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

Robyn Urback: Trudeau’s leadership stands out in a week of national pain and loss

Appears to reflect the general consensus:

Hundreds of people across Canada are rounding out the worst week of their lives. They are the friends and family of passengers aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, who perished randomly and pointlessly because the Iranian military, by its telling, made a mistake.

Politics usually doesn’t matter in the worst week of your life, when grief insulates you from the normal noise of partisan theatre and governmental affairs. The exception, however, might be when the worst week of your life is intrinsically political: When an American contractor is killed in Iraq, so air strikes are carried out in Syria and Iraq, so the U.S. embassy is stormed in Baghdad, so an Iranian military commander is killed, so a plane is shot out of the sky, so suddenly, you’re on the phone with your wife’s life insurance provider. The haze of grief might break for a few political observances in that case, even if it happens to be the worst week of your life.

To the extent that political gestures resonate in these situations, there are few “right” things a leader can do and just about an infinite number of wrong ones. The last time Canada experienced a crisis of this type and magnitude – the Air India disaster of 1985, when a bomb exploded aboard Flight 182, where a majority of victims were Canadian – Canadian leadership chose a number of wrong ones.

In the aftermath of that crash, prime minister Brian Mulroney phoned India’s prime minister to offer his condolences, as if the tragedy wasn’t a patently Canadian one. Mr. Mulroney’s government was slow to set up a hotline for victims’ families, slow to provide information and slow to connect personally with those who lost loved ones. “Mr. Mulroney has not sent condolences to the individuals [affected] by the crash,” a spokesperson for the families was quoted in The Globe and Mail nearly a month after the explosion. The article also noted that since Mr. Mulroney was on vacation, the families would likely meet with a senior adviser instead.

Since then, and particularly in recent days, the Canadian government has proven it has learned from the mistakes of the Air India disaster. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stood in front of cameras almost daily since Wednesday’s crash, and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been tweeting updates on visa approvals for Canadian officials seeking to go to Iran. A national hotline for relatives and friends of victims was set up within days.

Mr. Trudeau’s personal statements have also hit just the right notes; he has been outraged for those who need to see their anger reflected in leadership, and sorrowful for those who need to see their pain acknowledged and understood. Partisans have already chalked up Mr. Trudeau’s empathy to skilled acting on the part of a former drama teacher, which is a fine way for curmudgeons to console themselves while ignoring the actual impact Mr. Trudeau has had on affected individuals – which, based on their telling, has been profound.

The Trudeau government has had plenty of communications problems in the past, but it doesn’t appear to be suffering from those issues now. In his first address hours after the crash, when information was still scarce, Mr. Trudeau prudently said that he would not rule out the possibility the plane was shot down, even as the Iranians claimed a missile attack on a commercial plane would have been “impossible.” Even more prudently, Mr. Trudeau later declined to engage with reporters’ questions about whether to blame the United States for escalating the conflict by killing top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

No doubt the Prime Minister recognizes there is little to be gained, and a whole lot to lose, by taking too strong of a position in terms of blame at this point. While he remains wisely circumspect, the Iranian people, who bravely took to the streets by the thousands over the weekend, are clear about who they hold responsible. The chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods, meanwhile, posted a Twitter thread Sunday evening in which he condemned the “narcissist in Washington” for escalating tensions leading to the crossfire killings.

These are fair positions for individual citizens to take, and reckless ones for a political leader in the early days after a disaster. To his credit, Mr. Trudeau has resisted invitations to wade in, and has instead remained focused on the victims, their families and the profound loss for Canada as a nation. If nothing else, that has to make at least a small difference to the Canadians currently grappling with the worst week of their lives.

Source: Urback: Trudeau’s leadership stands out in a week of national pain and loss

Chandrima Chakraborty: National mourning of Tehran crash is a sign Canada has matured

One of the better commentaries:

We now know that the Ukrainian International Airlines plane PS752 that crashed last week was mistakenly shot down by Iran. It will take time for the investigations to provide us with more answers, but one thing is clear: what happened in Tehran is something that happened to Canada.

Now it is up to all of us to make sure we continue to see it that way.

Our country’s reaction to the loss of 57 Canadians on Flight PS752 is critically important to our evolving national culture and to the healing of those left to mourn their deaths, here at home and elsewhere.

In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, it might seem certain that this event will be permanently inscribed in Canada’s ongoing history, but an all-too-painful episode proves we must remain mindful.

On June 23, 1985, a bomb detonated on Air India Flight 182, en route from Toronto to New Delhi via Montreal. The mid-air explosion in Irish airspace killed all 329 passengers and crew. The majority were Canadians of Indian heritage, including 82 children under 13.

The Canadian government treated the attack as a foreign tragedy, pushing the bombing to the margins of the national consciousness, and limiting the opportunity for public mourning and collective recognition. Canada’s failure to internalize the loss as a tragedy affecting Canadians complicated the grief of mourning families and deepened their isolation from the nation they called their own.

Will all Canadians take the Tehran tragedy into their hearts and memories and view it as something that belongs to them – something that has hurt us all? Early indications suggest we are heading in the right direction.

