Toronto : A former Canadian intelligence official has told a commission investigating the 1985 Kanishka bombing that the process of obtaining a wiretap warrant against a key figure in the terror plot was delayed because of religious concerns.
"There were concerns we were targeting the Sikh religion," Glenn Gartshore, who was officer in charge of the Sikh extremism desk at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), told the inquiry commission probing the bombing of the Air India plane.
CSIS considered Talwinder Singh Parmar, a Canadian citizen, to be extremely dangerous and a terrorist threat and wanted a warrant to intercept all his telephone conversations in 1984, about nine months before the bombing.
But a hurdle was erected by the office of Elmer MacKay, who was then solicitor-general, the Progressive Conservative minister responsible for CSIS, Globeandmail reported.
The minister's office delayed the warrant application for a considerable period, Gartshore told the commission, because the government did not want to be seen as targeting a particular religious group.
Parmar is considered by Canadian authorities to be the mastermind of the Air India bomb plot. Indian police subsequently killed him.
"It took five months from the time CSIS initiated the process for a federal court to approve the wiretap warrant on Parmar, a costly delay," Gartshore said Tuesday.
Russell Upton, who was Gartshore's boss at the anti-terrorism branch, said the federal government had difficulty with security cases while the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) was turning over its intelligence responsibilities to the new civilian agency, CSIS.
"I never felt I had adequate resources for Sikh extremism problems," Russell Upton, who was Gartshore's boss at the anti-terrorism branch, said Tuesday.
The new process for obtaining wiretaps was like "putting toothpaste back in the tube", he added.
The inquiry, headed by retired Supreme Court of Canada judge John Major, is investigating what Canadian authorities knew before the plane was bombed. The inquiry will then look at how Canadian officials dealt with the case during the 22 years since the bombing.
All 329 passengers on Air India's Kanishka flight 182 were killed when the plane exploded at an altitude of 31,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ireland.
Until Sep 11, 2001, the Kanishka bombing was the single deadliest terrorist attack involving aircraft. It is also the largest mass murder in Canadian history.
Earlier this month, James Bartleman, the present lieutenant governor of Ontario, had told the inquiry commission that he saw secret intelligence intercepts, indicating that an attack on the airline was imminent, just days before the incident.