Read Part Three:
The Punjab: Cause and Effect Click Here
Back to Part One:
Questions or Comments?
Click Here to Email Us
Mounties Make History
John Hoadley loves to fish. When he’s not fishing for crooks, he takes his boat out on his days off and throws in a line with a baited hook. Then he waits patiently for the fish to bite. The RCMP Inspector knows they will. Sooner or later, they will bite. They always do. He can fool them all the time – whether he’s fishing for crooks or out on the ocean. That’s the story of his life. Bait the hook and wait. Then draw them in when they bite. Hoadley, by nature, was a patient man. Good police officers know there is one certainty about criminals – sooner or later they all open their mouths to someone. That is why many crimes are solved years later. Sooner or later trusted friends will become enemies, trusted and loved girlfriends become bitter opponents. That is what a good cop waits for – a broken friendship, a woman scorned. His colleagues say Hoadley makes suspects squirm uncomfortably under his cool blue gaze. He gives them the feeling he can count the loose change in their pockets.
‘You show him a picture of five men standing together and you notice he’s not looking at the faces,’ said a police friend. ‘He’s busy looking at the car in the background and its license plate.’ The six-foot, blue-eyed Mountie with 14 years’ experience in intelligence work has dealt with all varieties of lawbreakers, from petty thieves to PLO types to foreign intelligence agencies trampling on Canada’s sovereignty. Twelve of those 14 years were spent with RCMP’s Security Service, the predecessor to Canada’s new civilian security service known as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS.
On that Sunday afternoon when the tragic news of the Air India crash and the Narita blast was rocking the world, and when Ottawa RCMP brass started trying to locate John Hoadley, the head of operations of the Vancouver Integrated Intelligence Unit, VIIU, was out fishing.
The decision had already been made by RCMP Commissioner Robert Simmonds at headquarters in Ottawa that a massive, coordinated investigation had to be launched into the twin disasters. The small Richmond detachment just didn’t have the capacity to carry out the largest investigation in Canadian history. The order from the top was that Hoadley, 49, should undertake the formation of the Mounties’ largest-ever task force. The frantic messages finally caught up with him when he got home that day.
It was a formidable task. And Hoadley knew it. He would have to control the operations of more than 80 RCMP officers in Vancouver alone and co-ordinate their operations with up to 40 officers in Toronto and about 20 in Montreal. It had never been done before. The Crash Investigation Team would have well over 200 members countrywide, including dozens of support staff and clerical officers. But never before had Canada been the source of suspected aviation sabotage on such a disastrous scale. In fact nothing quite like this dual tragedy that took 331 lives had ever happened to the world at large, either.
The bosses had chosen Hoadley for good reasons. He knew the workings of the terrorist mind from many years of security and intelligence work, including his present stint with the Vancouver Integrated Intelligence Unit, a section of the National Criminal Intelligence Section. He was also thoroughly familiar with the structure of the Canadian intelligence community and the ways in which its work was divided between police and civilian branches.
It quickly became evident as the efficient but small Richmond detachment began probing CP Air files that the scale of the investigation would have to be broader. Furthermore, it would have to be coordinated with other national jurisdictions, including Indian and Japanese police. Careful coordination within Canada would be necessary too, for under Canadian law acts of terrorism fall under police jurisdiction only when a crime is actually committed, or about to be committed. Canadian laws have mandated the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as the body that is in charge of counter-terrorism. The spy agency’s job is to obtain, through investigation and other means, timely information about terrorist activity and keep the government informed about threats to national security. By an act of parliament, CSIS cannot investigate an actual crime – that job belongs to the Mounties. CSIS is mandated to provide investigative leads, collect intelligence not evidence.
Hoadley’s background made him particularly well qualified to deal with the problems of organization and co-ordination that were bound to arise. He had already accumulated more than a dozen years with the RCMP Security Service before it was disbanded and a civilian security agency was formed. Altogether, Hoadley had 30 years of police work behind him that Sunday as he undertook his biggest case ever.
The size of the task force meant that he would have to pull men away from other regular duties. Men from the commercial crime section, from the general investigation unit and even four Mounties from the Richmond detachment who were already busy sewing up some of the circumstantial evidence. The logistics of coordinating a team of some 140 officers were frightening. It would take at least three days before the team could be organized and working, and housing a team that large also meant clearing an entire floor at both RCMP headquarters in Vancouver and on Jarvis Street in Toronto, where that city’s task force members would work under Inspector Seth Ginter, another veteran of the force.