In public remarks shortly after the tragedy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took care to address the families and friends of the victims. “While no words will erase your pain, I want you to know that an entire country is with you. We share your grief,” he said.

Those were powerful words, especially for those who needed to hear them most.

In another heartening sign that our country has matured since 1985, the Canadian news media have been covering the Tehran crash not just as an international news event, but as one with deep personal consequences. Bringing news of vigils and memorial services being held across Canada and gathering personal stories for readers, viewers and listeners makes a public record of the loss. These stories compel Canadians to see those who perished on Flight PS752 as breathing, living humans whose lives were unfairly cut short.

Many of the stories are reminding Canadians of the Air India crash. Seeing this will bring belated validation to the Air India families, who know this kind of pain all too well. They have been waiting 35 years to have their stories stitched into Canada’s family album.

The difference in government, media and public response to the Tehran crash makes me hopeful that we have learned from the Air India bombing. Innocent lives were cut short by an act of premeditated violence on June 23, 1985, but the victims were not only those who died in the plane crash, but also those who had to live with this loss and, in addition, struggle to claim their place as Canadians. Air India families worked tirelessly for years demanding a public inquiry into the bombing. A public inquiry was finally established in 2006, and in its final report in 2010 (25 years after the airplane crash), the inquiry named the Air India bombing as “a Canadian tragedy.”

The recognition that Canada and Canadians once failed to give Air India victims justice should make the current government more vigilant in seeking answers, accountability and responsibility. A long, drawn-out investigation, as was the case with the Air India crash, can exacerbate the pain experienced by loved ones. Even in 2015, the RCMP claimed that the criminal investigations into Air India were “active and ongoing.” Botched investigations and the failure of the justice system to charge those involved in perpetuating the act of terror has left Air India families still waiting for justice.

Trudeau has promised to make certain the Tehran crash is thoroughly investigated in the hope that a transparent investigation will provide answers and bring some sense of closure for the families. The rising tensions between United States and Iran and the absence of Canadian consular services in Iran might pose some complications as we look for answers.

Canada is a popular destination for international students, for refugees and for immigrants. Many Iranian students came to Canada because of the US travel ban imposed in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president. Canada is also seeking to greatly increase its foreign-student enrollment by 2022 to bolster its competitiveness in the global economy and add billions to the domestic economy.

Dozens of students and faculty members from Canadian universities – including two PhD students from McMaster, where I am a professor – died in the crash. It was heartening to learn that more than 300 members of my school’s community attended a vigil to support one another.

As a nation of communities, it will be important to create permanent and official ways to commemorate the lives lost in Iran, through monuments, parks, scholarships and other forms of recognition that celebrate the valuable contributions the victims have made to Canadian life. As individuals, this is a time to reach out to grieving friends, neighbours, schoolmates and others in our circles to show we care, and to offer them the opportunity to share their memories and experiences.

With this fresh tragedy so cruelly visited upon another set of families, this is a time for all to embrace the mourners collectively and individually, and from the beginning to demonstrate in all ways that this is a Canadian tragedy – to do better than we did before.

Source: National mourning of Tehran crash is a sign Canada has matured

Angela Failler: Will Flight PS752 victims be remembered differently than those killed in the Air India bombing?

Yet another take. Sharp contrast with initial reactions but we shall see over the next 10 years or so how these tragedies are remembered and commemorated:

There’s been an incredible outpouring of grief across Canada since Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down by Iran, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.

We have learned that among the 57 Canadians killed, there were beloved students, professors, doctors and engineers. Children, newlyweds and entire families perished. Many of them have been described by Canadian news media and leaders as “exceptional.” They belonged to Canada’s vibrant Iranian communities and are being remembered as such in tributes and memorial services across the nation.

“Your entire country stands with you tonight, tomorrow, and in all the years to come,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told about 2,300 people who attended a memorial service in Edmonton on Sunday. “We share your grief,” he said on the day of the crash.

Trudeau called it a “moment of national pain” and recounted stories he’d heard from impacted families over the past few days, including one of a 10-year-old “who was confident he’d one day be prime minister of this country he loved so much.”

I’ve spent more than a dozen years researching public memory of another air disaster that resulted in an even greater number of Canadian casualties — the Air India tragedy.

Indeed, news of PS752 is triggering memories of June 23, 1985, when Air India Flight 182 fell into the Atlantic Ocean near Cork, Ireland, after a bomb hidden among the luggage exploded. All 329 passengers and crew on board that flight were killed. Among them were 280 Canadians, the majority from Indian-Canadian families, as reported by the official inquiry by Public Safety Canada.

‘I felt gutted’

Winnipeg resident Nicky Mehta was 13 at the time that her uncle, aunt and two young cousins were killed on the Air India flight. On the day after Flight PS752 crashed, she woke up to an abbreviated list of “deadly plane crashes that killed Canadians” published in the Winnipeg Free Press that did not include Air India. “I felt gutted,” she told me. “It was re-traumatizing to see that Air India was not even worth a mention here.” The article has since been removed.

