Canadians who suspect that Inderjit Singh Reyat received the judicial deal of the century may soon have their suspicions confirmed.
Sentenced to five years for manslaughter in the deaths of 329 people (on top of five years in pre-trial custody), the man who helped build the bomb that blew up an Air-India jet on June 23, 1985, will be eligible on Thursday for unescorted temporary absences from jail. That will be just 10 months after he was sentenced, or one-sixth into his term. He may apply for day parole in April, and full parole next October, one-third of the way through his term.
But Mr. Reyat will have to apply to the National Parole Board for these releases, even for the temporary absences. If he does, the families of the victims will have the right to attend his hearings before the parole board. This may require a very large room. These may be the first parole-board hearings in Canadian history to require an auditorium.
To show that he is no longer dangerous, Mr. Reyat is supposed to demonstrate insight into his behaviour. This may not be easy for him to do. Anyone who witnessed Mr. Reyat's testimony in the trial of the two remaining accused in the worst act of mass murder in Canadian history knows that he is not a man given to troubling questions about himself. Yes, he allowed, he had wondered whether his actions had contributed to the deaths of 331 people (that figure includes two baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita Airport, also on June 23, 1985); but no, he had not bothered to ask his two alleged co-conspirators, during their long days in jail together. So obtuse was he that the Crown tried (and failed) to have him declared a hostile witness.
As Mr. Reyat's case suggested, a man who claims to know nothing, and wonder about nothing, may evade serious penalties for serious crimes. (The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life in jail.) There are echoes of the judicial deal of the previous century: the 12-year sentence given to Karla Homolka, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of three schoolgirls, including her sister, in the 1990s. But at least in that case Ms. Homolka agreed to give testimony that would help convict her co-conspirator, Paul Bernardo. Mr. Reyat, according to the Crown, promised nothing. And he kept his word.
So the parole board will be asking for insight from the man who said he helped make bombs but did not believe they would kill anyone. If Mr. Reyat applies for early release, the ensuing spectacle will be a reminder that Canadian justice missed the mark terribly on this one.