Hoadley’s other major problem was the fact that RCMP had no intelligence information of their own. Keeping an eye on elements perceived as a security threat had been the job of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service since the agency was formed. That meant it was CSIS that would keep an eye on the activities of Sikh militants and all the preliminary information would have to come from the spies.
Hoadley didn’t know it as he began plotting the formation of the task force on Sunday afternoon, but CSIS was about to give him an ace they were holding up their sleeve. The time had come for the men in the shadows to give the information to the Mounties, and they did so at a top-level meeting that same evening. The secret information, obtained through the tedious job of routine intelligence gathering and physical surveillance, had already put CSIS on the track of a small group of Sikh militants. Their names were handed over to the RCMP, who quickly swung into action. Forensic work confirmed their suspicions that the small group of turbaned men were up to something sinister. But that fact was not enough to bring them to any solid conclusions. It was a lead, a very good lead, but much more work needed to be done.
This information, which had to do with an explosive sound heard by CSIS agents who were following a small group of Sikh militants in a bush area of Vancouver Island on June 4, 1985, meant that the Mounties would also have to be briefed on the nature of this particular Sikh fundamentalist group, which is small but deadly. The men recruited by Hoadley had little information about the activities of Sikh militant groups operating in the Vancouver area with connections in England, the USA, Germany and India. But CSIS knew all there was to know. They had become the experts in Sikh affairs. American authorities, according to intelligence officials in the United States, often seek the agency’s advice. CSIS then briefed the RCMP on what this group stood for, what its estimated strength was and how it was financed. There was also a lot of helpful advice on how to operate within the Sikh community and deal with its particular sensitivities.
It was like a lesson in culture. Included in the crash course was the fact that you are supposed to cover your head when you enter a Sikh’s home and remove your shoes. Just one of the little things the Mounties had to know as they came face-to-face for the first time with Sikh activists.
During the briefing, the Mounties learned CSIS had mountains of information about Sikh militant movements. They had hundreds of names of associates of militant groups and information on those most likely to act out of hatred for India.
The Canadian security apparatus had first begun taking an interest in Sikh militants in the early 80s when a small, poorly furnished office was opened at Kingsway in Vancouver. Inside sat a man called Surjan Singh Gill. He called himself the ambassador of the Republic of Khalistan, and, appropriately, behind his chair hung the flag of the new republic that he and his boss, Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan of Reading, England, wanted to carve out of the Punjab State of India. Gill was busy issuing Khalistan currency and even passports of the Republic. At the time, though, he had few supporters among Canada’s 200,000 Sikhs. Similarly, Chauhan was encountering the same problem in England and the United States, but he had made some friends in high places – including a right-wing US senator who had no love for India because of its friendship with the Soviets at the time.
Chauhan was still in the early stages of preaching his gospel of a separate Sikh state. His most loyal supporter then, apart from Gill in Vancouver, was Washington, DC. resident Ganga Singh Dhillon, a millionaire who had already put out feelers for support from Pakistan for the Punjab nationalist movement. Another key supporter was Vancouver area Punjabi-language newspaper editor Tara Singh Hayer. The newspaper Hayer ran provided a vital propaganda tool for the Sikh separatist movement. Hayer is acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of Sikh militancy in Canada. In a June 1985 speech, Hayer called for a violent and widespread war against India. He was shot dead in 1998 in a contract killing arranged by a segment of a Sikh militant group, with whom he had earlier disagreements.
The security service (RCMP) operatives and this writer arrived at the office of the Republic of Khalistan two days apart in September 1981. I had come as a reporter, to query Gill about his newly established but unrecognized diplomatic mission and about a statement by London-based rebel Dr Chauhan that he was giving military training to a group of his supporters in British Columbia.
Gill looked apprehensive. He wasn’t sure how to explain his cause. It was his first encounter with the press and his voice sounded uncertain as he began. Later, though, he would show off the passports of his republic, its currency and even some stamps. But it became clear that the passports and stamps and Chauhan’s statements about a military camp were of propaganda value only. There was no military camp. But the government of India was already fuming at Canada for allowing the office to open in Vancouver. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave a piece of her mind to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when they discussed the issue during an economic conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 1981.