Back in 1985, there was no collective outpouring of grief or statement of national solidarity for the victims of Air India Flight 182. Were these victims not “exceptional” enough? In fact, they too were beloved students, professors, doctors and engineers, as well as homemakers, teachers, civil servants and more.

Notoriously, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered his condolences to Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi for India’s loss instead of addressing his own citizens.

It is clear that for many Canadians (not just Mulroney) the Air India bombing was unthinkable — and thus unmemorable — as a tragedy of national consequence due to the dominant assumption that Canadian identity is synonymous with whiteness. Indeed, critics as well as relatives of the dead have raised the obvious question: would there have been such trouble recognizing the bombing as a national tragedy if the majority of those killed were white rather than brown Canadians?

Crucial evidence lost

Now well-documented as the result of criminal trial proceedings and a long-awaited federally appointed Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India 182 are repeated instances where government officials, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the RCMP and Canadian airport authorities ignored, disbelieved, erased and lost crucial evidence — including surveillance tapes of eventually acquitted suspects and warnings by the Indian government and Air India officials of an attack on the airline.

Relatives of those killed in the bombing of Flight 182 also testified to how the government failed to provide them with the most basic, practical supports in the days, months and years following the deaths of their loved ones, many citing compounded grief as a result of being treated like second-class citizens for their “Indian-ness.”

Sociologist Sherene Razack has said that although “there is evidence that some Canadian officials acted heroically,” systemic racism played a role in Canada’s pre- and post-bombing response or lack thereof. In her expert witness report for the inquiry, she observed:

“When police, political and media elites all consistently treated the Air India bombings as a foreign event, it is not surprising that Canadians do not recall June 23, 1985. As a nation, we were not shaken, transformed and moved to change our own institutional practices for a tragedy we considered had little to do with us.”

It would take 25 years of lobbying by Air India families before the government of Canada would publicly claim their loved ones, as well as the suspected perpetrators, as Canada’s own.

Has Canada changed?

Does the national mourning as a result of the tragedy of PS752 mean then that Canada has since changed? Are we befittingly shaken this time around? Other news reports are citing diversity and multiculturalism experts who think so, some claiming that there has been a “180-degree shift.” [Note: Reference to my quote in the CBC article Canada’s response to Iran crash a ‘180-degree shift’ from Air India disaster, experts say] But I am curious to see how the victims of this tragedy (and those of the Air India bombings, for that matter) continue to be remembered in time.

Despite the fact that the Air India bombing is now referred to by public authorities as “the worst encounter with terrorism Canada has experienced,” or even “Canada’s 9/11,” most of my undergraduate university students have never heard of the incident.

The 35th anniversary of the Air India bombings approaches this coming June. It remains to be seen how long it will take for the Flight PS752 victims to be forgotten.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit the memorial honouring victims of the 1985 Air India bombing at a ceremony in Toronto in 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michelle Siu

It also remains to be seen if the deaths of these passengers will be mobilized in the interests of increased western military involvement in the Middle East. Again I can’t help but think of the Air India bombings, and the ways in which the government of Stephen Harper strategically used the memory of its victims to bolster support for conservative anti-terrorist legislation; or more recently, conservative pundits who invoked the bombingsover and over again to bait NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh before last fall’s federal election.

Nor am I convinced that Canada’s response to this recent air tragedy and the loss of so many Iranian-Canadian lives means racist reactions won’t still emerge.

Often during times of national crises and heightened political tensions, race-based fears and anxieties about foreign and/or domestic terrorism result in the intensified stereotyping of particular people and places as inherently threatening — as exemplified in President Donald Trump’s latest characterization of Iran as a “rough neighborhood.” To be sure, the potential for rising anti-Iranian sentiment in Canada also exists.

And so as further details of the tragedy in Tehran unfold and political players in and beyond Canada negotiate their stakes, I expect that public memory will shift along with it, including how the incident and its casualties are remembered and understood.

This is how public memory works: when new information and investments become present, we tend to revise how we make sense of the past.

The best we can hope for is that our practice of collective remembrance might become the grounds upon which those of us who were not immediately affected by the downing of PS752 — or the Air India bombings — join in memory and mourning with those who were. In doing so, we learn to live alongside one another in the aftermath of loss with renewed connection.

Source: Will Flight PS752 victims be remembered differently than those killed in the Air India bombing?

Shree Paradkar: Will the Iran crash prompt Canadians to at last acknowledge our shameful response to the Air India tragedy?

More Air India/Ukraine International plane crash characterization and reaction comparisons:

It was the end of the school year in June 1985. Montreal-based Vipin Bery dropped his wife, Neelam, and children — Priya, 8, and Aditya, 4 — at the Mirabel Airport and said goodbye. They were off to India on their summer holidays. He would never see them again.

Toronto-based Lata Pada had flown to India in advance, and was waiting for her husband, Vishnu, and teenage daughters, Brinda and Arti, to arrive. They were to fly onward to Bangalore.

“And then to hear the plane was not going to land,” she said over the phone this weekend.

Last week’s shattering deaths of 176 people aboard Ukraine Flight 752, including 57 Canadians, has brought memories flooding back to families of those who perished in the Air India 182 bombing that blew up the plane off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board.

