Saturday, March 10, 2007

AIR INDIA BOMBING PROBE GETS DELAYED

The inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing has been delayed for about a month due to the ongoing wrangling over the public release of government documents. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Major, who is leading the inquiry into the bombing that killed 329 people, on Friday asked the lawyers of the commission and the federal government for a progress report on the effort to resolve the dispute by March 26. He said he would reassess the matter after getting the report and try to set a more precise timetable. It now appears that the hearing, which was to resume on March 19, will be put off till April 10.
Justice Major on Monday had said he might not be able to conduct the probe unless the government made public all documents. He had halted the proceedings on February 19 over the matter. Under his threat of shutting down the probe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered his national security adviser to inform officials to be less restrictive with the documents. Meanwhile, Justice Major called witnesses for whom he did not require documents. Commission counsel Mark Freiman said on Friday they have identified about 800 documents so far where they consider federal secrecy claims to be excessive.
He added, however, that negotiations in the last three weeks have produced agreement with government lawyers to make more information available in about 100 of those cases, and work is continuing on the rest. "The first returns are encouraging, the documents are in much more usable shape," Freiman told Justice Major. "If that process continues, then we will be able to hold public hearings with adequate information." Federal lawyer Barney Brucker said the government is taking "as unrestrictive a view as we can" of the disputed papers and thousands of others demanded by the commission lawyers.
"We are working industriously, we are working tirelessly, we want to make this commission a success and help you do the best job you can," Brucker told the justice. Justice Major agreed to put off public hearings that he had intended to start on March 19 and asked for a progress report from both sides by March 26 on the dispute. Jacques Shore, a lawyer for the families of the bombing victims, said he appreciates it is a monumental task to collect and review all the documents needed. "Whatever has to be done must be done," he said.
"The families have waited almost 22 years at this point. They're certainly prepared to wait a few more weeks." Justice Major was named by the Conservative government a year ago after the country's longest and costliest investigation and a two-year trial ended in acquittals in March 2005. Relatives of the victims were devastated by the verdicts and demanded the inquiry. Air India Flight 182 from Toronto to London, originating in Vancouver, exploded and crashed off Ireland on June 23, 1985.

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