Friday, September 29, 2006

Diplomats dismayed by Air India disaster

Ottawa: Canadian diplomats were as stunned as everyone else by the Air India bombing, and frustrated they couldn't do more to help grieving relatives of the victims in the days following the attack, a public inquiry was told today. Scott Heatherington, a Foreign Affairs official who was dispatched to Ireland to help family members trying to recover the bodies of their loved ones, said it was a "heartbreaking" mission.
Several family members have told the inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court judge John Major, they were disappointed and hurt that Canadian officials weren't quicker to get to the scene and provide aid.
Heatherington said Irish authorities did a "fantastic" job of recovering as many bodies as possible, setting up a makeshift morgue, and arranging for social workers, doctors, nurses and police to guide families through the painful task of identifying the remains.
Air India flew in many relatives and arranged to put them up in hotels and bed-and-breakfast lodgings.
But it all took time — the first bodies were not flown home to Canada until a week after the bombing. A number of family members have said it didn't help that then-prime minister Brian Mulroney's initial reaction was to express condolences to then-Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi — rather than to relatives of the victims, 80 per cent of whom were Canadian citizens. Heatherington said the Foreign Affairs Department — and especially the diplomats on the front lines — understood what they were dealing with.
"We knew these were, in the main, Canadians who were on this flight. . . . At that moment, when we were in Cork, we knew this was a Canadian tragedy."
28/09/06 Canadian Press/Toronto Star, Canada
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