“In a way you never get over it,” Bery, now based in Toronto, said. Bery eventually “found the strength to try again” and has a wife and children who are now in their 20s. “I’ve tried to move on the best I could.”

Last week, within hours of the Iran plane crash, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “While no words will erase your pain, I want you to know that an entire country is with you. We share your grief.” His words had the effect of gathering Canadians together in an act of national mourning.

In 1985, following the deaths of about 268 Canadians, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney called his Indian counterpart, the late Rajiv Gandhi, and offered his condolences. We should never let him live this down.

“Every family I speak to tells me this,” says Chandrima Chakraborty, an English and cultural studies professor at McMaster University. “This is something the Air India families have neither forgotten nor forgiven.”

“Their loss is irreparable. Here you had these families at their worst moment of crisis having to prove their Canadianness,” she says.

Cork, on the southwest coast of Ireland, became the site for bodies that were being recovered to be brought back for identification, and families rushed there from all over the world.

“I was grieving there in Cork,” Pada says. “Not a single Canadian official was there. Not a single representative from the Canadian government. Nobody from the Canadian embassy even came to even inquire and comfort us.

“It was such a contrast to the Irish who were so completely compassionate, taking us into their homes and to welcome us with love.”

Years after the bombing, she testified in a public inquiry, “They (the Irish) took this tragedy upon themselves as if they had suffered.”

Of how the Iranian-Canadians are being treated now, Pada says, “I’m truly glad that even though they may be hyphenated Canadians they are still considered Canadian. Thank goodness this time Trudeau has made a strong presence of his compassion and strong condemnation of what happened and strong commitment to investigate it.”

However, Canadians looking to turn this into a “look how far we’ve come” moment are missing the point if they’re converting the Air India tragedy into an occasion for self-congratulations. Even today, in the long aftermath of the 35-year-old terrorist atrocity, this is not a disaster that registers on the Canadian conscience. (I say this while acknowledging the local communities who have paid tributes.)

How many of us take a moment on June 23 to reflect on that tragedy? We (rightly) do so annually for the 1989 Montreal massacre of 14 women. When 16 people including 10 players of the Humboldt Broncos team died in a road accident in 2018, Canadians placed hockey sticks on our porches in solidarity, supported a quick investigation and trial so the families could find closure, and even crowdsourced $15 million.

Eighty-two children were killed in the Air India bombing. How have we mourned them?

Chakraborty, who has no personal connection to the tragedy, has made it her mission since 2010 to bring it into public consciousness. She began teaching about the bombing and its aftermath in 2010 and is now creating an Air India archive at the McMaster library. Last year, she along with two colleagues published an anthology, Remembering Air India: The Art of Public Mourning.

The bombs, as we now know, were made in Canada, planted in Canada and killed Canadians.

But, dear god, it took forever for even that to be clear.

It took years of the RCMP and CSIS pointing fingers at each other, years for the case to go to the country’s most expensive trial with botched evidence.

It took 20 years of advocacy by the families themselves for Canada to declare June 23 a national day of remembrance for victims of terrorism.

It took 22 years for the federal government to fund memorials in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa.

How many of us have visited them?

One politician who shows up at the Humber Bay Park East memorial in Etobicoke unannounced and without fanfare is former Ontario premier Bob Rae, says Chakraborty. Rae wrote a public report on the disaster. It’s instructive that when Trudeau turned to Rae for advice on handling the Iran plane crash, Rae’s advice was staying in close touch with the families.

It took 23 years for a public inquiry into the investigation of the bombing to be published. “Almost to a witness, the family members told the Commission of feeling left out from the beginning of their painful experience,” it said.

Now, 35 years later, a similar unfathomable tragedy is urging us, the Canadian public, to come to a collective reckoning and connect with the Canadian tragedy.

Will we? June 23 this year will provide us with a mirror.

Source: Shree Paradkar: Will the Iran crash prompt Canadians to at last acknowledge our shameful response to the Air India tragedy?Even today, in the long aftermath of the 35-year-old terrorist atrocity, Air India is not a disaster that registers on the Canadian conscience, Shree Paradkar writes. 

Canada’s response to Iran crash a ‘180-degree shift’ from Air India disaster, experts say

More on the contrast between Canadian reactions to the Air India bombing and the shooting down of Ukraine International in Tehran:

Canada’s response to the Ukrainian air crash tragedy is very different from the way Canadians reacted to the Air India disaster 35 years ago, experts say.

News of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752’s destruction and the deaths of all 176 people on board — including 57 Canadians, a number revised downward from 63 on Friday — touched off a nationwide period of public mourning.

On Parliament Hill, provincial legislatures and municipal sites across the country, the Canadian flag was lowered to half-mast. Vigils and memorials are being planned in communities from coast to coast.

That collective outpouring of grief is quite unlike the public’s reaction to the Air India disaster 35 years ago, when Flight 182, carrying 329 people — most of them Canadian citizens or permanent residents — was brought down by a bomb attack on June 23, 1985.