Sitting in front of a picture of the Sikh Sovereign, Ranjit Singh, who had ruled the Punjab as an independent Kingdom towards the end of the 18th century, before the British Raj swallowed up the Punjab and the rest of India, Gill explained what his cause was. The government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he said, was determined to wipe out the religious and cultural identity of the Sikhs, followers of a monotheistic faith galvanized by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Sikhs had to have a homeland of their own, he said, to safeguard the faith. He also endorsed the hijacking of a jet belonging to Indian Airlines from India to Pakistan by fellow militants, saying it would show the world that the Sikhs meant business.
The Republic of Khalistan, the ‘land of the pure’, would provide a haven where Sikhs would no longer be drowned by the cultural influence of the Hindu majority of India, said Gill. Later, Gill introduced me to the President himself, a gray-bearded man with a smiling face. Dr Chauhan had paid me a surprise visit to my Vancouver apartment. He waved his plastic right hand and vowed to get his independent state within three years.
But that was only the beginning, the first seeds of Sikh separatism had been planted. What would follow in the next dozen or so years would cause a massive upheaval in India and in Canada where Sikhs live in large numbers. Gill later split from Chauhan’s Khalistan Liberation Movement (Later known as the Khalistan National Council, KNC) and teamed up with a Vancouver area Sikh fundamentalist named Talwinder Singh Parmar to form the Babbar Khalsa, a movement which often cites the creation of the Jewish state of Israel as a model for its aims. (Babbar Khalsa later registered as a society with the intention of creating a homeland for Sikhs. Both Gill and Parmar were directors, according to documents filed with the British Columbia government.)
At present, (1986) numerous Sikh fundamentalist groups have formed in western nations. Some are large and well organized, some are potentially dangerous but still in the organizational stage, and still others are lobbying groups who shun violence in the hope that they can convince western countries that they have a genuine grievance to air. Some of the most dangerous groups are, however, very small. Splinter groups can range in size from ten to 30 people, while the larger organizations in Canada boast membership in the thousands. In several countries, including Canada, the USA and Britain, they have become a top priority for security agencies like CSIS, the British Security Service (MI-5) and the FBI. (Author’s update: Sikh militancy, fuelled by emotion following the Golden Temple attack by Indian army troops in 1984, is no longer considered a major threat. Today, most militant groups have disintegrated, having lost their leaders to a ruthless campaign by Indian police who had adopted a shoot-on-sight doctrine to deal with insurgency.)
So, as the initial meetings were taking place in Vancouver between police and the spy agency, it was emphasized, to put things into perspective, that a vast majority of Sikhs in Canada would not endorse violence of any kind. They were too busy being Canadians to become embroiled in the politics of the Punjab. That even within the dissident movements, only a small number of people were capable of and willing to undertake an operation that smacked of PLO-type terrorism, and worse. What the police had to look for was a small cell of Sikh militants if they were to track down the culprits responsible for the terrorist bombs. A pocket, CSIS told the Mounties, of no more than ten to 12 people.
As Hoadley dispatched his men, first to nail down all the details they could from CP Air agents, then to dig up the information on suspected criminals, it became quite evident to him that he was dealing with something that one was more accustomed to hearing about in the Lebanon than in Vancouver: a terrorist attack of massive proportions.
Hoadley found that he could not act as the administrator of the large force as well as co-ordinate the criminal investigation and handle the deployment of personnel; hence RCMP headquarters brought in Mountie trouble-shooter Les Holmes. The superintendent, described by his co-workers as one of the best in the business, was a veteran of RCMP, having been with the force for nearly 30 years. An expert polygraphist and a veteran of homicide investigations, Holmes was now being given the job of administering the force of 80 officers and support teams based at the Vancouver headquarters. He was working on what tentatively appeared to be the largest murder investigation in Canadian history.
As Holmes took over administration, Hoadley took charge of operations. The two senior officers, Holmes and Hoadley, both with many years of experience in the workings of the criminal mind, and their massive team, would in the next few months carry out a mind-boggling operation that would conduct hundreds of interviews and generate massive mounds of paper and reports. They hoped to make sure of one other thing too – to live up to the legend that the Mounties ‘always get their man’.