Vigil in Surrey to remember Air India flight’s 329 victims

Event on Sunday morning at Lakshmi Narayan Hindu temple

The Air India plane that exploded in 1985.

The Air India plane that exploded in 1985.

SURREY — An annual candlelight vigil here on Sunday (June 26) will remember victims of the Air India disaster 31 years after it happened.

A mid-flight explosion over the Atlantic Ocean killed all 329 people aboard the 747 jet on June 23, 1985.

An annual vigil to mourn the passengers and crew has been held at Lakshmi Narayan Hindu temple over the past eight or nine years, said Vinay Sharma, the temple’s general secretary.

“It’s important to remember this (disaster), and some of the victims’ families we know personally,” Sharma told the Now. “They come to this temple, people who had a niece or an uncle on the plane. Another friend of ours had a cousin on it.”

The majority of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry, and the incident is considered the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

“It happened a long time ago now, and younger people may not know the story,” Sharma said.

“We tell the story about the disaster and show a video for people to understand what happened, and we have some speakers who tell their story,” he added.

“Another thing is, justice has not been served so far.”


The event on Sunday is expected to attract anywhere from 200 to 300 people, Sharma noted, and will be done in a mix of languages (English, Punjabi and Hindi), starting at 11:30 a.m.

The temple is located at 8321 140th St., Surrey.

Elsewhere, on the 31st anniversary of the crash on Thursday (June 23), a memorial was held at Stanley Park in Vancouver. About 60 people gathered at the Air India memorial wall there.

Gurdial Sidhu, who lost her sister-in-law Sukhwinder, niece Parminder and nephew Kuldip in the terrorist attack, said all sense of normalcy in her family’s life also died the day of the bombing.

“We still did not get any justice,” she told the gathering. “At the end, I am forced to think there is no justice for this criminal travesty. The terrorists are still alive. They’re free and they enjoy their lives.”

Two B.C.-made suitcase bombs exploded on June 23, 1985. The first killed two Japanese baggage handlers who were transferring a bag onto an Air India flight, and the second exploded aboard Air India Flight 182, killing all 329 aboard.

Two B.C. men linked to the Sikh separatist movement were charged in 2000 and acquitted in 2005. A third, Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for helping to build the bomb. He was released on day parole earlier this year.

At Thursday’s event at Stanley Park, former Surrey-Newton MP Jinny Sims said it was shameful so few people attended a memorial service for the victims of Canada’s worst mass murder.

“Where is everyone else today?” she asked. This was the largest act of terrorism against Canadians and we have to remember that it was against Canada and Canadians.”

She also said there are people in Metro Vancouver who have critical information that could lead to more charges in the case.

“We know that out there are people who know exactly what happened. But they are not saying,” she said. “Why is it there is a cone of silence? Why is it that people are not speaking up?”

Former Surrey MLA Dave Hayer said he knows the pain of the families is still strong even after 31 years. His journalist father Tara Hayer was assassinated in 1998 after agreeing to testify against the bombing suspects.

“People say over time pain heals. The wounds heal. But if you ask the victims, it doesn’t really heal,” Hayer said. “You know I remember my dad every day. I remember the victims of Air India every day. I pray for their souls.”

Renee Saklikar, Surrey’s inaugural poet laureate, said collaborating with other artists on projects to memorialize the Air India bombing has changed her life.

Her book, “Children of Air India,” came out in 2013. Last year, it was set to music in a Irish-Canadian co-production called “Air India Redacted.”

“We are choosing to make life, to make art. And others choose death and bombs. It’s transformed the way I want to see the world,” she said.

“What did my aunt and uncle die for. Did they die so I would be a negative, non-compassionate person? Or am going to be challenged to be a better person.”

with file from Kim Bolan, Vancouver Sun