Wearing a dark blue turban, Inderjit Singh Reyat, 37, sat motionless in Room 67 of the British Columbia Supreme Court last week. Protected by bulletproof glass on three sides and flanked by B.C.
sheriffs deputies, Reyat, his black beard almost reaching his midsection, exuded the radiant calm that he has displayed since his trial began on Sept. 17 in Vancouver. The tranquillity of the broadloomed courtroom, where a floor-
to-ceiling window offers a view of a terrace decorated with potted plants and cascading ivy, disguises the moment of chaos and violence that is the focus of the trial. On June 23, 1985, a bomb hidden in a suitcase exploded in the terminal of Tokyo’s Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers. Reyat, a Sikh and former resident of Duncan, B.C., who moved to Britain in 1986, is accused of making that bomb.
But the Crown contends that Reyat—who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of manslaughter and five counts relating to assembling and possessing explosives—tried to time the bomb to detonate on board an Air India 747 departing later that day from Tokyo to Bombay. In fact, the suitcase bomb arrived in Japan on CP Air Flight 003 from Vancouver and was tagged for transfer to the Bombay flight. Had it exploded in flight, the blast would have taken place at roughly the same time as another one halfway around the world. That explosion, one hour after the Narita bombing, sent 329 people aboard an Air India 747 travelling from Montreal to London to their deaths off the coast of Ireland. No charges have been laid in that case—but investigators clearly believe that the two incidents are related. Said Lord Justice Tasker Watkins in the 1989 British high court ruling that extradited Reyat from England: “There seems to be little—or no—doubt, in the minds of those concerned with inquiries into both explosions, that the perpetrators intended to destroy the two airplanes.” Experts also contend that the bombings were intended to avenge the Indian army’s June 5, 1984, storming of the Sikh Golden Temple in the Punjabi city of Amritsar. More than 1,200 people died in the assault on Sikhdom’s holiest shrine, where 2,000 armed guerrillas fighting for an independent Sikh nation had taken refuge. Five months later, her Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—a measure of the anger that, witnesses say, may also have affected Reyat. Richard Christofoli, a co-worker of Reyat’s at Auto Marine Electric Ltd. in Duncan on Vancouver Island, testified at Reyat’s nonjury trial that Reyat “was happy” about Gandhi’s death. Said Christofoli: “They had invaded the Golden Temple and he was upset.” Millions of Sikhs around the world shared Reyat’s outrage—but not necessarily his fascination with explosives. An automotive electrician, Reyat arrived in Duncan from India in 1976. In August, 1983, he repaired a starter motor for Edward Robertson, a contractor involved in blasting. At Reyat’s trial, presided over by Justice Raymond Paris, Robertson testified that he gave Reyat—who had shown a keen interest in the subject—a copy of a 400page book on the use of explosives. Robertson also said that Reyat once asked him for dynamite. The contractor refused the request, but he testifed that Reyat had said, “I would like to have explosives to help my countrymen.” Robertson added that he did not take Reyat’s comments seriously. And other conversations clearly convinced him that Reyat needed dynamite for legitimate reasons. The contractor recounted an April, 1985, phone
call during which he said that Reyat asked him how much dynamite he should use to blow up a tree stump—a relatively common practice in rural British Columbia. And Duncan well-driller Kenneth Slade also testified that Reyat “wanted to blow up a stump in the yard of a new religious building,” saying that he gave Reyat “about six” sticks of dynamite around May 26, 1985, in return for Reyat’s fixing his truck.
The prosecution intends to introduce evidence that dynamite of the same sort could have been the cause of the Narita airport blast. The Crown has attempted to tie Reyat to the bombing in other ways, as well. Following the explosion, an RCMP search of Reyat’s home uncovered a Woolworth’s store receipt for a Sanyo stereo tuner, a Radio Shack receipt for a Micronta car clock and a can of smokeless gunpowder—items that Japanese scientists found at the Narita blast site. As well, investigators discovered a piece of cardboard stencilled with the letter M. Last week, RCMP forensic expert Sgt. Ralph Kwasny testified that “there is a strong possibility” that the letter was produced by the same stencil used to apply an M code mark to Sanyo tuner cartons destined for the Woolworth’s store in Duncan.
But Reyat’s lawyer, Mark Hilford, claims that the Crown’s case is circumstantial, saying that “there are no fingerprints or serial numbers or anything unique about their evidence.” Kwasny, for one, testified that he could not make a “positive identification” between the stencilled M found at the bomb site and a sample stencil from another Sanyo carton.
Other Crown testimony has also proven to be confusing. Canadian Security Intelligence Service investigators testified that they had first identified Reyat as a suspect while following Sikh activist Talwinder Singh Parmar, now living in Pakistan. On June 4,1985, two agents tailed Parmar, an unidentified East Indian man and Reyat to a wooded area near Duncan, where the agents—neither of whom remain with CSIS—reported hearing a “loud bang.” The Crown maintains that the incident had been a test for the Narita explosion. But under crossexamination, both agents said they had reported the sound as a gunshot in their notes.
In a subsequent sound test conducted by police at the site, former CSIS agent Margaret McAdams, now an RCMP constable, said that the test dynamite blast sounded the same as the June 4 “bang.” However, under crossexamination, McAdams said that RCMP investigators and senior Crown prosecutor James Jardine had previously advised her that the “bang” was probably a dynamite explosion— not a gunshot.
Meanwhile, the Crown does not expect to conclude its case until Christmas, with Reyat’s lawyers beginning their defence next year. Even then, any determination of Reyat’s guilt or innocence in connection with the Narita bombing will leave officially unsolved the other blast that occurred on the same day halfway around the world—precipitating the worstever air disaster involving Canadians.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.