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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March 2005, 07:52 GMT
Shock over Air India verdict
By Ian Gunn
BBC News, Vancouver

Relatives of a passenger leave the court
Relatives filed away from the Supreme Court in open distress
A judge in Canada has found two Canadian men not guilty in the bombing of an Air India jet almost 20 years ago.

Ripudaman Singh Malik, a wealthy Vancouver businessman, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, a mill worker from the interior of British Columbia, were charged with a number of offences including first-degree murder.

It was not the result victims' relatives had been expecting or hoping for.

Many wept in the courtroom as the verdicts were announced, shaking their heads and leaning on one another. One man quietly sobbed "what a travesty".

After the verdict a succession of victims' relatives expressed their shock, disappointment and anger.

One called the decision a victory for terrorism, another said he felt as though he had suffered a second tragedy.

"There are now two crimes we must deal with," said Susheel Gupta, whose mother was killed in the crash.

"The murder of 329 innocent persons, and the time it has taken to answer the questions of how and why."

Sandhu Samra, President of the Guru Nanak Sikh temple near Vancouver, said he was "shocked and astonished" by the verdict.

This is a day of mourning for all of Canada
Eddie Madon
victim's relative

"Many in the community are now asking 'if not these men then who?'," he told journalists after the verdict.

The ex-defendants, who were both born in India, denied any involvement in the crime.

"I want to repeat publicly today what I have told the authorities numerous times since 1985, that I had absolutely no involvement in any of these criminal activities," Mr Bagri said in a statement after the court verdict.


Eddie Madon lost his father to the bombing.

"This is a day of mourning for all of Canada," he said.

Perviz and Natasha Madon
Perviz and Natasha Madon says the trial has taken a toll on their lives

Rattan Kalsi, who travelled to Vancouver from eastern Canada to hear the verdict, also said he was disappointed with the result.

But he says he is confident whoever bombed the plane will get justice before God.

"I'm shocked," added David Hayer, a provincial politician in British Columbia.

His father was a Sikh newspaper publisher in Vancouver and was scheduled to testify in this case. But he was murdered in 1998.

Even after the decision, few in Vancouver's Sikh community seem comfortable speaking publicly about this case - something that police say hampered their investigation all along.

But in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a spokesman for the Sikh Khalsa Diwan Society, Sarwan Singh Randhawa, said he was surprised by the result.

"There is no answer for the victims who lost their lives and now answer for the Canadian people," he said.

Surveillance recordings

In a statement, Ajit Singh Sahota, President of the World Sikh Organisation of Canada, said his group had hoped the court decision "would begin the healing process for so many Canadians who have suffered from this tragedy".

Ajaib Singh Bagri leaves court with his daughter
Ajaib Singh Bagri was accused of transporting the bomb

And from both the Sikh community and the victims' relatives there are growing calls for an independent inquiry into what went wrong with the investigation, and the failure to convict anyone for the crime after 20 years.

During the trial, the court heard that the Canadian intelligence service erased surveillance recordings of the accused.

And while agents were keeping close track of several of the main suspects at the time, they happened not to be following them on the day the bomb was put on the plane.

Given those apparent lapses, Eddie Madon says an inquiry is an absolute necessity. "The prime minister, if he has any integrity at all, must call a public inquiry."

"They owe it to us. They owe it to the victims of this crime."

Stephen Harper, leader of Canada's parliamentary opposition, also says he believes it essential that the government call the inquiry.

"I'm not in a position to hand down a verdict," he said in Ottawa. "I can't challenge the verdict. I can simply say that because more than 300 Canadians are dead, justice has not been done."

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