Air India 182
June 22, 2008 7:21 AM   Subscribe

On June 22, 1985, Air India flight 182 left Montreal en route to Delhi with 329 passengers aboard, most of them Canadian. Four hours later, an explosion in the baggage compartment destroyed the plane, killing all on board. Premiering tonight on CBC television, this documentary (trailer) recounts the final hours, days and weeks before the plane disappeared off Irish radar screens. It reveals the story of how Canada’s first major counter-terrorism operation failed to thwart the conspiracy and details the errors that resulted in the world’s most lethal act of aviation terrorism before Sept. 11. (previously on MetaFilter)

The producers have also created a site.
posted by netbros (31 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One of my classmates (aged 7), her little brother (4) and their mother were on Air India 182. I think of them often.

There were so many things that had to happen or fail to happen in order for the bomb to go off while they were in the air. When you realize just how many people screwed up or how many things happened by chance... well, you start to think that they might just still be with us today.
posted by juliebug at 7:37 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is this something I'd need a TV in Canada to care about?

No. You could watch the commentaries from friends and relatives of people who died on that flight, which are very touching and, IMO, worth viewing. They can be found at the "a site" link that netbros included in the [more inside] section of this FPP.

On the other hand, it would appear that you'd be more inclined to post some quick, flip snark.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:16 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

The FPP includes more than a link to the trailer. The link to the documentary's site has clickable pictures linking to commentaries from the documentary. (On preview: as flapjax at midnite already noted.) In addition, this CBC site describes the bombing, the trial, and the inquiry in detail.

And if you can't wait a month for the DVD, I'm sure the documentary will show up somewhere soon.
posted by maudlin at 8:21 AM on June 22, 2008

Here's a collection of related material from the CBC archives, and a few clips from the documentary. The sidebar next to this collection of quotes may be worth perusing as well, and these audio clips from As It Happens about the long slog towards the trial are worth listening to, even if they're RealPlayer.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:33 AM on June 22, 2008

It is an interesting case study in intelligence failures, terrorism, and inept investigation and prosecution. Also particularly relevant given the current GWOT and American struggles over how to try the GITMO detainees and the UK's push for extended detention without charges.
posted by srboisvert at 8:34 AM on June 22, 2008

Is this something I'd need a TV in Canada to care about?

I dare anyone to try and be so callous and dismissive of 9/11. I'll skip the ad hominem attack (although I'd rather not) and just say that was incredibly hollow of you. My father lost a number of co-workers in that tragedy.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have no confidence in Canada's airline security. Not with people like Julie Couilliard being given security contracts — and our friggin' Chief of Airport Security knew of her gangland connections.

Incidently, she was also two of our Conservative MPs.

Our government has made a mockery of itself.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:20 AM on June 22, 2008

I mean to say:

Incidently, she was also banging two of our Conservative MPs.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on June 22, 2008

Wow. A link to a trailer of what promises to be a very emotional, difficult documentary, airing tonight on CBC and being released on DVD in a month, that isn't good enough for a post for some of you? The link detailing the history of Flight 182 isn't important enough? The stories told by the people at the documentary's website don't resonate with you?

What, then, is important to you?

How about the fact that 82 of the passengers, who were murdered that day, were children?

What about the fact that 331 people died on June 23rd, 1985, including the related bombing in Tokyo?

How about the fact that, 23 years after the bombing, there still hasn't been a conviction with regards to the planning and responsibility of the bombing, which is the largest mass murder in Canadian history?

Does your uncaring, unfeeling attitude stem from the fact that they were Canadians? Or of Indian descent? That the airline was named Air India and was heading to India instead of American and heading to Los Angeles?

Given the current climate in the United States (and felt throughout the Western world), one would think that Air India's story would be viewed as a lesson, that Canada didn't catch the bad guys, didn't stop the tragedy, and that maybe people could learn from that.

The Air India bombing wasn't simply a tragedy because I knew three passengers. It wasn't a tragedy just because 331 people died that day. It was also a tragedy because it was preventable. Over the years, you try to find meaning in such an event and, at one point, you realize that you don't want this to happen to anyone else. You don't want another elementary school class to go through this, to know that, on the day they graduated from high school together, there should have been another among them. You don't want there to have to be a Creative Arts prize handed out in the name of someone's former classmate every year, because she loved art class. You don't want anyone to flip the calendar over and see That Date and feel the clenching of their stomach and have their eyes start to water.

