Declaring that a tragedy such as the Air India terror bombing that killed 329 people must never be repeated, a retired Canadian Supreme justice on Wednesday officially opened his federal inquiry into the botched investigation and subsequent trial.
John Major opened the probe after meeting with family members who lost loved ones in the 1985 Air India bombing, which was Canada's worst case of mass murder. After Canada's longest and costliest investigation ever, a two-year trial ended in acquittals.
Relatives of the victims were devastated and demanded an inquiry.
In a statement launching the public inquiry, Major said the probe was the "only route left" to find out what happened, why it wasn't prevented and how to head off future terrorist attacks.
He candidly conceded the justice system had failed those aboard Air India Flight 182, downed by a bomb off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985. The dead included 280 Canadians, most of them of Indian origin or descent. More than 80 of the victims were children.
"This massive murder was the most insidious episode of cowardice and inhumanity in our history," said Major.
Major said he would examine the turf wars between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country's spy agency, which hampered the initial investigation of the bombing.
He will also consider whether three-judge panels should preside at high-profile terrorist trials, rather than the usual single judge. He will examine broader issues still relevant today, such as airline security and terrorist financing.
While the commission has wide powers of subpoena, it cannot find guilt nor make any award.
Witnesses will start testifying in late September and continue through next April. Major hopes to deliver a report in September 2007.
Air India Flight 182 from Toronto to London, originating in Vancouver, exploded and crashed off Ireland. An hour earlier, a bomb in baggage intended for another Air India flight exploded in Tokyo's Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers.
The prosecution claimed the bombings were acts of revenge by Sikh separatists in retaliation for a deadly 1984 raid by Indian forces on the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holiest site of their religion.
Two Indian-born Sikhs, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted in March 2005 when Supreme Court Justice Ian Josephson ruled there was not enough evidence against them.
A third man in the case, alleged bomb-maker Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in jail in 2003 after a plea bargain in which he was supposed to testify against Malik and Bagri.
Instead, he infuriated the court when he took the stand and claimed to know nothing about anyone or anything. He now faces a perjury charge in a trial to begin Aug. 2.
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