Air India perjurer's connection to B.C. town lingers as residents support families
VANCOUVER — Residents of a British Columbia town are thinking of the families of 331 who died in the Air India bombings now that the only man convicted of the crimes has been released from prison.
Inderjit Singh Reyat became eligible for statutory release on Wednesday. He has served two-thirds of his nine-year sentence for perjury for lying at the trial of two other men charged in Canada's worst mass murder 30 years ago.
Reyat was convicted in 1991 of manslaughter in the deaths of two baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita airport on June 23, 1985, the same day another suitcase bomb aboard an Air India plane exploded over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland, killing 329 people.
The Crown maintained Reyat built the bombs that were housed in suitcases meant to go off mid-air on two state-owned Air India planes as revenge against the Indian government.
Reyat's earlier trial heard that Ken Slade, a resident of Duncan, B.C., unwittingly gave Reyat some of the explosive material found at the Narita bombing.
Duncan resident Tom Paterson said Wednesday that the well driller who used explosives in his job has had to live with that reality for decades.
Paterson said that while Reyat will walk free after his time in a halfway house and return to his wife and four children, the victims' families will have to live with their loss forever.
"My God, I can't wrap my mind around conceiving such a plan in the first place, let alone executing it," Paterson said of the terrorism plot the Crown said as hatched by British Columbia-based Sikh extremists.
"How many communities anywhere have had a Reyat Singh in their midst?"
Reyat's wife and children moved from the Duncan area years ago, but the town's people are focusing on the families of the bombing victims, Paterson said.
"We must never allow the Air India tragedy to be forgotten. And that's not dwelling on it in a morbid sense but as a moral milestone," the writer and historian said.
"I would hope that we all share a sense of being violated by having this within our community."
Paterson said he would often see Reyat and his sons at garage sales around town but then couldn't reconcile that image with the bomb maker who destroyed so many lives.
"He was such a striking-looking man," he said. "I'm six feet two, and he seemed taller, the way he carried himself. Once you saw him, you remembered him.
"To this day, I think that I have actually seen, in a most fleeting way, real evil."
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said that while he was expecting Reyat to be released soon, he was still shocked to hear he was no longer behind bars.
"For families of that particular travesty, I can't imagine how they're feeling about it," said Kent, adding he met Reyat years ago at the now-defunct Auto Marine Electric.
Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were charged with murder and conspiracy in the bombings but were acquitted in March 2005.
Canada's worst act of mass murder led to an inquiry, and a report in June 2010 cited a "cascading series of errors" by the Canadian government, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for allowing the terrorist attacks to take place.