Chandrima Chakraborty, a cultural studies professor at McMaster University, said the Air India crash was dismissed as a “foreign tragedy” and met with widespread indifference by the Canadian public. Despite the scale of the tragedy — 82 children were killed — the event did not resonate as deeply with Canadians as PS752’s crash in Iran seems to be now, she said.

“It was an Air India plane, (thought to be) primarily Indians, so it must be an Indian tragedy,” she said. “That hasn’t happened this time.”

Chakraborty said this week’s crash is being framed as a Canadian tragedy in the media and by the federal government, and Canadians themselves are mourning the victims as fellow citizens.

Brian Mulroney, prime minister at the time of the Air India crash, was criticized for offering condolences to the Indian government rather than to the Canadian families of victims after the disaster.

“Once the government has that kind of gut response, it pushed the bombing to the margins of Canadian public consciousness. It did not result in the outpouring of grief or public mourning that we’re seeing now,” Chakraborty said.

“Canada’s lack of acknowledgement of the Air India loss as Canadian, I think, exacerbated the family’s grief of losing family members.”

Public understanding ‘hazy’

Today, scholarly research on the Air India tragedy remains relatively scarce and public understanding of the event is “hazy” in the minds of most Canadians, she said.

The Air India disaster led to a public inquiry and lengthy criminal trials. In 2010, a quarter century after the disaster, then-prime minister Stephen Harper delivered a formal apology to the families of the victims for Canada’s failure to prevent the tragedy and for mistreating the families in the aftermath.

“Your pain is our pain. As you grieve, so we grieve. And, as the years have deepened your grief, so has the understanding of our country grown,” he said on June 23, 2010.

“Canadians who sadly did not at first accept that this outrage was made in Canada accept it now. Let me just speak directly to this perception, for it is wrong and it must be laid to rest. This was not an act of foreign violence. This atrocity was conceived in Canada, executed in Canada, by Canadian citizens, and its victims were themselves mostly citizens of Canada.”

Jack Major, a former Supreme Court justice who presided over the Air India public inquiry, said the circumstances of that disaster are vastly different from those of the PS752 crash. The recent event, he said, drew immediate global attention due to the increasing volatility of the security climate in the Middle East and what he called the “world fright” about what might happen next in the U.S-Iran conflict.The news cycle and the media landscape also have changed in the decades since Air India, he said.

“It became an international story immediately because of the relationships in the Middle East, which had absolutely nothing to do with Air India,” he said. “I don’t know you can draw much of a parallel.”

Major said there’s “no doubt” the Air India victims were treated differently because they were considered Indian, or “late-come Canadians,” but he said Canada’s mishandling of the disaster had more to do with government authorities passing the buck.

‘India’s problem’

“Their first reaction was that it’s India’s problem, not ours,” he said.

Sociologist Sherene Razack, who provided expert testimony during the Air India inquiry on whether racism played a role in the government’s response to the bombing, said it was a “positive moment” to hear the federal government claim those who died in this week’s crash as Canada’s own.

“Few in the media even did the usual hyphenation and simply said Canadians died in the crash,” said Razack, now a professor at UCLA. “This was a remarkable difference from the response to Air India and I can only hope that it signals some progress on the racism front …

“Is it possible that the nation has begun to change? I can only hope so.”

Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official who now researches diversity and multiculturalism, said he regards Canada’s current response as an “encouraging reminder” of how Canadians have evolved in terms of how they see, accept and embrace fellow citizens who are immigrants or members of visible minorities.

“What really struck me, as these horrific stories came out, was the reference is ‘Canadian.’ It wasn’t even Iranian-Canadian. It was simply these are Canadians, this is a Canadian issue and tragedy,” he said.

“I don’t think any of that really happened in the early years following Air India.”

Griffith suggested one possible reason for the change is the fact that Canada is now far more diverse than it was at the time of Air India, when visible minorities represented a smaller, newer share of the population.

“Now it is part of the Canadian reality,” he said. “That’s a sea-change, in my view.”

After Air India, the Indo-Canadian community was bitterly resentful of the authorities they believed failed to take the investigation seriously.

Canadians’ reaction to the Ukrainian airline crash represents a “180-degree shift,” Griffith said.

“It means that Iranian-Canadians will feel more accepted, more welcome, more integrated, more part of society, whereas with Indo-Canadians it dragged on and on,” he said.

For the family members of Air India victims, the pain remains fresh.

Eisha Marjara, who lost her mother and sister in the bombing, said she sees a difference in the response to the two disasters.

“The response for the Air India tragedy was disappointing and heartbreaking,” she said. “We were left in the dark for a long time.

“So seeing the way the prime minister and the media [have] swiftly and transparently handled the crash and prioritized the well being of the families of the victims is very encouraging.”

Source: cbc.ca/news/politics/…

Editorial: This time, all of Canada mourns plane-crash victims

Two separate Postmedia editorials with the same message. Again, a remarkable illustration of how Canada and Canadians have changed.

Starting with the Ottawa Citizen:

Almost 35 years ago, Canada suffered its greatest aviation disaster: the bombing of Air India Flight 182 en route from Toronto to Delhi via London. Aboard were 268 Canadian citizens, most of South Asian background. The prime minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, quickly called his Indian counterpart, Rajiv Gandhi, to offer condolences.

