The fact a doomed Air India flight was allowed to take off from Montreal without being searched by a bomb-sniffing dog is further evidence the downing of Flight 182 was a preventable tragedy, says the man who recommended there be a public inquiry.
"My own conclusion was that it was a preventable disaster. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong," Bob Rae told the Toronto Star yesterday, referring to the June 23, 1985, bombing of the Boeing 747 off the coast of Ireland that killed all 329 aboard.
The Air India inquiry heard yesterday the plane was allowed to take off from Mirabel airport without being inspected by a canine team, despite RCMP and Transport Canada written assurance that it had been.
Both federal agencies provided information to former Ontario premier Rae, who investigated whether there should be a public inquiry after two suspects were acquitted, that a thorough dog search had been conducted.
"It is not true. I did not screen the flight. The only work I did was search those three suitcases (left behind)," testified Serge Carignan, a retired dog handler from the Quebec provincial police force.
Rae told the Star he was "sufficiently concerned about the competing accounts that I heard from different agencies about the events prior to June 23, and the events on June 23 and after, that I called for an inquiry."
Carignan went to Mirabel because the RCMP dog handler was not available. However, when the then Surete du Quebec sergeant arrived with his bomb-sniffing dog Arko, he discovered the plane had already left.
This would have been the last opportunity to save the flight, which was blown out of the sky off the coast of Ireland by a time-device bomb in a piece of luggage checked on in Vancouver. It is not known why the plane was cleared before being thoroughly inspected.
In 1985, all Air India flights from Canada were supposed to be treated with a high level of scrutiny by the RCMP because of repeated threats following political tension between Sikh separatists and the Indian government.
Carignan said he has felt for almost 22 years that he and his bomb-sniffing German shepherd could have prevented the tragedy if he'd been allowed to search the plane before it left Mirabel.
"I have always wondered why if I was called to search an airplane and some luggage why ... did they let the airplane go before I arrived. I did not have a chance to search that airplane and I believe that if I had had a chance to search it things might have turned out differently," he told the inquiry.
Carignan said the RCMP at Mirabel called him for what he believed was going to be a full inspection of the Boeing 747 and its contents on June 22. But he discovered the plane had left minutes before he arrived, and instead Arko only inspected three suspicious suitcases left behind, which turned out to contain no explosives.
"I felt very, very sad ... I felt that I could have helped but didn't have a chance to assist," Carignan said, as he recalled hearing the next morning that the Air India plane had exploded. He said he was not interviewed by investigators in the wake of the terrorist attack.
Carignan's evidence, contradicts written assurances from both the RCMP and the transport department that the plane was inspected by a bomb-sniffing dog before it was given clearance to take off.
The RCMP report to Rae said that from June 16, 1984, to June 22, 1985, the security levels for Air India were increased and that these measures included an RCMP dog master checking any reported suspect luggage or package and searching the passenger section of the Air India aircraft before departure.
Jacques Shore, the lawyer for the victims' families, described Carignan's account as "startling testimony."
Shore said both Transport Canada and RCMP protective services officials will appear before the inquiry next week.
Retired RCMP sergeant Warren Sweeney, formerly of the National Criminal Intelligence Branch, who took the stand for a second day yesterday, insisted there was never a specific threat against Air India and that's likely why the flight would be allowed to take off from Mirabel.
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