are the words found at the Air India memorial sites in both Ireland and Canada.

June 23 is now a day of remembrance across Canada for  all victims of terror.

I was almost one myself.  Eleven years before the Air India flight I was on a British Airways plane from Belfast to London.  The flight had to make an emergency landing in Manchester, and we were told to go down the chutes and run quickly from the plane.  Passengers were corraled together in a hangar and interviewed by police for many hours.  We were only told that “a device” had been found on board.

Some years later I was reading a book on the Royal Ulster Constabulary.  I froze when I read an account of that flight.  There was indeed a bomb on the plane.  It was supposed to go off, and kill all the passengers, two of whom were policemen flying to London, accompanied by the head of the RUC, to be recognised by the Queen.

The pin that connected the timing device to the charger for the bomb had a  coat of paint that stopped the charge.  The bomb never went off.  But it was supposed to do so. Our lives hang by a thread.

Prophets of hate abound.  Their followers kill.  A few short weeks ago a mosque in Lahore Pakistan full of Ahmadi Muslims – a peaceful sect with many followers in Canada – was blown up by a suicide bomber, inspired by a mullah to kill those “calling themselves Muslims but who have no right to live”.  A hundred people died.  Jamie McNeil’s body will come back to Cape Breton after he stepped on an IED bomb in Panjawi district, Afghanistan.

This is our world – Canada’s as much as everyone else’s. It is a different kind of war, but President Obama was right when he called it a matter of necessity and not of choice.  The methods we use to fight terrorism and extremism will vary, they will involve politics and persuasion, smart policing,  military combat, religious dialogue, you name it.  But no one should think for a moment it can be avoided.  It is the defining struggle of our time.

Today Prime Minister Harper will apologize to the Air India families for the failures that led to the bombing and a subsequent investigation that went badly awry.  When he does so he speaks for all of us.

The review of the Air India bombing that I conducted in 2005 led to Jack Major’s commission, and his report certainly confirms my experience and findings: this was an act of terrorism planned and executed in Canada.  It could have been prevented.  It is a mass murder that has gone largely unpunished.  The Air India bombing victims were not only killed by hatred.  They were also the victims of complacency.

These two enemies – hatred and complacency – are with us still.  We should not underestimate their continuing power.

Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.