That act, we realize now, was highly insensitive. The 268 were Canadian, not Indian, citizens (though about two dozen Indian crew were aboard). As recounted by former Liberal MP Bob Rae, who years later was appointed to advise the government on holding an inquiry into the disaster, victims’ families felt like the attack “was never truly understood as a Canadian tragedy.”

It’s now 2020. And we learned Thursday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the horrible news that, again, Canadians have died as the result of an attack on a passenger plane. Whether the Iranian missile that brought down the Ukrainian Airlines flight from Tehran to Kyiv was fired deliberately or accidentally isn’t known. That’s why Trudeau insisted on a “credible and complete” investigation.

Sixty-three Canadians perished aboard that flight, and the nation is deeply traumatized. What the government will do when all the facts come in is still a matter of conjecture; Trudeau would not say on Thursday.

But if there is anything remotely comforting around this disaster, it is that today, unlike in 1985, we understand that the people who died are OUR people, OUR family.

Mansour Purjam, a dental technician at an Ottawa clinic. Mehraban Badiei, a student at University of Ottawa. Fereshteh Maleki Dizaje, an architect. Alireza Pey, a high-tech entrepreneur who lived in Kanata. Fareed Arasteh, a PhD student in biology at Carleton University. And so many others.

The government understands this. The prime minister has held two press conferences now, answering questions with cabinet ministers at his side, and demanding consular and investigative access from Iranian authorities. Canada’s foreign minister was on the phone to his Iranian counterpart within hours. The government pledged full support to the families.

The Iranian diaspora is an integral part of Canada’s modern identity. As diaspora researcher Amy Malek points out in the Citizen today, many Iranians were attracted here by our education system. Families stayed, and became successful members of communities across the country.

They – and all of us, their fellow Canadians – need answers. More horrific details are yet to come, and we know this knowledge will only deepen the grief everyone – not just Iranian-Canadians – feels. But this time, we’re in it together.

Source: Editorial: This time, all of Canada mourns plane-crash victims

From the Toronto Sun:

The reaction of Canadians to the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 shows how far we have come as a country since the terrorist bombing of Air India Flight 182 almost 35 years ago.

This time, Canadians know that with 138 of the 176 people who died in the crash having connections to Canada — including 63 Canadian citizens — this is our tragedy, as evidenced by the national outpouring of sympathy and support for the victims and their families.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday in revealing that the plane was probably shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, possibly fired accidentally, all Canadians want a thorough, credible investigation into what happened.

Contrast that to the muted political and public reaction to the Air India bombing of June 23, 1985, in which 329 people were murdered in Canada’s, and the world’s, most deadly act of aviation terrorism prior to 9/11.

Back then, Canadians were largely disconnected from what had happened, wrongly viewing it as an attack by foreign Sikh terrorists on India and its citizens.

That was symbolized by then prime minister Brian Mulroney calling then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi to express his condolences, when most of the victims — 268 — were Canadians.

Mulroney realized his mistake and, as the Globe and Mail reported, wrote personal letters of condolence to the families of those who had lost loved ones.

But we now know the widespread misperception in Canada that the Air India bombing was an attack on a foreign country by foreign terrorists murdering foreign victims, was reflected in a bungled police investigation and years of government indifference to the legitimate demands of the families of the victims to know what happened.

In 2010, 25 years after the bombing, then prime minister Stephen Harper apologized to those families following the release of a scathing federal inquiry report into the Air India investigation by Mr. Justice John Major.

“This was not an act of foreign violence,” Harper said at the time, stressing most of the victims were Canadians.

This time, by contrast, Canadians understand that the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 is a Canadian tragedy.

This time, we understand that many of the victims and their families are Canadians. That they are us.

Source: EDITORIAL: Canadians united by air crash tragedy

Contrasting reactions to Air India 1985 bombing and Ukraine International Tehran crash: From “Indians” to Canadians

Following the coverage of the UIA PS752 crash and the devastating number of Canadian victims, it struck me just how much Canada has changed in terms of how it characterizes the victims.

In the Air India case, the initial reaction was to dismiss the victims as Indians and it was only some 20 years later that is was formally recognized as a Canadian tragedy.

“During his first term, the Air India Flight 182 bombing occurred. This was the largest terrorist act of the time, with the majority of the 329 victims being Canadian citizens. Mulroney sent a letter of condolence to then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which sparked an uproar in Canada since he did not call families of the actual victims to offer condolences. Gandhi replied that he should be the one providing condolences to Mulroney, given that the majority of victims were Canadians. There were several warnings from the Indian government to the Mulroney government about terrorist threats towards Air India flights, which arised questions remain as to why these warnings were not taken more seriously and whether the events leading to the bombing could have been prevented. (Brian Mulroney – Wikipedia)”

In contrast, UIA PS752 coverage and commentary named the victims as Canadians, full-stop, as did PM Trudeau’s statement and subsequent press conference. The federal, some provincial and municipal governments are flying the  Canadian flag at half-mast to commemorate this Canadian tragedy.

