Praise for My Father's Secret
Not a winner, but great feedback from The Whistler Book Awards and the Canadian Authors Association
In the spring of 2022, I entered the Whistler Independent Book Awards—a contest recognizing excellence in self-published novels. While I did not win, I did receive some excellent feedback on my writing and a thoughtful critique of My Father's Secret. The evaluation was completed by a member of the Canadian Authors Association and, while there were some suggestions to improve my storytelling and writing, the evaluator ended their critique with a wonderful four word sentence: I am a fan.
The criticisms and advice will remain with me as I strive to improve as a writer. However, I thought I'd share the highlights of the evaluation:
An Air India lament
Well Air India is back in the news again … kind of …
In mid-July, Ripudaman Singh Malik, the man charged and acquitted for being part of the Air India bombing conspiracy, was shot dead while he sat in his car in Surrey, BC. Shortly after the killing, a white SUV—later confirmed by CCTV footage to be in the parking lot prior to Malik’s arrival—was found completely engulfed in flames. It fit the modus operandi of a murder-for-hire hit. Two men with a history of violence are the alleged killers. While there is near unanimous consensus that this is in no way linked to the terrorist attack that happened 37 years ago, some are wondering if the murder of Malik and the investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death will tangentially resurrect an examination of the long-forgotten Air India tragedy.
Do you need some help remembering the worst mass murder in Canadian history and the deadliest act of aviation terror prior to 9/11? Here’s my personal account of what I observed that day and in the years that followed.
On June 23, 1985, the world awoke to some startling news. A plane had crashed off the coast of Ireland, killing everyone on board. The flight had left Canada the previous evening. The death count was a shocking 329 people.
I have no recollection of what I did that day (it happened to be my 21st birthday), but I do remember casting an eye toward Toronto’s airport, located minutes from my home in Etobicoke. I remember watching the planes take off and land. I remember thinking about the passengers, boarding the doomed aircraft, their fate sealed the minute the plane left the ground.
It quickly became clear that Air India Flight 182 was targeted for destruction, with a time activated, dynamite laden bomb doing the dirty work. A second aircraft was also targeted. This device went off before the bomb could be transferred onto the target plane, exploding in the baggage handling area at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, killing two and injuring four. The plan was hatched and executed by extremists in Vancouver who wanted to exact revenge on the Indian government for an attack on the holiest shrine of Sikhism a year earlier.
The Canadian media were quick to embrace two things: the senselessness of the tragedy and the idea that the attack was somehow foreign—this even though 280 of the 329 victims on Air India Flight 182 were Canadian. Most people embraced the foreign narrative. After all, this was a South Asian grievance that made its way to Canada. The conspiracy emerged from Canadians of South Asian ancestry living in Vancouver (no doubt supported by other extremists across the country) and the victims were overwhelmingly brown skinned. The plane didn’t even explode anywhere near Canada. It was certainly easy for the mainstream media to frame the attack as foreign. And, by and large, most Canadians embraced the foreign narrative and tucked the Air India tragedy into the recesses of their collective memory.
Despite the efforts of the victims’ families, a vocal minority in the law enforcement community, and some members of the media, no one has been able to break through to the dark corner where the collective memory of this period in Canada’s history resides. How does the worst mass murder in Canadian history and the deadliest act of aviation terror prior to 9/11 not grab people’s attention? What is it about this event that, for too many people, is so easy to dismiss, shelve and forget?
The Air India tragedy has haunted me for my entire adult life. As a former high school teacher, I taught students about the tragedy with most hearing about it for the first time from me. They were curious to hear how the conspirators were under active surveillance by CSIS prior to the attack. They were shocked to hear that CSIS erased most of the wiretaps garnered through this surveillance due, at least in part, to an ‘administrative error.’ They were even more shocked to hear that, three weeks before the bombing, the conspirators tested explosive material while Canada’s spy agency was watching. They wondered how only one man—the bombmaker— was convicted in the case. They also wondered how the so-called mastermind behind the bombing escaped Canada only to die in police custody in India years after the terrorist attack. Meanwhile, two of the men who were charged with being part of the conspiracy (Malik was one of them) were acquitted because the Crown couldn’t make its case. At the end of the lesson, students asked the obvious question, ‘Why have we never heard of this tragedy before?’