So you start to think that maybe, just maybe, if enough people know what went wrong, it won't happen again, or maybe precautions can be taken to prevent things like that from happening again. That maybe the lives of the people you knew weren't lost for no reason whatsoever. That maybe some kind of good can be taken from it, if only in learning how to keep this from happening again.

The bombing of Air India Flight 182 was a personal tragedy for many people, myself included, and I fully recognize that bias. But it was a national tragedy for us in Canada, as well, as 280 of the passengers were Canadian. And it was a universal tragedy that it was permitted to happen; that someone planned it, that various things happened (or didn't) that let it occur and that ultimately, 331 people died that day.

If you don't think a documentary detailing this event, and the events leading up to it is worth your time or don't think that the personal stories of the people who knew the passengers are worth listening to, then don't watch the documentary, don't buy or rent the DVD, don't listen to the stories and don't whine about not being entertained. Just move on to the next link or the next website that you find is relevant to you.

Thanks for your respectful post, netbros. It's appreciated.
posted by juliebug at 9:39 AM on June 22, 2008 [21 favorites]

[Whole bunch of bitching removed. Flag and move on, folks.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:54 AM on June 22, 2008

it was a national tragedy for us in Canada

While the bombing was a truly horrible act, the other national tragedy has been the muted and almost apathetic reaction from many Canadians, because of the feelings you ascribe (Erroneously, I'm sure) to cillitbang*: The victims were "of Indian descent [...] the airline was named Air India and was heading to India...".

It's great that people and the media have been pushing this story as hard as they have and keeping it alive, but it will never occupy a place in the Canadian consciousness in the same way the WTC attacks do. It will always be a glaring example of the social, racial, and bureaucratic divisions that persist in this country.

*Both he and krautland's criticisms of the post's slightness may have been justified, but for Christ's sake cb, think before hitting post next time.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:00 AM on June 22, 2008

Does your uncaring, unfeeling attitude stem from the fact that they were Canadians?

Chill out with the sanctimonious bleetings already.

The uncaring, unfeeling attitude stems from the fine example of the Candian government whose uncaring and unfeeling attitude are unrivaled in this thread.
posted by three blind mice at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2008

Absolutely, Alvy. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney even went so far as to give his condolences to the Indian PM at the time of the bombing, wrongly assuming that a bunch of people flying Air India to an ultimate destination of Bombay, would, of course, be Indian citizens.

As a sociology student, it makes me physically feel ill to think that if Air India had been Air Canada and flying back to Vancouver, Canadians would have embraced it as a Canadian tragedy. It's one of the reasons I feel so strongly (I mean, obviously, I have other reasons) about getting the story told, about informing people. You wouldn't believe the number of people I've told, over the years in random conversation, who had never heard of Air India 182. And they're age-appropriate, educated people, who lived in Canada at the time.

That's why when I heard the announcer on CBC TV the other night, promoting the documentary, and he said "the largest mass murder in Canadian history" in this really solemn tone, I was just... well, I was a little shocked (it was the first I'd heard of the documentary) and very pleased that the announcer was telling us it was OUR history, OUR tragedy.

We'll probably never get to the point where everyone's aware of it and everyone knows that the majority of the passengers were Canadian citizens, but we've come a long way in 23 years. I think that the memorial in Toronto dedicated last year on the anniversary is another step in the right direction.

(on preview)

three blind mice - I'm very much aware of the mistakes of my government over the years. I haven't forgotten the multitude of ways they've screwed things up with regards to Air India 182. I would just like to think that Canadian society might have grown and matured a little in 23 years. And maybe that others learning about the incident, in this day and age, can acknowledge that the loss of 331 people's lives, due to terrorist acts, is probably something worth thinking about for a few minutes.
posted by juliebug at 10:37 AM on June 22, 2008

Have been looking forward to this site since seeing the preview for it last week. The sites are very well put together and I hope that the show itself will be too. Thanks.
posted by jeffmik at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2008

Quite apart from anything else, that trailer is very well put together. None of the expected re-enacted scenes of explosions or mourning, only mounting tension and then a hair-raising silence.

Thanks for a very informative post, netbros.
posted by bettafish at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2008

I am the same age as juliebug, but I don't have the same memories (being from another city, having no personal connection). Proportionately, almost as many Canadians died that day as Americans did on 9/11, but Canada did not recognise this. I, too, believe this is because the airline was Indian and the Canadians who died primarily of Indian descent.

