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The Punjab: Cause and Effect Click Here
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The man was worried about getting his bag on the Air India Flight. Determined. It was the only thought in his mind. And he made it apparent to Canadian Pacific Airlines reservations clerk Aziz Premji just two hours before he went and argued with Jeannie Adams at Vancouver International Airport. He wasn’t worried about getting himself on the flight. Just his bag. He didn’t care about alternative routes. No, he just wanted Air India 182 out of Toronto.
It was 6:30 a.m. on 22 June, Premji, an East African immigrant to Canada, was sitting at the reservation computer in Bental Centre when the telephone rang. It was M. Singh, or Manjit Singh as he called himself later. Singh picked up the slight hint of an Indo-African accent in Remji’s voice and began speaking to him in Hindi, laced with Punjabi. Singh even asked if Premji was from India. No, said Premji, he was from Nairobi.
Premji thought nothing further of this telephone call until Monday 24 June when Mounties Bobby Sellinger and John Schneider walked in to talk to him. That was the first time. Then Schneider came in again, this time accompanied by multi-lingual Mountie Sandy Sandhu. They went over his amazing story again and again. The following is one extract from their interviews with him.
“I got a call from Mr Singh who wanted to know if his flight to Delhi was confirmed,’ Premji told the Mounties. ‘So I asked him for the flight number and he said he was taking a flight from Toronto. Then I asked him if he was going on CO Air to Toronto and he said he was – so I looked for the flight number myself because he didn’t know what the flight number was.
‘Looking at the PNR, I found that he [M. Singh] was confirmed on CP Flight 60 leaving Vancouver at 9:00 a.m. That would have brought him to Toronto at around 4:10 p.m. [Toronto time] then the flight out of Toronto to Mirabel Airport on Air India. I think flight 181 was wait-listed, flight 182 from Mirabel to Delhi was wait-listed and I recall he was on a one-way ticket full-fare so I offered him an alternative route via the Pacific by Tokyo and he said no.
‘He wanted the same flight because he had friends going from Winnipeg to Toronto connecting on the flight, so I asked him if he would give me the names of his friends so we could maybe figure if they are confirmed or not.’
He did not know it at the time but Remji had just called the man’s bluff. The sly customer was evasive in his answer, however.
‘No, that’s okay,’ was the reply form the Singh.
Then came the question that showed what M. Singh was all about:.
‘He wanted to know if he could send his baggage right through to Delhi and I said no, he can’t do that because his flights were wait-listed. So what if he could give his baggage tags to his friends who were coming from Winnipeg, [he asked,] and I said no, you can’t do that, and he said he would try on the flight anyway and see if he can get on a flight out of Toronto.
‘During the conversation he recognized my accent,’ Premji added, ‘then he asked me if I spoke Hindi and I said yes.’
‘How long did he speak to you in English before he spoke to you in Hindi?’ the policemen wanted to know.
‘About a minute or so,’ Premji replied.
‘And how long did he speak to you in Hindi?’
‘I think the whole conversation was about five minutes, nothing more than that, so, five minutes.’
‘Can you please describe his voice for us?’
‘He didn’t speak very loudly, it was a soft voice, I would say.’
‘Did he have a strong accent?’
‘Well, he had an accent when he was speaking in English, but when he spoke in Hindi he spoke more Punjabi than Hindi words or, you know, maybe I got that impression he spoke more Punjabi.
‘He was aware of what he was talking about, like he mentioned baggage tags and not many [Indian] people know what baggage tags are, and that if he could give baggage tags to his friends …’ Premji added.
‘Did he have knowledge about Canada like did he know where he was going, Mirabel, Dorval, did he know the difference?’
‘No, I didn’t get into that really, the only thing I told him [was that] his flight was wait-listed from Toronto to Montreal, he didn’t go into the airports.’
‘Did you find it odd for someone to travel to Bombay through Toronto, because it’s much easier to travel from Vancouver to Tokyo to Bombay?’
‘Not necessarily, because they might have got a better fare on Air India out of Toronto, so there’s nothing unusual about that.’
‘Again, getting back to the language, did he appear to be new in Canada, like, say, in the past five or six years, or did he appear to be Canadian-born from East Indian descent?’
‘No, I don’t think he was Canadian born,’ was Premji’s opinion.
In an earlier statement to police, Premji said he was quite surprised when M. Singh asked about giving his baggage tags to someone else to pick up. He also said the caller sounded educated and like someone who had traveled before. To Premji, the caller sounded about 40 years old.
‘Did you hear any background noises, music, radio, possibly noises from outside a phone booth?’ the investigators asked Premji.
‘No, it was a local call, you can tell on the phone and I’m pretty sure it was from a house or building; I didn’t hear any unusual or noticeable noises in the background.’
One more piece had been added to the structure of circumstantial evidence of a bomb on Air India 182. The Mounties had done well so far. Now it was time to ask their Toronto colleagues what they’d found out from the probe in the East.