Meera Nair: Bombing of Air India Flight 182 an attack on Canadian families but few cared then and few aware now

Good and needed reminder. The contrast of how the Air India bombing was not viewed as a Canadian tragedy and how the shooting down of PS752 with many Iranian Canadians aboard by Iran was perceived as a Canadian tragedy shows progress:

June 23, 2020, will mark 35 years since Air India Flight 182 was blown up off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board. It was a targeted attack on Canadian families. Among the dead were over 80 children.

Two years ago, I wrote to many MPs and asked that, before departing for their summer recess, which officially begins on June 23, they observe a moment of silence in memory of those victims. Parliamentarians who look forward to returning home, to be with family and friends, should not forget that those boarding Air India 182 had the same longing, the same expectation.

From Rae’s report, Lessons to be Learned (2005): “Let it be said clearly: the bombing of the Air India flight was the result of a conspiracy conceived, planned, and executed in Canada. Most of its victims were Canadians. This is a Canadian catastrophe, whose dimension and meaning must be understood by all Canadians.”

Exacerbating the grief experienced by families of the victims was the blatant disinterest of successive Canadian governments in their pain and plight. In Major’s final report, Air India Flight 182: A Canadian Tragedy (2010), he was blunt: “In stark contrast to the compassion shown by the Government of the United States to the families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for all too long the Government of Canada treated the families of the victims of the terrorist attack on Flight 182 as adversaries. The nadir of this attitude was displayed when the families’ requests for financial assistance were met by the Government’s callous advice to seek help from the welfare system.”

The lack of recognition that this was a Canadian tragedy was again noted: “The fact that the plot was hatched and executed in Canada and that the majority of victims were Canadian citizens did not seem to have made a sufficient impression to weave this event into our shared national experience. The Commission is hopeful that its work will serve to correct that wrong.”

Thirty-five years on, the commission’s goal appears even more distant.

Last year, the government of Canada issued a statement on June 23 to mark the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism, and invoked the bombing of Air India 182: “This despicable act of terror left families and friends grieving the loss of loved ones, and shook our country to its core.”

Shook our country to its core. If only that were true. The reality is that few Canadians cared then, and few are aware of the bombing now. Dr. Angela Failler, a Canada Research Chair at the University of Winnipeg, has written that most of her undergraduate students have never heard of Air India 182. As to why this may be, Canadians connected to this tragedy and those who grew up in its shadow, have never been given reason to doubt that Canada’s unwillingness to weave the loss of lives into a shared national experience was, in large part, due to the colour of the victims.

That successive governments of Canada operated under the same logic as the Air India bombers, that June 23 is a good day to start a holiday, without meaningful acknowledgement of the lives lost and lives ruined, is beyond irony. A statement issued after Parliament has shuttered for the summer is not enough.

This is not a partisan issue — it is a Canadian issue. Let every summer recess be preceded with one moment of silence by parliamentarians in memory of the victims aboard Air India 182 on June 23, 1985.

Even without a full complement of MPs, those in attendance could offer comfort and acknowledge that 35 years of inattention does not diminish pain, it only compounds it.

Source: Meera Nair: Bombing of Air India Flight 182 an attack on Canadian families but few cared then and few aware now

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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