Modi, Harper visit memorial to victims of Air India attack

Leaders place wreaths and meet briefly with families of those who died in June 1985 explosion

TORONTO – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined his Canadian counterpart Thursday in a visit to a lakeshore memorial to the victims of the Air India terrorist attack.

Amid tight security, the two leaders placed wreaths and met briefly with families of some of those who died when a bomb exploded aboard the plane off the Irish coast in June 1985.

The attack on the Boeing 747, which had left Toronto and Montreal bound for India, killed 329 people. Investigators blamed the largest mass murder in Canadian history on Sikh extremists.

The stop at the memorial, Modi’s last before heading to Vancouver, followed a round table at which he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down with business leaders.

Modi extolled India’s virtues as a great trade partner for Canada.

“I see the rare combination of capability and opportunities coming together,” Modi said. “I can visualize the heights we can attain.”

For his part, Harper said Canada’s trade relationship with India was an important one to have.

“It’s our sense that much, much more can be done…to realize the potential between us,” Harper said.

Modi is the first Indian prime minister in more than four decades to make a standalone visit to Canada — and Harper and thousands of others have greeted him enthusiastically.

Critics, however, brand him a Hindu extremist responsible for hundreds of deaths in his home state in 2002, but protesters have been largely subdued and kept well away from his events.

At a packed Toronto arena on Wednesday night, Modi gave a lengthy speech — part politics, part homily — in which he praised India’s newfound confidence as a developing economic power. The crowd of mostly Indo-Canadians lapped it up, frequently chanting “Modi! Modi!”

He returned to that theme Thursday in his meetings with business leaders, praising Canada as a country with a small population with the great strengths.

“If you want to come to India in the financial sector, we are proceeding with reforms very rapidly,” he said.

“As far as the infrastructure sector, there are immense opportunities and in fact you can make projects for the next 50 years.”

He also spoke of business opportunities surrounding the environment.

“I would like the Canadian business houses to benefit from the changes (in India),” he said.