Sadly, for many Canadians, it is not that they have never heard of the Air India tragedy, it is simply that they have forgotten about the murder of their fellow citizens. The only inference I can draw from this dreadful reality is that white Canada (full disclosure: I am a white male of European heritage) has controlled the Air India narrative and white privilege is so strong—and so prevalent—that the tragedy has no hope of leaving the realm of the forgotten unless there is a concerted effort to acknowledge all the bad things the tragedy says about being Canadian. If Air India were front-and-centre, Canadians would have to acknowledge their passivity in the face of this non-white tragedy and—this one’s going to sting—their inability to build a truly inclusive, multicultural, and pluralistic society. We have paid lip service to being the greatest cultural mosaic in the world but continue to fail to recognize that the mosaic is predicated on non-whites staying in their lanes (those lanes drawn up by the white establishment) while the white elite maintain their stranglehold on power.
Will Ripudaman Singh Malik’s murder provide the impetus for people to revisit the Air India tragedy? Will there finally be a reckoning that causes all Canadians to see how we collectively failed the victims of Air India Flight 182? Will at least some people say, ‘Well, this Malik fellow, the one who was murdered, he was charged in that terrorist attack. I’d like to know more about that.’ One can only hope so.
The fortieth anniversary of the disaster is just a few years away. My hope is that, as a nation, we can finally admit that we failed miserably back in 1985 and continue to fail today by denying the existence of the Air India bombing. We need to recognize our shortcomings in creating the multicultural haven that we claim already exists. We need to admit that the South Asians who died on Flight 182 were not seen as Canadian and take the necessary steps to repatriate and celebrate every single one of them.
On July 15, 2022, Ripudaman Singh Malik was shot dead while sitting in his car outside his place of work. As one of the two men acquitted in 2005 of being part of the conspiracy to bring down Air India Flight 182 the media naturally sought reaction from people sympathetic with the victims of Canada's worst mass murder.
Kim Bolan: Reporting on the case
Kim Bolan has been reporting on the case since 1985. Check out her initial report here. It turns out the police were pursuing a number of leads and, on July 27, two men with a history of violence were charged with the homicide. We'll see what the investigation reveals in terms of the motive behind the crime. The murder has all the hallmarks of professional hit.
Bolan makes an important point at the end of her article on the arrest of the alleged murderers, "Postmedia has spoken to more than a dozen people who know Malik or worked on the investigation into the June 23, 1985, Air India bombing that left 329 dead. None believed that Malik’s murder, which they all described as shocking, had anything to do the terrorist plot 37 years ago."
Ujial Dosanjh: Reveals his thoughts on the murder of Malik
In this CITY NEWS Vancouver article, former B.C Premier Ujial Doshanjh says, "The judge made clear to Mr. Malik and Mr. (Ajaib Singh) Bagri, the co-accused, that the fact that the Crown and the police had not been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt did not mean that they had not committed the offence.” When asked about Malik’s death specifically, Dosanjh said, “I don’t think that that’s appropriate for anyone to kill anybody for any reason whatsoever, except in self-defence under appropriate circumstances. I don’t rejoice at his death, I don’t think anyone would.” He added, “The Air India families particularly wouldn’t [find comfort in his death] because they would have loved to have seen him and others tried for the Air India crime and convicted and jailed.”
Chandrima Chakraborty: A poignant take on the death of Malik
Meanwhile Dr. Chandrima Chakraborty, a leading scholar studying the Air India tragedy from a myriad of different perspectives, gave this poignant interview on the CBC. She makes the point that no one sympathetic with the Air India victims' families would want to see Malik murdered. In fact, she hopes the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice so that the Malik family can find some comfort and closure (something the Air India families have never experienced). The Air India families have always wanted justice and murder isn't justice. She goes on to speak about how, years later, the Air India tragedy continues to fail to resonate with Canadians.
