Former terrorist wants to be lawyer...bullet pierced the door, striking the flight engineer in the back, not seriously...
Parminder Singh Saini, a convicted hijacker, says he is rehabilitated.TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR
NOTE: This article has been edited from a previously published version.
A convicted terrorist is asking to practise law in Greater Toronto.
Parminder Singh Saini, 46, blames youth and naïveté for his violent past and says he is rehabilitated.
“I had no legitimate right to do that,” he recently told the Law Society of Upper Canada of a 1984 airline hijacking. “It’s not legal.”
He deserves a second chance, he and his advocates say.
“He served his time and was subsequently pardoned,” says York University political science professor Sandra Whitworth, who taught him in 2001.
“The evidence of his character in the last 25 years,” his lawyer Frank Addario told the law society, “points toward a complete rehabilitation on his part.”
But critics remain skeptical.
Aside from hijacking a plane and shooting at several of his 270-plus hostages - wounding one in the back - Saini lied his way into Canada, has never gained landed-immigrant status, faces deportation and by ministerial order remains a national security threat.
“Over the course of the last 15 years, (Canadian) courts and tribunals have declared that he is a danger to the public and security in Canada and that he shouldn’t remain,” law society counsel Susan Heakes told a hearing this month on Saini’s licence application to practise law.
“How can you reconcile those decisions, as recent as July 2009, and find that Mr. Saini.....should be admitted to the bar?” she asked.
Nobody questions Saini’s initiative and persistence.
While fighting deportation to India, he earned a BA from York University and a law degree at the University of Windsor, finishing in 2006.
He articled at Manji Singh Mangat’s Brampton law firm and Lorne Waldman’s Toronto immigration law firm, and keeps an office at Singh and Associates, his brother’s Mississauga immigration consultancy.
At his most notorious, Saini displayed particular élan.
On July 5, 1984, when he was 21, he and four accomplices in the militant All India Sikh Students Federation boarded an Air India flight to Delhi from the northern city of Srinagar.
Twenty minutes after takeoff, he and another man stood up. They pushed aside a female attendant, walked to the front of the plane and Saini - in full view of passengers - raised a handgun to the head of a male attendant and fired.
“(The bullet) did not hit him,” the trial judge later wrote in a 184-page judgment, “but there is little doubt that the object of Parminder Singh (Saini).....was to intimidate and terrorize the crew members and the passengers.”
At the cockpit door, Saini fired two or three more shots - risking the plane’s destruction, the court judgment said. One bullet pierced the door, striking the flight engineer in the back, not seriously. Other hijackers beat and stabbed two other crew members with kirpan daggers.
The door opened and Saini seized control of the plane.
“I was a disciple of (Sikh militant) Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was killed in the army action against the Golden Temple,” Saini told the court to justify his actions.
One month earlier, an Indian army raid against Sikh separatists amassing weapons in the temple had led to its desecration and the deaths of hundreds of people. Saini said he hijacked the plane in protest.
At gunpoint, he ordered the pilot to land in Lahore, Pakistan, and for the next 20 hours kept everybody hostage as he tried to negotiate a list of demands involving money and a large number of prisoners.
“They said that they were going to blow up the aircraft and we should say our last prayer,” a female attendant testified.
In the end, the hijackers surrendered. The judge sentenced Saini to hang. Later, authorities commuted the sentence to life in prison and after 10 years released him on condition he leave the country.
Saini came to Canada.
On Jan. 21, 1995, he presented himself to Canadian customs as Balbir Singh carrying a fake Afghan passport.
He said he had no criminal record and no family in Canada, then went to live with his mother and brother in Brampton. Eight months later, CSIS caught him and ordered him deported.
In two separate reviews, adjudicators declared him a threat. One noted an “almost total lack of credibility and trustworthiness” and “a continuing ability and willingness to engage in unlawful behaviour.”
“I do not trust his assertions,” the same adjudicator said, “that he no longer believes in the use of force to achieve his aims.”
For three years in detention and in one appeal after another, Saini has been fighting his deportation order and security-threat status ever since.
Sometimes he wins.
On Feb. 20, 2000, the federal court agreed that the deportation order should be cancelled because his father obtained a pardon for him from Pakistan.
But sometimes Saini loses. In 2001, the Federal Court of Appeal emphatically rejected the pardon and allowed the deportation order to stand.
“The victims of this (hijacking) are not limited to those persons unfortunate enough to be psychically affected, nor are the effects of the hijacking limited to one government,” the appeal judges wrote. “Hijacking terrorizes all nations and society as a whole.”
Similarly, Saini’s application to be cleared as a national security threat was at first accepted, then denied; he remains a certified danger to the public.
Saini declined an interview for this story but said through his lawyer that he would be pleased to speak after the Law Society of Upper Canada releases its decision.
Tribunal chairman William Simpson, an Ottawa lawyer, has said the decision “isn’t easy” and has reserved judgment.