The BCLA conference is over for another year. There were lots of fantastic sessions. Really. Over the next week or two we’ll be posting summaries of the sessions that the IFC sponsored or cosponsored.
Jon Scop has written the first in this series.
Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan, as well as Perviz Madon, who was widowed in the Air India Flight 182 tragedy, addressed an audience of approximately forty people at the IFC-sponsored session “Telling Their Stories” on the final day of the BCLA Conference. Bolan’s passionate outline of her continuing effort to report on the attack and its aftermath examined some of the difficult issues arising where freedom of expression and violent fundamentalism collide.
To someone embarrassingly unfamiliar with this history – believe it or not, the 1985 tragedy was not widely reported in the U.S. and did not entrench itself in the consciousness of even this confirmed news junkie and activist at the time – Bolan’s presentation provided a great deal to think about. After Perviz Madon told us about her husband, a devoted father of two small children, who was killed in the explosion at age 41, Bolan gave us a brief rundown of the events leading up to the attack and, more importantly, its complicated aftermath, involving the assassination of witnesses, the ultimate acquittal of the two prime defendants in the trial, and the ongoing public enquiry.
Bolan characterized a small, violent, fundamentalist group as holding hostage the larger Sikh community in the Lower Mainland, and described the problem of community members’ complaints to authorities and pleas for help as not taken seriously. “Is there really freedom of expression if nobody is listening?” she asked. Strict defamation laws circumscribe public discussion of the case, but Bolan’s ongoing passion for telling this complicated story is clear, despite the fact that her own life has repeatedly been threatened.
Al-Qaeda militants would certainly not be permitted to operate openly or pose with politicians on either side of our southern border. Yet just as some types of fundamentalists with extremist views are tolerated and even embraced by U.S. lawmakers, Bolan explained that in some cases, Khalistan Independence Movement members appear to have mutually friendly relations with certain local officials. The brief but charged presentations by Bolan and Madon left me with more questions than answers, and a definite desire to learn about this important Canadian tragedy.