Air India Anniversary: 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds have ‘never heard of’ nation’s deadliest terror attack

Air India Anniversary: 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds have ‘never heard of’ nation’s deadliest terror attack

Overall, nine-in-ten know little or nothing of Air India Flight 182 terrorist attack that killed 280

June 22, 2023 – On June 23, 1985, 329 people, 280 of them Canadian citizens, died when an explosion brought down Air India Flight 182 on its way to London, England. The flight originated in Canada and crashed off the coast of Ireland. No one on board survived. 38 years later, few Canadians remember this, the deadliest terrorist incident in Canada’s history.

A new Angus Reid Institute study finds that nine-in-ten Canadians say they have little (61%) or no (28%) knowledge of the worst single instance of the mass killing of their fellow citizens, with three-in-five (58%) of those younger than 35 saying they have never even heard of it. In British Columbia, where the conspiracy to commit the bombings was hatched, and Ontario, where many of the victims lived, awareness is higher, but fewer than one-in-six in each province say they know a lot about the attack.

As some Canadians – evidently few – reflect on the 38th anniversary of Canada’s worst terrorist tragedy, the sense among many is that more should be done to remember the victims. Among those who are most aware, more than two-in-five (42%) say that Canada has not done enough. This is perhaps reflected in the low levels of awareness among the population.


About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.


Part One: Context and lack of awareness

  • Most under 35 have never even heard of the tragedy

  • Four-in-five can’t correctly identify Air India as worst act of terrorism in Canadian history

Part Two: Injustice, commemoration, and accountability

  • Two-thirds unaware that no one ever convicted of murder

  • Does Canada do enough to commemorate the victims?

  • Those most aware of bombings less confident CSIS, RCMP could prevent a similar attack


Part One: Context and lack of awareness

Prior to 9/11, the deadliest aviation-related terrorist incident was the 1985 Air India bombing. Extremists advocating for a separate Sikh state in Punjab, India allegedly planted a bomb on Air India Flight 182. The bomb exploded while the plane was off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 on board. A second bomb targeting Air India Flight 301 from Tokyo to Bangkok, originating in Vancouver, detonated at the terminal in Narita International Airport, killing two baggage handlers.

The intervening decades since the tragedy have seen numerous trials and investigations (leading only to the conviction of a single man in connection to the case), a public inquiry into the Canadian government handling of the incident, an official government apology 25 years after the fact, and memorials built, but yet the Air India Bombings continues to be a relatively unknown piece of Canadian history.

Just one-in-ten (11%) Canadians say they “know a lot” about the incident. A majority (61%) say they know just the main details while three-in-ten (28%) have not heard about the Air India Bombings at all. Awareness is higher in B.C., home to the conspirators in the bombings, and Ontario, where the ill-fated flight originated. Meanwhile, more than two-in-five (46%) in Quebec say they are completely unaware of the event.

Most under 35 have never even heard of the tragedy

Canadians who were born after the Air India Bombings are most likely to say they had not heard of the tragedy. More than half of men aged 18 to 34 (53%), and three-in-five women that age (62%), say they are not aware of the event.

One-quarter (23%) of men aged 55-plus say they know a lot about the incident, double the rate of any other demographic.

Four-in-five can’t correctly identify Air India as worst act of terrorism in Canadian history

Dec. 6 has been an annual day of remembrance for the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, when a gunman murdered 14 women, since 1991. The 2020 slaying of 22 in Nova Scotia is fresh in common memory. Neither represent the worst mass killing of Canadians, however. Since 2005, 20 years after the tragedy, Canadians have been observing the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism in memory of the 280 who lost their lives in the Air India Bombings. Still, only one-in-five (19%) identify it correctly as one of the worst acts of mass murder in Canadian history. The shootings around Portapique, Nova Scotia (24%) and the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal (29%) are selected at higher rates. One-in-ten (9%) believe it was 9/11.

Part Two: Injustice, commemoration, and accountability

Given that this event represents the deadliest terrorist attack in Canadian history, it may be surprising to many that no one was ever convicted on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

Two-thirds unaware that no one ever convicted of murder

As noted above, Inderjit Singh Reyat was arrested and charged but only for manslaughter for his role in constructing the bomb. He served 30 years for all his offences – including six of his nine-year sentence for perjury – but has since been released from prison. Talwinder Singh Parmar, the man called “the leader in the conspiracy to commit these crimes” by a B.C. supreme court judge in the 2005 acquittal of two other suspects, was killed by Punjab police in 1992.

Two men were key suspects in the Supreme Court case beginning in 2003 were acquitted after witness testimony was ruled unreliable. This, while a reported 150 hours of taped conservations with informants were destroyed by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agents, supposedly to protect their identity as they were worried the RCMP would not keep them safe.

In 1995, Tara Singh Hayer, a newspaper publisher in Surrey, B.C., gave a sworn affidavit to the RCMP –under the condition of protection – that he had information about a friend who had been involved in the bombings. The RCMP agreed to protect Hayer, who was then killed in Surrey in 1998.

Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was acquitted in 2005 by the Supreme Court for his role in the bombing was shot and killed in Surrey, B.C. in 2022.

Overall, 16 per cent of Canadians incorrectly report believing that those responsible for the attack were convicted of murder in court. One-third (34%) correctly indicate that they were not. A further one-in-five (22%) say they’re unsure, while three-in-ten (28%) have no prior awareness of the event itself.

Does Canada do enough to commemorate the victims?

“…the finest memorial we can build to your loved ones is to prevent another Flight 182. This is our duty to you, and to all Canadians.”

– Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister of Canada, June 23, 2010

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper made this statement 13 years ago, apologizing on behalf of the government and the rest of the country to the families of the Air India tragedy. This, shortly after receiving the final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. The report was compiled over the course of four years and outlined many of the institutional failings that led to the attack. The “memorial” of prevention is one that any Canadian can support, but it is worth noting that it took 22 years before the victims were recognized with formal memorials in Canada, built in Toronto and Vancouver in 2007.

A memorial was constructed one year after the tragedy in Ahakista, Ireland, on the coast near where the plane was downed.

For their parts, adding to the lack of awareness about this incident more broadly is the division over whether Canada has done enough to commemorate those who were killed. Overall, one-in-five (18%) say that Canada has done enough, while 28 per cent disagree.

Those most aware of bombings less confident CSIS, RCMP could prevent a similar attack

CSIS and the RCMP committed significant errors in the lead-up to the bombings and during the investigations after the fact. Besides the prior mentioned destruction of evidence by CSIS agents, both the RCMP and CSIS were warned of potential terrorist actions by Sikh political activists prior to 1985. CSIS agents had followed Parmar and Reyat weeks before the attacks. However, they misinterpreted an explosives test for a gunshot. The 2010 final report of the public inquiry by retired Supreme Court Justice John Major concluded a “cascading series of errors contributed to the failure of our police and our security forces to prevent this atrocity.”

Canadians are split overall as to whether they are confident in the ability of Canada’s security services to prevent a similar terrorist attack occurring in Canada again. Those who know a lot (53%) or a little (49%) about the Air India Bombings express more doubt in CSIS and the RCMP’s ability to stop an attack like Air India than those who had not heard of the incident:

Survey Methodology:

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from June 19-21, 2023 among a representative randomized sample of 1,548 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.

For detailed results by awareness of the Air India Bombings, click here.

To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here

To read the questionnaire, click here.

Image – Ali mjr/Wikimedia Commons


Shachi Kurl, President: 604.908.1693 @shachikurl

Dave Korzinski, Research Director: 250.899.0821

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