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Fear prevented many from co-operating

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — Reluctant witnesses, some so afraid for their safety that they sought police protection, were among the reasons the Crown had difficulty building its case in the Air-India trial.

An affidavit unsealed yesterday after the judgment details the RCMP's futile attempts to gain co-operation from some people for more than 15 years.

The affidavit, sworn by RCMP Sergeant Daniel Bond, the evidence co-ordinator for the epic case, concerns a secret hearing in B.C. Supreme Court that allowed police to invoke the Anti-Terrorism Act for the first time, to force a key witness to answer questions.

The document shows that several people -- some of whom cannot be named because of a court order -- had information that police considered vital. But investigators could not gain co-operation because the people were afraid.

"[One person who cannot be named] refused to become a witness for the police, citing fear for her safety," Sgt. Bond stated in the affidavit.

"She has been interviewed approximately 13 times over the last 15 years. She at some times has co-operated with the police, but generally continues to express her concerns regarding the continuing interview process, her security and her general reluctance to testify. The recent efforts to interview [her] have met with increasing resistance."

Sgt. Bond added that in one meeting, the woman "acknowledged that she is a witness, and advised that she can only state in Court that which she can remember; that she does not wish to meet the Crown; that she will simply come to Court when called. She also inquired whether [one of the accused, Ajaib Singh] Bagri knew she was a witness."

Among those police pursued was Satnam Kaur Reyat, the wife of Inderjit Singh Reyat, who in 1991 became the only person convicted in the Air-India bombing.

At one point in the affidavit, Ms. Reyat tells police of a statement she said was made by Ripudaman Singh Malik, the co-accused with Mr. Bagri.

"We all did it for one cause and the cause was for Khalistan, for Sikhs, our Sikhs were having lots of problems and it was what we needed to show them that we were not going to take it sitting down," she said, attributing the comment to Mr. Malik.

But the document says Ms. Reyat also grew afraid and stopped co-operating with police, who, at one point, bugged her home in the hopes of getting information.

Sgt. Bond noted in the affidavit: "Despite many attempts made by the RCMP to speak to her . . . during the past 17 years . . . Satnam Kaur Reyat will no longer speak to the RCMP or the Crown . . . [and is] refusing to meet with investigators."

In a hearing closed to the public, the court agreed to invoke the Anti-Terrorism Act to order Ms. Reyat to answer questions.

But in the end, Ms. Reyat was not called to testify.

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