I remember that shortly after 9/11, there was talk in the Parliament that there should be a memorial to the Canadians who died in the WTC (about 30 or 40). I don't remember who, but I remember someone making the point that maybe the Canadians should put up a memorial to the victims of this bombing first (as they now have done), a point about how disregarded it had been in the national conciousness.
posted by jb at 1:15 PM on June 22, 2008

obviously I wouldn't have the same memories as juliebug, because I didn't have her personal connection - but I meant to stress that it really did not enter my conciousness. Maybe it was because I was 5 (got my math a bit off), but at the same time, I don't know that many American children who were 5 in 2001 would be as ignorant about 9/11.
posted by jb at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2008

Is this something I'd need a TV in Canada to care about?

Y'know, on a per capita basis, the Air India bombing was actually a worse disaster than 9/11. There's snark, and then there's being an irredeemable douche.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:18 PM on June 22, 2008

I've never felt that the Air India bombing has been forgotten. I think the vast majority of Canadians know what you mean when you say "Air India bombing". The trial was all over the news for years.
posted by loiseau at 3:33 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was born that year and was taught about it in school, and I don't know anyone my age or older who doesn't consider it a Canadian tragedy, or who views it as a lesser event because they were Indian Canadians. So my personal experience makes some of the comments in this thread completely shocking; it's bizarre to me that another canuck wouldn't know about this flight, or not feel it was a terrible thing that happened to "us". Yes our gov't and other officials completely fell down on this, but I cannot agree that regular folk have. Certainly we haven't maintained a disturbing emotional attachment to it, like some other country's citizens might, but that doesn't mean that it's not a memory that quite a lot of us live with.
posted by zarah at 3:49 PM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know that many American children who were 5 in 2001 would be as ignorant about 9/11.

By almost every conceivable criteria, the reaction of the United States to 9-11 is one neither to be desired nor emulated.

But children's awareness? I guess the US has that stitched up. I doubt there's children in too many parts of the world not learning about 9-11 in one way or another.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:42 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

One a related note: I remember reading a very touching short story where this Air India bombing was the background. The government sent a Canadian Indian social worker to this elderly couple's home. The couple could not believe that their son had been killed in the bombing. It was such a sad story and it was the first time I'd heard of the bombing. I guess I was too young when it actually happened to realize what happened.

It's interesting, but as an Indian American, I kinda always thought Canada was a less racist and even more intelligent country. Sounds like, from the posts above, that Canadian Indians are/were marginalized. That's interesting.
posted by onepapertiger at 6:20 PM on June 22, 2008

It's interesting, but as an Indian American, I kinda always thought Canada was a less racist and even more intelligent country.
posted by onepapertiger at 9:20 PM on June 22

As a Canadian living in the US, I've noticed a lot of Americans think that. I'm not sure why. I think Canadians are slightly better in some ways and slightly worse in others. We're perhaps differently racist, but I wouldn't say we're less racist. We do have a larger per capita population of people of Indian descent (presumably because of being a Commonwealth country) so as an Indian-American visiting a large urban center in Canada, you might find more people who are sort of superficially familiar with Indian culture (or, at least, food), but that's about it.

I was 8 when the Air India bombing happened and I don't remember being aware of it, but I became aware of it because of the trial, and I always get frustrated with Americans glibly telling me Canada hasn't experienced anything like 9/11 because of it. I'll be watching this with great interest.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:00 PM on June 22, 2008

Canucks sure as hell have a mad hate-on for Native Indians. It's sick.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2008

Any Canadians who watch the documentary tonight who would like to give us a critique ... that would be great.
posted by netbros at 7:49 PM on June 22, 2008

Yes, the bombing was a Canadian Tragedy and it wasn't handled appropriately by the government but I wonder if all of these brutal accusations of racism are completely warranted - sure, it might have been ignorant and the Prime Minister of Canada should have known better, but we need to realize that we are tremendously more cognizant of the concept of nationality today compared to 1985.

Besides, everyone loves to hate Brian Mulroney and it's just one more reason to hate him - would another Prime Minister have handled it differently? I don't know. The Prime Minister's insensitivity also makes for a juicier news story.

Our societies have grown immensely in 23 years:
- People were not known as Italian-American, Indian-Canadian, Asian-Canadian, etc. They were just plain old Italians, Indians and Chinese when I was a kid.

- Back then, when people asked me "what are you?" I would readily answer by giving my ethnic origin - now I view the question as an insult, and smugly say "I'm Canadian" and watch them squirm as they try to come up with the correct wording
I'm actually not a dick about it (any more), but I am aware of a lot of people that do this

The fact that we think differently as a society today does not mean that people were coldhearted racists 23 years ago - there is a big difference between ignorance/innocence/being naive and making a conscious decision to discriminate or hate.

