Wednesday, May 23, 2007

An injustice averted, thanks to the Harper government

What Bob Rae’s quick-and-dirty Air India review would have missed

From the editorial in the May 28th issue of Macleans:

Yet after all this formal scrutiny, plus countless media treatments and a steady outcry from the families of the victims over the past two decades, the inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major is still producing new and shocking revelations. Recent surprises include the testimony of Ontario Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman, who claims he saw a specific threat related to Air India for the weekend of June 22-23, 1985, when he was with the Department of External Affairs but was rebuffed by the RCMP. Last week Serge Carignan, a former Sûreté du Québec police-dog handler, said he had been summoned to Mirabel Airport to sniff for bombs, only to discover the fated plane had already left. None of this had been revealed previously.

Given all this, it is now clear that the Rae report's call for a quick and cheap order-in-council inquiry was entirely wrong-headed. Quick and cheap would have glossed over the massive screw-ups, dissuaded new witnesses from coming forward, and done a disservice to the victims' families. The Harper government was correct in ignoring Rae and instead delivering on its campaign promise to hold a "comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry." After two decades of half measures, Major should take as long as he needs to make sure Canadians finally get the full story. Everything else has been preamble.

In November of 2005, the Martin government accepted Bob Rae’s recommendation to appoint “a Commissioner under Cabinet Order in Council who is given a clear mandate, and an assurance of full cooperation.” Were it not for the Liberals’ defeat in January 2006, that is the type of inquiry that would be taking place now (or God knows when).

And Rae’s conversion to Liberalism in April of 2006 puts his “independent” report of the previous November in a somewhat different context. Would it be unfair to say that, while writing the report, Rae was already a Liberal-in-utero? Again, had the Martin goverment survived, Rae's latent Liberalism may have remained as unknown as the Lieutenant-Governor who barked and the dog that didn't sniff.

True, the inquiry may yet reveal incompetence – or worse – on the Mulroney government’s watch, but it is to the Harper government’s credit that it is prepared to face that eventuality.

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