Canadian naiveté and the threat of terrorism
Imagine a terrorist attack perpetrated on Canadian soil by Canadians that would take hundreds of lives. Imagine victims coming from almost every province in the federation. Imagine a shocking number of children dying. Image families ripped apart, left to mourn in isolation.
Here’s the problem: this is not the stuff of imagination. This attack happened on June 23, 1985.
The real accounting of that terrible day goes as follows: Extremists put bombs on two planes leaving Vancouver, one bound for India via Tokyo, the other heading to the same nation via Toronto, Montreal and London. One bomb exploded as baggage handlers moved luggage from the connecting flight at Narita Airport, killing two and wounding four. Less than an hour later, Air India Flight 182 exploded off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 on board. It is the worst mass murder and largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history—proportionally as large as the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
As a former high school history, I can tell you that, over the years, when I asked students about the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history, almost no one was able to answer the question. Relegated to a footnote, Air India has failed to inspire the outrage, empathy, and attention it deserves.
Maybe this is because of when it happened. Perhaps, in 1985, white privilege was so pervasive that the incident could be too easily shelved and labeled as ‘foreign.’ Certainly, Canada’s reaction would indicate that this was the case. Prime Minister Mulroney called Indian Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi to express his condolences, even though 280 of the 329 victims were Canadian. When family members arrived in Cork, Ireland, to identify the remains of their loved ones, Irish authorities greeted them. There were no Canadian representatives there to comfort the families. It took the Canadian government six months to confirm the plane was bombed, something that was plainly obvious when Flight 182 went down.
While the man believed to have built the bombs was convicted of manslaughter (in 1991 for Narita and 2005 for Air India Flight 182), the ringleader escaped Canada, dying at the hands of Indian police in 1992. Inexplicably, CSIS, who were closely monitoring the movements of the soon-to-be terrorists, erased 80 percent of the wiretaps of the conspirators speaking. They said it was part of their protocol and blamed the RCMP for not securing the tapes in a timely fashion. Meanwhile, it took fifteen years to charge the other alleged conspirators (which ended in an acquittal) and over twenty years for the government to agree to a full public inquiry—this after years of pleading by the families of the victims.
How do you explain this series of missteps other than to admit that the victims and perpetrators were not valued as full-fledged Canadians? Instead, one can only conclude that they were judged—even if only unconsciously—by the colour of their skin and their South Asian ancestry.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee looking to beef up Canada’s anti-terrorism laws in 2012, then spokesperson for the Air India Victims’ Families Association Dr. Bal Gupta spoke of the victims, “They came from almost all religious backgrounds, including atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian. Eighty-six victims were children under the age of 12. Twenty-nine families—husband, wife, and all children—were wiped out. Thirty-two persons were left alone; the spouse and all the children were gone. Seven parents in their forties and fifties lost all their children, and two children, about the age of 10, lost both parents.” Why is this terrible event still not front of mind for Canadians?
I can only imagine Dr. Gupta’s grief. I can only imagine how betrayed he and the families have felt over the years. And I can only imagine how exhausted he is—having begged for justice from a nation that spent years in denial as the largest mass murder and worst terrorist attack in it’s history remained a tiny blip on the national radar.
On this National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism, let’s remember Air India. Let’s reconcile with our failures. Let’s make a commitment to giving this tragedy the place it deserves in our national consciousness. And let’s admit that it is our naiveté that could open the door to terror once again. As Dr. Gupta said when appearing before that parliamentary committee, “… make no mistake, the victims of the next terrorist act could be anybody. Terrorism cares little about the victim’s colour, creed, gender, or age.”
Note: This blog post was published in Collingwood Today and picked up by a number of Village Media affiliates. To my knowledge this is the only Air India memorial column published on June 23, 2022. I'd love to be corrected.