And as guilty as the RCMP/CSIS/government were in botching the investigation and trying to cover things up, I would be hard pressed to add on "racism" to the reasons for their failure.

Instead of looking at how "racist" or "ignorant" or whatever we may or may not have been, perhaps we should look at how we have grown as a society in the past 23 years.
But what a boring news story that would be...
posted by bitteroldman at 9:03 PM on June 22, 2008

juliebug: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney even went so far as to give his condolences to the Indian PM at the time of the bombing, wrongly assuming that a bunch of people flying Air India to an ultimate destination of Bombay, would, of course, be Indian citizens.

While it doesn't give any citations for this, the wikipedia article nevertheless seems to mention that none of the passengers on-board were Indian citizens. Only the crew apparently carried Indian passports.

Which doesn't make this less of an Indian tragedy of course; I'm fairly certain that most of the passengers there were of Indian descent, probably en route to meeting their relatives and friends in India. Still, an interesting dimension to the whole episode; apparently like the Canadian PM then, I always assumed this was an Indian-heavy tragedy. One more data-point on why the colour of your passport is ultimately meaningless.

Air India still flies the Toronto-BOM route every Sunday. (Despite its recent focus on short-haul flights, I mean)
posted by the cydonian at 9:08 PM on June 22, 2008

I liked that it focused more on the emotions of the victims' families and those otherwise involved than on the technical parts of the investigations but would like to see a followup that shows where CSIS and the RCMP made the mistakes and how their procedures have changed.

It was heartbreaking to hear the stories told firsthand - everyone featured was well spoken and has had a long time to think about what to say but you could really see the trauma in their faces.

The show was an hour and a half long but I felt that the last 4 minutes were rushed as they just flashed the faces of the suspects and had very short text on the screen of what happened to them. Obviously there aren't all the answers to give but it would have been interesting to know, for example, why the baggage supervisor wasn't suspicious when the detector beeped for the one bag - were they trying to insinuate that she was in on it?
posted by jeffmik at 10:50 PM on June 22, 2008

I agree jeffmik, the family members articulated what happened incredibly well, and incredibly movingly. I thought the Irish nurse's comments (her colleagues having to put their arms over the stretcher etc) were quite touching too.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:11 AM on June 23, 2008

It's hard for me to understand how others might have understood this, without a personal connection, but on the whole... I think the absolute shocked horror of it was conveyed beautifully. Quietly sad, quietly awful. Disbelief.

I think it was the account of the mother, whose two sons were flying alone on the flight together, to visit their "homeland", as one of them had put on the calendar... I think it was that one where only one of the sons' bodies was found and the mother thought maybe he'd been able to swim to safety and that one day, he would find her.

I think every member of my grade had similar thoughts about our classmate. "They didn't find her body," we chattered. "Maybe she got amnesia and swam to Ireland!"

It was good (and horrible, at the same time) to know it wasn't just 7 and 8 year olds who had thoughts like that, that if there wasn't proof that a loved one had died, everyone affected was grasping at straws.

Objectively, if I'm even capable of being objective, I thought it was a moving documentary, a well-told tale of what led to the bombings and how families and friends of those 331 people were just devastated by the events of June 22/23, 1985.

I think that the real story, the real tale to tell, was that of the passengers and the circumstances that led to placing bombs that day. I agree that the wrap-up was rather rushed, but I think it was more of an afterthought. What happened to Parmar, Bagri, Malik, Reyat... kind of doesn't matter in the way the story was told, IMHO. I mean, it's good to be informed that Parmar died, that Bagri and Malik were acquitted and that Reyat is still being held responsible for building the bombs... but it was about saying goodbye without knowing it would be the last time you'd see them, ever. It was about hearing the unthinkable in the wee hours of the morning of the 23rd. It was about the search and rescue-turned-recovery. It was about the Irish being there for these people they had no connection to, and doing everything they could for them.

IMHO, of course. There is definitely room for some sort of follow-up to explore the failings of the investigation, the trial for Bagri and Malik... because there's still been no conviction. It's all "alledgedly this" and "supposedly that" and "circumstantially he...". It'd be nice to have "justice", if it's even possible at this point. But would that even really do anything to change how anyone feels, 23 years later? I couldn't even say for myself what that would do for me.
posted by juliebug at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2008

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