The Air India Coverup
Unfortunately, this title is misleading. It is my position that the bombing of Air India Flight 182 was NOT accompanied by a systemic coverup by the Canadian government. Bear with me as I explain.
While I was writing My Father’s Secret, I endeavoured to provide as faithful a re-imagining of the Air India tragedy as I could. However, as a work of fiction, where I was trying to come to grips with how this terrible incident could occur, I kept confronting a singular problem: the bombing was orchestrated by people of South Asian ancestry based on grievances emanating from South Asia with people of mostly South Asian ancestry representing the victims of the tragedy. In 1985, this dynamic allowed Canadian authorities—and Canadian citizens—to reject our warm embrace of multiculturalism and assume a position akin to, “Look what these Indians did”—this despite the fact that 85 percent of the victims were Canadians. All the dominant group in Canada were willing to accept was that this was a ‘brown on brown’ crime that could be shelved with the hope that the ‘problem’ would just go away.
Let’s not split hairs hear. A few people have gone to great lengths to talk about language differences (Punjabi and Hindi are clearly not English or French) and immigration status (some of the victims were landed immigrants). If the state recognizes someone as Canadian, they’re Canadian and this cannot be rationalized away simply because of the colour of a person’s skin.
Now back to the coverup idea. In My Father’s Secret, the only way to make the story work was to have an official coverup, complete with destruction of evidence and murder. If I was faithfully retelling the Air India story, I would have written the story without a coverup. Why? Because there was no need to cover things up because everything happened in plain sight.
Do you think I am exaggerating? How else do you explain the fact that:
I could go on (and on and on) with the things missed in the Air India tragedy. However, this sampling should provide a startling example of how, when we’re not paying attention, tragedies of unspeakable proportions can happen right in front of us. The points above speak to neglect, incompetence and implicit bias against Canadians who look a certain way. Sadly, there was no need to coverup the Air India bombing because the level of disengagement from the tragedy, both in leadership and in the collective response of citizens from coast to coast, allowed the perpetrators to carry out the bombing in plain sight with no meaningful response from the true North strong and free.
Check out Terry Milewski's perspective on the global Khalistan movement and the part it played in the Air India bombing. Mr. Milewski goes in depth into the Air India investigation around the eleven minute mark. According to Milewski, the Air India investigation was "an absolute fiasco."
Check out Air India 182-- a documentary that describes the tragic events that unfolded in and around June 23, 1985.
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, Produced by David York.
My Father’s Secret doesn’t try to hide too much. The back cover already gives away the fact that the novel is a re-imagining of the Air India tragedy of 1985—the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history and only one person, the fellow who bought the component parts of the bomb (the bombmaker?), convicted for his part in the deaths of 331 people (it is important to remember the two people killed at Narita airport in Japan). It was a Canadian tragedy that very few people want to call a Canadian tragedy. This was the event that inspired the writing of the novel.
I was immediately affected by the bombing of Flight 182. Maybe it was because the plane exploded on the morning of my 21st birthday. Maybe it was because the victims boarded the plane a short drive from my home in Toronto. Or maybe it was because I was puzzled by the muted response of the Canadian government and the Canadian people after the plane went down. I don’t remember the tragedy being framed as “Canadian”—instead, I remember a collective disengagement from the event, probably because Canadians of South Asian descent were victims of the tragedy and the episode initially appeared—and was later confirmed—to be perpetrated by Canadians of South Asian descent. I do not remember any mass, multicultural candlelight vigils being held across the country. I do not remember government officials rushing to vow justice for the victims (it took the Canadian government six months to admit that the plane was bombed!). I also do not remember a collective, national hunger to prosecute the men who committed this crime.
Like many Canadians, Air India drifted to the back of my mind. I accepted the way the government and media framed the event. I did not seek out or organize a candlelight vigil. I just sat back and watched matters unfold with a passing interest that defied the gravity of the situation. However, there was always a nagging feeling about the Air India conspiracy that rattled around in my consciousness.
In the spring of 2003, I delivered a commentary on CBC Radio One that made my feelings about the tragedy known. It was about a month before the anniversary of the bombing and just ahead of the trial (and eventual acquittal) of two alleged Air India conspirators. In that commentary, I said,
“My heritage is Irish. I know I would have reacted more intensely if Canadians returning to Ireland had been killed. But the plane was not filled with white people like me, there were mostly dark-skinned people on Flight 182. And while I felt sorrow, there was a distance between the victims and me. In an awful way, I was almost relieved that the dead didn’t include ‘people like me.’ The Air India tragedy has haunted me for years. I look back at my reaction to the event with deep shame. The tragedy has taught me that subtle racism can rest beneath the surface and rear its head disguised as passivity, ambivalence, and disregard. While I may not have been consciously racist in 1985, there certainly was something unconscious going on.”
That summer, I came up with an idea: what if I told the story of the Air India tragedy from an Irish perspective?
And so, it began. I was quick out of the gate. I knocked off twenty pages in no time. I researched Bloody Sunday—the event that was going to act as the mirror to the attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984. The story was taking shape.
And then the project stalled. I would revisit the story idea several times a year, but added very little to what I had already written.
Then I retired from teaching in 2019. That gave me time.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. More time—and no more excuses.
By mid-pandemic the composition of the story had doubled. I worked hard to put as much of the bungled Air India investigation into the novel as I could. I created characters—leaders, spies, and terrorists. I got to know these characters through the unfolding narrative of the protagonists, Declan Keenan and Karuna Patel. Finally, in the spring of 2021, the book was good enough to be given the status of ‘first draft.’
It feels like there were many drafts between the spring and the book’s publication in November 2021. I have endeavoured to iron out as many wrinkles as possible. My hope is that the book, and this blog, will help expose Canadians to the travesty that is the Air India tragedy.
Sean Patrick Dolan's Blog
Sean Patrick Dolan is the author of the thriller, My Father's Secret, inspired by the Air India Bombing.