VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada vowed on Tuesday to improve co-operation between its police and intelligence services to combat terrorism and avoid a repeat of the Air India bombing, but it is still working on details of how it will do that.
The government released a “road map” for dealing with terrorism cases that echoes some recommendations of an official inquiry this year that found a “cascading series of errors” in Canada’s handling of the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.
The explosion over the Atlantic Ocean, while the plane was en route from Montreal to India via London, killed 329 people and remains history’s deadliest bombing of an airliner.
“The threat of terrorism is real, persistent and evolving... It is not too late to learn from the atrocity that was Air India,” Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters in Ottawa.
The new plan, parts of which had already been unveiled, promises improved intelligence-sharing among police, the national spy agency -- the Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- and government finance officials.
The Air India inquiry found that police and intelligence officials failed to share evidence that could have stopped the attack before it happened, and also found that infighting hampered efforts to catch and prosecute those involved.
Despite one of the most intensive investigations in Canadian history, only one person was ever convicted in connection with the bombing, and the Canadian government apologized this year to the victims’ families.
Toews acknowledged that Ottawa is still wrestling with thorny legal and privacy questions concerning how information collected for national security purposes can also be used as evidence in criminal cases.
“Intelligence is collected for very different purposes and is collected differently than evidence for a criminal trial,” Toews, a former prosecutor, told reporters.
A special commission will examine those questions.
Opposition parties said the government’s plan fell short of the Air India inquiry’s recommendations, and failed to address the issue of compensation for families of the victims.
“What the government has (introduced) is an inaction plan,” Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland told reporters.
The bomb that destroyed Air India Flight 182 is believed to have been the work of Sikh activists based in Western Canada who wanted an independent homeland in India.
The victims’ families have long called on the government to crack down on organizations based in Canada that help raise money and provide other support for militant activities in other countries.
The government said that, while it has already toughened Canada’s money-laundering laws, it wants to make it easier for finance and tax officials to share information about suspicious charities with police and intelligence officials.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway and Rob Wilson