Terrorism happens when a person or group feels so righteous that they are willing to surrender any sense of morality and ethics, resorting to violence to make their point. It is a twisted, psychological descent that is as mysterious as it is terrifying. However, one thing is certain, a terrorist isn't born overnight. A person doesn’t just snap and turn to terrorist violence. They grow and evolve in a climate of hate that becomes ‘normalized.’
This is part of the message that CSIS Director David Vigneault delivered when speaking at the University of British Columbia recently. His point of reference was not some far off terrorist cell in a foreign land. Instead, he was referring to the emergence of hate-filled rhetoric on social media and other online platforms. While he didn’t specifically speak about terrorism that day, he did say Canada does need to be on guard against the normalization of hate and how rhetoric can inspire violence.
Canadians should be wary of the current climate that sees hateful rhetoric simply dismissed as 'crazy.' They should be more vigilant in challenging things said in a spirit of division and derision in the hopes of stemming the descent toward extremism. Vigneault is warning our nation: it starts with rhetoric and, if left unaddressed, could lead to violence. In this case the violence could come in the form of domestic terrorism.
Let's hope Vigneault's warnings are just the vigilant perspective of the country's top spy caught up in a world of perpetual threats.
As I begin the research for my next novel, I have two book reviews to share. Both deal with the topic of cults. You can find both reviews on my GoodReads page. The storyline of my next novel will involve Declan Keenan and Karuna Patel doing battle with a cult operating out of a retreat centre north of Toronto.
The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn
Guinn's exhaustive account of the Jonestown tragedy (from the birth of Jim Jones to his tailspin into madness and death) is the most comprehensive history you will read on the topic. It follows a linear storyline from start to finish with all the pertinent details. While Jones is described as always being a little bit off, his mission to fight for racial equality and bring relief to the disenfranchised is not lost on Guinn. Ultimately, the idealism of these imperatives gets lost as Jones slips into megalomania, perhaps exacerbated by his drug addiction. The Road to Jonestown is certainly worth the read. Like any cult book, there are times where the content is tough to digest/comprehend/understand, which meant I walked away from reading many times. In the end, I powered through and was grateful for completing the tragic tail Jeff Guinn was able to pull together.
Don't Call it a Cult by Sarah Berman
A disturbing account of NXIVM. I have to admit that I found the book frustrating at times, not because of Berman's writing, but because of the things the people involved in this group were doing. Berman's book shows the vulnerability of intelligent people to fall for someone (or a group) that claims to have the answers to life's most fundamental questions. Once NXIVM pulled these people into their web, they could get them to do just about anything.
Sources that tell the story of the Air India tragedy. This is the most complete list I could come up with. If you have more resources to share, please contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blaise, Clark and Bharati Mukherjee. The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy. Penguin Books, 1987.
Bolan, Kim. Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away with Murder. McLelland and Stewart, 2005.
Chakraborty, Chandrima et al. Remembering Air India: The Art of Public Mourning. University of Alberta Press, 2017.
Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. Air India Flight 182: A Canadian Tragedy. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada Ministry of Public Works and Government Services, 2010.
Jiwa, Salim and Donald J. Hauka. Margin of Terror: A Reporter’s Twenty-Year Odyssey Covering the Tragedies of the Air India Bombing. Key Porter Books, 2006.
McAndrew, Brian and Zuhair Kashmeri. Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada. Second Edition. James Lorimer and Company Ltd., 1989.
Rae, Bob. Lessons to be Learned. Public Safety Canada,2005.
Saklikar, Renée Sarojini. Children of Air India: Un/Authorized Exhibits and Interjections. Habour Publishing, 2013.
Badami, Anita Rau. Can you hear the nightbird call? Vintage Books, 2007.
Viswanathan, Padma. The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. Random House Canada, 2014.
That’s all I can find in terms of books. By way of comparison, there were so many books written about 9/11 in the decade after that event that The Guardian newspaper narrowed the field to the “20 best books written about 9/11.” The events of September 11, 2001, have been examined from almost every angle. The events of June 23, 1985, despite the best efforts of the authors listed above, have received shockingly little attention.
