Major Sidhu knows that some day he’ll have to talk to his three young grandchildren about the Air India bombing that took the life of his sister, Sukhwinder, his niece Parminder, 10, and nephew Kuldip, 9.
For now, the little ones attend the annual service that Sidhu’s family has organized for years in Stanley Park at the memorial to the 329 Air India victims, unaware of how the June 23, 1985, terrorist attack changed so many lives.
“It will be hard, but we’re going to have to tell them what happened,” he said Thursday.
Sukhwinder, a widow, was taking her kids to India to visit relatives when the flight went down off the coast of Ireland.
Speaking about the bombing and a second same-day blast that killed two baggage handlers in Japan is still difficult, Sidhu said.
“The last 37 years, I have been saying the same thing. It’s not like it’s going to solve it.”
He’s disappointed. He’s frustrated. He’s sad.
“I don’t think they are going to do anything — the police or anybody — about this case. I don’t think so.”
But he is at least grateful to be able to gather again with other victims’ families to remember those that they lost in Canada’s worst terrorism attack. Thursday’s memorial was the first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 75 people attended the memorial including relatives, community members and some police officers.
Eddie Madon, who grew up in Metro Vancouver, was visiting from Australia with his two sons to remember his dad, Sam.
Madon is still frustrated by the acquittals of the main suspects which he said “felt almost as painful as losing my father.”
“At the end of the day, Canadians and everyone around the world should not forget this day and what this day means and how the world changed after this day.”
A Supreme Court judge and a public inquiry determined the bombings were carried out by Babbar Khalsa, a B.C. group pushing for the separation of India’s Punjab. Three B.C. men were charged in the murderous plot. Two were acquitted in March 2005. A third was convicted of manslaughter and later of perjury.
Vancouver Granville MP Taleeb Noormohamed, who worked on a review of the Air India case after the acquittals, met with other victims’ families in Ottawa on Thursday.
He said he spoke with them about making sure the Air India tragedy is part of the Canadian history that kids learn about in schools so that “it doesn’t get sort of cast aside.”
“I think lots more, there’s lots, there’s lots more that needs to be done, I think we need to figure out what the families actually need as they are now thinking about the next generation,” Noormohamed said.
Anil Hanse, an Australian whose father Narendra piloted the flight, has formed a close bond with the family of co-pilot Satwinder Singh Bhinder.
He plans to visit the Air India memorial in Ireland with Bhinder’s widow Amarjit as soon as it’s possible, he told Postmedia. Bhinder’s son-in-law is also a pilot, based in Singapore, and visits Hanse whenever “he does a flight to Melbourne.”
June 23 is “a hard day, as always,” Hanse said. “It’s never an easy day, even after 37 years.”
While the Air India investigation is technically still open, RCMP Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said Thursday that no new information has come in from the public in years.
“Despite continuing to appeal for information around the Air India tragedy, we have not received any new tips over the course of the last several years,” Shoihet said.
“Investigative efforts by E Division Integrated National Security Enforcement Team have focused on tying up outstanding investigative tasks and covering off objectives that have, despite best efforts, have never been achieved.”
But she reiterated the RCMP’s resolve in Canada’s largest criminal case.
“Our commitment to the families of the victims of the Air India tragedy has not changed, we will continue to advance the investigation and ask that if anyone has information about the terrorist attack on Air India … to please contact your local police to report.”
Retired deputy commissioner Gary Bass, who headed the investigation for years, still believes that big break in the case will come some day.
“Cases like this are never closed,” he said Thursday. “As people get older, and things change in their lives, they sometimes get the courage to do the right thing — whether that’s people actually involved or it’s people that know something about what happened. That’s one of the unique things about the Air India case, there are an awful lot of people who have knowledge.”