The personal descriptions of the lives lost illustrate the breadth of the Iranian Canadian community across Canada and their impressive contributions to Canada. Moreover, there have been calls for Canada to be part of the crash investigation and the commitment by the PM in his press conference for Canada to be involved.

“This morning, I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened to see reports that a plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, has claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones in this tragedy. Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered.

Today, I assure all Canadians that their safety and security is our top priority. We also join with the other countries who are mourning the loss of citizens. (Statement by the Prime Minister on the fatal plane crash in Iran)”

Full press conference statement:nJustin Trudeau’s statement after plane crash in Iran: Full transcript

An encouraging reminder how Canada has changed in how we view our fellow citizens.

‘A reminder of what it means to be Canadian’: Tehran crash a shock to our outdated ideas of identity

Good piece by Joseph Brean:

The meaning of disasters sometimes reveals itself in a spectacular instant. Planes exploding into Manhattan skyscrapers were obviously terrorism. A train of oil exploding in Lac-Mégantic was obviously an outrageous accident.

But sometimes the significance of mass casualty events must be discerned from more compelling falsehoods. Commonsensical intuitions can obscure as much as they reveal, and make it easier to dismiss faraway calamities that really ought to trouble the domestic Canadian soul.

This is how the crash of a Ukraine-bound plane outside Tehran that first looked obviously like military escalation in the standoff between the United States and Iran was revealed overnight as an especially Canadian aviation tragedy.

“This disaster is a reminder of what it means to be Canadian and to belong to this cosmopolitan nation,” said Payam Akhavan, a Tehran-born former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, now a professor of law at McGill University, who gave the 2017 CBC Massey lectures on the perils of “us versus them” politics.

“There is a certain fluidity of identity when you open your doors to the whole world,” Akhavan said, and this crash is a reminder of how outdated views of national identity can distance Canadians from their own tragedies.

The Canadians on board included professors of engineering at the University of Alberta in Edmonton; an expert in Iranian indigenous nomads pursuing a doctorate at the University of Guelph in Ontario; a staffer at an Ontario high school teachers union; students from schools across Canada; a nine-year old girl from Richmond Hill, Ont.; an eight-year-old girl from Toronto; a one-year-old girl on her first trip with her parents; and a young couple returning to their new house in Montreal after being married in their ancestral homeland.

Even the Iranians on board were largely young students coming or returning to Canada to study, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He said nearly everyone on board was bound for Toronto, transiting through Kyiv on a popular route. Trudeau said a plane arrived in Toronto from Kyiv on Wednesday with 138 empty seats, on which the victims were due to have travelled.

If the theory of an accidental crash holds up, this was a tragedy of dozens of Canadians and others killed through no fault of their own at high points in their lives. It involves a web of storylines that meander back from that field near Tehran’s airport through the Western prairies and Ontario university towns to the large urban communities in Edmonton and Toronto that grew throughout Iran’s post-revolutionary decline so much that they spawned good-natured nicknames used by the diaspora, like Tehranto.

As such, the crash is closer in kind to last year’s Ethiopian plane crash — which was also in a Boeing 737 that crashed soon after takeoff, with 18 Canadians among 157 passengers, second only to Kenyans — than to the Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down in 2014 during a hot war between Ukraine and Russia, with one Canadian aboard.

But it initially seemed to be the other way round, given the rising tension between the U.S. and Iran, and the expectation of retaliation by Iran to the assassination of a top general. It seemed to be other people’s problems.

This search for meaning can be difficult for Canadians in the early days of a shocking new disaster, existing as Canada does on the periphery of so many global conflicts, without taking sides or bearing the burden of the fighting. Why should this plane crash not simply blur into the foreign news like the deaths of African migrants in the Mediterranean or the victims of an Asian typhoon?

A secondary tragedy of the 1985 Air India bombing, the worst-ever Canadian terrorist attack that killed all 329 passengers including 268 Canadians, was the common sense that this was a foreign outrage, an attack by Indians against Indians that just happened to occur after some of the victims and perpetrators had moved to Canada. Recognizing the racist folly of that view has been a civic challenge ever since, taken up by politicians, media, educators. It has invited reflection on definitional aspects of Canadian identity in an age of immigration and multiculturalism.

A generation later, in an age when dual citizenship is common and international travel accessible to the broad Canadian middle class, these sorts of things get especially confused. Canadians can long for distant homelands. They can leave home to go home without any contradiction.

The trouble with Iran is that, over the same period, it has seemed to get farther and farther away, such that for the average Canadian, travelling to Beijing or Mumbai can seem like simple tourism in the land of one’s ancestors, but travelling to Tehran just seems reckless.

Why would Iranian-Canadians go back, knowing dual citizens are regularly taken as hostages by the regime, such as Homa Hoodfar, and even killed, such as Zahra Kazemi?

“Exile is a longing to belong. It’s an emotional space that we confuse with a physical space,” said Akhavan, who fled Iran before the 1979 revolution and, as a member of the Baháʼí faith, could expect persecution, detention and worse if he ever tried to return. “There is this very strong identity which is based on historical continuity.”

