Observer News Service
Nearly a year after the last witness was heard, a public inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing is still labouring over its final report - but there may finally be a glimmer of light at the end of the long tunnel.
Some documentary evidence previously withheld from public view is due for release soon, and there's hope the full report may be out by June.
The inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court judge John Major, spent 17 months taking oral testimony and gathering a mountain of written material on the worst terrorist act in Canadian history.
Since the public hearings wrapped up on Feb. 15, 2008, still more documents have been submitted by the federal government and examined behind closed doors by commission staff and counsel for other interested parties.
"Enough is never enough when you know there's more," says Jacques Shore, one of the lawyers for the families of the 329 bombing victims.
Though his clients have waited more than two decades for answers to their questions, Shore says they don't mind a few more months if that's what it takes to get to the bottom of things.
"I give full credit to commission counsel for their patience and tenacity . . . . Canadians should expect nothing less than the best (and) we don't have any expectation that we're going to be let down."
Throughout the hearings that began in the fall of 2006, Major emphasized the themes of transparency and openness - even threatening at one point to shut the inquiry down unless the government relented in demands to keep some material confidential.
Since the close of hearings, however, there's been little word on the work that's gone on or why it's taken so long.
It's known that some of the additional documents handed over by federal lawyers last fall dealt with key issues such as airline and airport security and federal intelligence operations.
The material was circulated to other inquiry participants for their written comments but wasn't publicly disclosed at the time.
Barney Brucker, the chief lawyer for the government at the inquiry, said the material wasn't kept under wraps for security reasons. The commission simply decided to wait until everybody had a chance to review and comment on the papers before going public.
It's not surprising some gaps were left in the documentary record at the end of the public hearings, said Brucker.
"We couldn't anticipate everything they'd want to know . . . . They've got 24 years to cover and some very large policy questions."
Insiders say the new information largely confirmed evidence previously heard but added new details. Plans are now under way for its public release, possibly later this week.
No firm date has been set for the final report, but sources say the tentative goal is to get it out before the June anniversary date of the bombing.
The report is expected to run into the thousands of pages, spread over several volumes. It will include an exhaustive narrative of events leading up to the bombing, and the investigations that followed in a largely unsuccessful attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Major has no power to fix criminal blame or civil liability on anyone. But his factual findings will provide a springboard for policy recommendations aimed at averting future tragedies.
The report must be reviewed by federal officials before release, to help them decide whether any details should be withheld on national security grounds.
Shore says he hopes that won't be an excuse for procrastination, arguing that it's hard to imagine there are many secrets left to keep after 24 years.
"Every bit of the delay that's taken place to date, I have no problem with," he said. "But there will be a problem if we're looking at stalling the report (from) being issued."
Air India Flight 182 was downed on June 23, 1985, by a bomb believed to be planted by militant Sikh separatists based in British Columbia.
But the investigation was plagued by turf wars between the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and only one man has ever been convicted on a reduced charge of manslaughter.
The suspected ringleader of the plot was shot dead by police in India while two others were acquitted at trial in Vancouver.