VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada’s government apologized to the families of the 329 victims of the 1985 Air India bombing on Wednesday, saying authorities failed in their duty to prevent the tragedy.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the apology at a ceremony with the families in Toronto marking the 25th anniversary of Flight 182’s destruction in what is still history’s deadliest bombing of an airliner.
“This tragedy should not have happened, and 329 people should not have perished in the sky that day in June, south of Ireland,” Harper said in a statement.
An inquiry last week reported a “cascading series of errors” by Canada’s police and spy agencies prevented them from stopping the bombing and then hamstrung their largely fruitless efforts to catch the bombers.
A suitcase bomb destroyed Air India Flight 182 off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, while the aircraft was en route from Canada to India via London. Most of the victims were Canadian citizens returning to India to visit relatives.
Their families have long complained about Canada’s handling of case, but the government had refused calls for an apology. There were mistakes in the case that the government “cannot defend (and) has no wish to defend,” Harper said.
Police believe the attack was the work of Vancouver-based Sikhs fighting for an independent homeland in India, who wanted revenge for India’s deadly 1984 storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.
Two men charged with murder in the Air India bombing were eventually found not guilty. A third man pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after prosecutors said they did not have the evidence to convict him of murder.
An attempt to destroy a second Air India jet over the Pacific at almost the same time Flight 182 exploded over the Atlantic failed when the second suitcase bomb exploded at Japan’s Narita airport, killing two baggage workers.
Reporting Allan Dowd; Editing Chris Wilson