It was a tragic series of events. A bomb concealed in a radio was put on a passenger plane at one airport, then transferred onto another plane bound for a Trans-Atlantic crossing. The target plane never made it to its destination. It exploded at 30,000 feet above the earth, killing everyone on board. The passenger who checked the bag never took his seat and airport security failed to detect the explosive device.
No, we are not talking about Air India—we're talking about Pan Am Flight 103. The passenger plane exploded over a neighbourhood in Lockerbie, Scotland about forty minutes after taking off from London. The plane was heading for New York with close to 190 Americans among the 259 passengers and crew onboard.
The terrorist incident happened on December 21, 1988. That's right, over three years after Air India Flight 182 went down off the coast of Ireland, Libyan terrorists used the same modus operandi to bring down Pan Am 103. From interlining a checked bag from one aircraft to another to the passenger not boarding the flight, the Pan Am bombers used the Air India plan and executed it with deadly repercussions. That December day saw everyone onboard the flight lose their lives at the point of detonation, while 11 Scots died in their Lockerbie neighbourhood as 319 tonnes of wreckage and 100 tonnes of aviation fuel plummeted to earth from high above.
How did the international community miss the lessons offered after the Air India tragedy? The bombing of Air India Flight 182, as well as the explosion at Narita Airport in Tokyo, led to a detailed examination of airport security in Canada. A plane was no longer allowed to take off in Canada if the passenger who checked a bag had not taken their seat. Why wouldn't the entire world have enacted the same rule? The Pan Am tragedy was entirely preventable if only the powers that be had paid attention to the lessons provided by the worst act of aviation terror in world history—indeed, the worst act of terror prior to 9/11. Why did the Air India tragedy garner so little attention? Could it be that the victims of the Air India tragedy were predominately brown skinned? Could the roots of racial attitudes run so deep that those in power (mostly white men) could not see that an incident like the one that happened on June 23, 1985 could happen again?
This is another mind boggling outcome of the Air India bombings. While the investigation into Air India was a travesty in Canada, the reaction of the international community was equally inept. Pan Am 103 never should have gone down.
I count myself among the overwhelming majority of Canadians opposed to the recent anti-government protests against the mandates and restrictions due to the pandemic. The protesters (for the life of me I can't figure out what they are actually protesting) have been using the word 'freedom' willy-nilly and I can't help but scratch my head at their methods and motives. Here are a few things that are driving me a little batty.
First, the protesters stole our flag. I really don't like feeling sickened by the sight of OUR FLAG being displayed in a truck, car or house window in support of a cause that over 70% of Canadians strongly disagree with. Most of us support the mandates (albeit we are tired and frustrated with them). Most of us are vaccinated. I just wish the so-called protesters would leave the Canadian flag out of it. The flag is a symbol of unity. The flag is a banner for our ideals. The flag is an emblem that proclaims Canada as a just and noble nation. Let all Canadians share this symbol for the values it represents—don't hijack it for a cause that is not only fallacious, but is also slowly disappearing. The mandates are lifting. All that has ever been required over the course of the pandemic is patience. Clearly the protesters ran out of patience and this has caused far too much civil unrest.
Second, let's talk about FREEDOM. All Canadians have sacrificed their freedom in the interests of public health in order to thwart the spread of COVID-19. Yep, sometimes you have to take a step back and give something up so that the collective—our society—can advance. While protesters were hopping in their trucks and cars and advancing on Ottawa to fight for their 'freedom', the vast majority of Canadians were enjoying the health benefits of getting the vaccine (national vaccination rate: 86% with one dose; 81% with two doses). These Canadians were also, by and large, honouring the mandates—a tangible action that has actually restored our collective FREEDOM. The efforts made by vaccinated Canadians has worked. The mandates are being lifted and society is on the road to a semblance of normalcy. Freedom is returning because over 80% of the population got the jab, not because of the misguided efforts of protesters!