Much of the Middle East was carved up in the 20th century by European opportunists out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire, but not Iran. Although the culture is diverse, Iranians have this deep attachment to what Akhavan described as “a rich mystical culture that refuses to be eclipsed despite the wars and invasions of the centuries.”

He described meeting Armenian Christians who love to speak Persian, which endured despite the spread of Arabic, and Iranians in Tel Aviv who share this national pride not just in cuisine, which every culture more or less shares, but also in unique traditions of poetry, literature, architecture, and art that are scarcely matched anywhere else.

The Iranian community in Canada is likewise diverse. It includes exiles, wealthy economic migrants, skilled entrepreneurs, and people in the orbit of the Islamist regime who have invested in Canadian real estate. So it is a common thing for people to go back for lavish weddings, to see family who stayed behind, to leave home for home.

One photo from Tehran by journalist Borna Ghasemi showed a girl’s red party shoe lying upright on gravel, its bow slightly singed but otherwise shiny and new, as if it had just been worn for the first time, as if at a wedding or family reunion.

Source: ‘A reminder of what it means to be Canadian’: Tehran crash a shock to our outdated ideas of identity

Opinion: Jagmeet Singh fails to typecast easily, despite CBC’s best efforts

Jagdeesh Mann on the political nuances of younger generation Canadian Sikh  and Singh’s fumbled response to questions regarding his support or not for Air India terrorists (Milewski’s questions were valid just as Mann’s pointing out some double standards):

But even if Singh knows his history of 1980s Sikh separatism, was he being asked to denounce the personal views of other Sikhs who venerate Parmar because Singh himself is a baptized Sikh?

Or was he being asked because there are such followers in his political base?

Either way, these questions lead to a troubling double standard when compared to CBC’s treatment of other politicians, such as the Conservative Party’s new leader Andrew Scheer. In an interview earlier this year, Scheer was asked about his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, but at no point was the devout Catholic asked to openly condemn his fellow Catholic congregants who view same-sex marriage as an abomination.

Meanwhile, other Canadian politicians with a significant following in the Sikh community have also been spared Milewski’s rough treatment. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has never been asked to condemn the portion of his Sikh base who view men like Parmar as martyrs. In the 2015 election, Trudeau benefited mightily from the Sikh vote, delivered to him by organizers from the World Sikh Organization — a group that once advocated for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland, on the heels of the Air India bombing. The WSO has also delivered for past Liberal leaders, including Jean Chretien.

Media hypocrisy, however, reaches its apex each spring in Surrey, when dozens of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, along with senior representative from the armed forces, RCMP, major banks and other federal bodies congregate at the Khalsa Day Parade on 128th Street. The event, which drew 300,000 attendees this past year, is hosted by Dasmesh Darbar, the largest Sikh temple in B.C. At this temple, a kind of Sikh version of the Yasukuni Shrine, Parmar and other Sikh separatists are lionized through posters and photo memorials.

In the years since the Air India bombing, mainstream media has leaned heavily on a false, and self-perpetuated, binary of “moderates” versus “fundamentalists” when reporting on news with a Sikh angle. This was partly the consequence of non-diverse newsrooms in the 1980s and 1990s struggling to decipher the inner-workings of a complex community with which many were unfamiliar.

So media outlets created go-to contacts, such as temple presidents and politicians, who became the default spokespeople for an entire range of issues, regardless of their familiarity on these topics. These individuals, in turn, used their privileged positions to perpetuate this divide in which “moderates” became seen as forward-looking secularists who, typically, didn’t wear turbans, while fundamentalists were orthodox in religious practice and ardent supporters of an Sikh homeland independent of India.

In the three decades since Air India, two generations of Sikhs have grown out of the shadow of the separatist turmoil. These youth tend to speak English and French better than they do Punjabi and they are politically active through social justice causes.

Singh is part of this new educated generation which continues to advocate — arguably with more passion and idealism than their parents — for redress on behalf of the 10,000-plus Sikhs systematically murdered by government supported pogroms in Delhi in 1984. Singh, and other young Canadian Sikhs, however, are equally as impassioned by other Canadian-based causes such as attaining meaningful reconciliation for this country’s Aboriginal communities and protecting the environment.

This complexity, however, becomes lost in translation for reporters like Milewski because they still insist on viewing the Sikh community through the tenuous lens of Air India and the separatist struggle that long ago withered on the vine. The community has changed but their narrative framework for reporting has not evolved.

Consequently, Singh’s social activism and even his belief in self-determination becomes recklessly conflated as support for a man accused of terrorism three decades ago. And it happens on national television, as it did on Power & Politics where CBC got caught judging a book by its cover as Milewski shamelessly tried to pin down Singh as a Sikh “fundamentalist.” 

If there was any extremism in Canada that day, it was in the manner by which CBC treated the new leader of the NDP.

Singh won his party leadership and the support of the party grassroots because he is a person who embodies the modern nuances of multicultural Canada. Until CBC figures out how to articulate that, Canada’s state broadcaster will continue to foster uncomfortable exchanges that do little to bring together Canadians of all backgrounds.

Source: Opinion: Jagmeet Singh fails to typecast easily, despite CBC’s best efforts | Vancouver Sun