The Law Society of Upper Canada should allow a convicted terrorist entry to the legal profession because he has been “completely rehabilitated” and expressed remorse over his role in the 1984 hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet, says his lawyer.
“Notwithstanding his uncertain immigration status in Canada, he would be, and had demonstrated that he would be, an excellent member of the bar,” says Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP lawyer Frank Addario, who represented applicant Parminder Singh Saini before a recent good-character hearing.
The three-person LSUC panel, led by Ottawa lawyer and law society Bencher William Simpson, reserved its decision on the matter.
According to an agreed statement of facts obtained from the LSUC, Saini first sought admission to the law society in November 2006. He was at that time in the midst of getting his permanent residency and work permit.
In the “good character” section of his licensing process application, Saini acknowledged he had served 10 years in Pakistan for a hijacking offence.
He also revealed in the application he had spent three years in immigration detention in Canada starting in 1995. As well, he said Pakistan’s president had pardoned him of the offence in 1998. He attached a pardon certificate.
Saini, who is now 46, also noted in the application that he would complete his LLB studies at the University of Windsor law school in April 2006.
Saini has since finished his studies and articling requirement, but his admission to the bar has been stalled by the good-character investigation.
The statement of facts indicates Saini used counterfeit documents under the name “Balbir Singh” when he arrived in Canada in 1994, which allowed him to apply for refugee status and get a driver’s licence.
He used the false name for eight months and was detained after immigration authorities discovered his use of the phony documents.
At that time, the immigration minister said Saini was a “danger to the public in Canada.”
Saini was detained for three years before being released in July 1998, and his immigration status is still unsettled.
The statement of facts indicates that Saini, who was 21 at the time, hijacked the airplane “at the behest of leaders within his religious community” and that he was picked due to his ability to speak four languages, including English.
“The leaders promised the applicant, and he believed that he would be completely protected and taken care of by this Sikh organization,” according to the statement.
The statement said the religious leaders wanted to “alert the world” to the repression the Sikh community faced through the actions of the Indian government.
“This action resulted in the killing of many men, women, and children who were members of the Sikh community,” according to the statement. “Sikh religious shrines, including the holiest shrine (The Golden Temple at Amritsar), were desecrated. The Indian government tightly controlled the media about this action.”
The hijacking involved an Indian Airlines Airbus A300 travelling from Srinagar to New Delhi and carrying 265 passengers, according to the statement. Saini was handed a loaded weapon after boarding the plane, and he and his accomplices also carried kirpans. They demanded the plane land in Lahore, Pakistan.
Saini admitted three people suffered minor injuries during the hijacking, according to the statement of facts.
When the plane landed in Lahore, Saini “acted as a spokesperson for the group and he negotiated with Pakistan authorities,” according to the statement. Passengers were released, and the hijackers were taken into custody after more than 20 hours of negotiations.
Saini was sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison. He was released from custody for medical reasons in July 1994 and was granted full parole in January 1995.
The statement of facts also states Saini used a forged Afghan passport to enter Canada in 1995 and also to seek asylum. He was released by immigration officials pending a refugee determination hearing and worked using the assumed name.
Later that year, following a Canadian Security Intelligence Service investigation that revealed Saini’s real name, police arrested and detained him, according to the statement. He was ordered conditionally deported after being found inadmissible due to his hijacking conviction.
Saini went on to challenge a series of rulings from his detention review. A stay was granted of an order to deport him to India, and the Federal Court later determined that the risk he faced upon returning to India had not been appropriately assessed.
He was released from detention in 1998 due to the length of his term in custody and because his removal from Canada was not immediately pending.
In February 2000, the Federal Court accepted Saini’s pardon and ruled his hijacking conviction should not be a reason for his deportation.
But the Federal Court of Appeal overturned that decision in October 2001.
Saini has since been subject to a pre-removal risk-assessment application, which determined he may be at risk if he goes back to India, according to the statement of facts. A required review of that assessment is undecided.
Saini told a law society investigator he does not believe his hijacking conviction should be a factor in the LSUC’s decision.
“While I have no hesitation . . . in my humble and respectful opinion, the law society cannot look behind the pardon to assess a member’s good character because pardon nullifies the conviction and its effects,” he told the investigator, according to the agreed statement of facts.
“The rationale behind pardon is to certify a person’s good character so he’s not required to undergo any kind of proceedings based on his conviction for the rest of his life . . . .”