Third, there is such a thing as the common good. The protesters have been accused of sedition (inciting rebellion against the government) and anarchy (creating disorder to undermine those in power). To some degree this is true, and that is why Trudeau and company opted to impose the Emergency Powers Act. Regardless of how you feel about this choice (I personally think existing laws could have been used to bring the situation under control), protesting with the sole purpose of removing a government from power is dangerous. There were points to be made by protesters (when did the the vaccination rate move from 80% being a huge public health win to 100% of Canadians having to be vaccinated?), but the minute they called for the head of Trudeau and his removal from office, they lost their credibility. This opened the door to accusations of sedition and anarchy. They were staging a coup. Instead, if they at least tried to make an argument for the common good, and showed how their position fits into this ideal, they might have won some respect. The fact of the matter is this: if things keep going the way they're going, the mandates will be gone by the summer. The roughly 20% of unvaccinated Canadians will be coexisting with the 80% who have been vaccinated. We'll be sitting beside each other at restaurants, in bars, and on public transit. The same people who were never going to get the jab are going to share the same space with the people who got the jab. If they'd just been a little more patient, the protesters would have saved themselves from the embarrassment of being false champions of freedom and enemies of the welfare of their fellow citizens (ie. the common good).
Fourth (don't worry, I know I am preaching to the choir here and those opposed to this post have already clicked away), didn't the so-called 'freedom' protests of the winter of 2022 look like White Canada's Last Stand? In the news coverage I watched, I didn't see one person of colour among the protesters. This is not to say that people of colour were not upset by the mandates and restrictions because the data suggests that people of colour were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and suffered the most economically because of the government restrictions. Instead, what we saw in the protests was a large contingent of very angry white folks spouting vitriol at anyone who dared stand in their way. This is very un-Canadian. It is not patriotic. While white Canadians have clung to power for decades (centuries?), immigration has kept our economy humming. Most immigrants coming to this nation over the past half century have been people of colour. The protesters should show a little respect for the sacrifices these brave Canadians have made and rein in their anger.
Finally, I don't appreciate the Canadian flag being coopted for the protesters ill-conceived purposes. I am sorry, but they need to give us back our flag. Please.
(The 'sorry' and the 'please' are brought to you by the people of Canada—we've been apologizing and pleading since 1867).
Sunday, January 30, 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. To commemorate this pivotal moment in the conflict known as the Troubles, crowds gathered at the scene of the crime. Derry became the place where the bells of St. Eugene's Cathedral rang for the dead, wreaths were laid for the victims at the Bloody Sunday memorial, and family members and their supporters retraced the steps of their fallen sons, brothers, fathers, and grandfathers. They wanted to remind the world that 50 years earlier, the British, in a highly provocative action, sent their elites soldiers—the 'paras'— to police a civil rights protest, and the results were deadly.
It should have remained peaceful. After the 15,000 strong assembly of marchers were turned away at an army barricade, they redirected to Free Derry Corner. Sure, a few stayed behind and threw rocks and bottles at those occupying the barricade, but the overwhelming majority made their way away from the skirmish. Then something happened: the British soldiers opened fire on the crowd. By the end of the encounter, 13 lay dead and over a dozen others were rushed to hospital. It was a bloodbath. Unarmed protesters killed by the bullets of the paras.
It took years for the families to persuade the British to investigate Bloody Sunday. When the British eventually agreed, they were forced to admit that the soldiers were the one's responsible for what happened that day. However, this admission didn't come until 2010. British Prime Minister David Cameron, the person responsible for delivering an apology on behalf of his nation, knew that his statement had to be sincere. Reflecting on the formal apology he delivered, Cameron said he chose his words wisely. "Unjustified and unjustifiable means, let's not go on arguing about this. What happened was wrong—full stop—end of [conversation] and let's make a proper apology," he told the BBC on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
Despite the government's formal admission of wrong doing by British forces, no soldier has been held accountable for what happened on Bloody Sunday.
Bloody Sunday plays a key role in my novel My Father's Secret. For more details, check out: bloody-sunday-and-my-fathers-secret.html
Sean Patrick Dolan's Blog
Sean Patrick Dolan is the author of the thriller, My Father's Secret, inspired by the Air India Bombing.