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Thornbury resident writes thriller novel inspired by Canada's largest terrorist attack

Though the book is about an Irish-Canadian plot, it's based on the bombing and botched investigation of Air India Flight 182
Sean Patrick Dolan wrote his first novel, a thriller, entitled My Father's Secret from his home in Thornbury.

It’s been nearly 37 years since a terrorist plot took down a plane that left from Montreal, killing 329 people.

The true story of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985 is what set Sean Patrick Dolan on a path to write his first novel. 

Dolan, who now lives in Thornbury, recalls the day vividly, because June 23 is his birthday, and also the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history. The bombing of Flight 182 remains the largest single-day mass killing in Canada, and was the deadliest act of aviation terrorism until the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. 

Of the 329 people murdered in the attack, 268 were Canadian citizens. There were 86 children killed. The bomb came from Canada, loaded onto the plane in luggage at the Montreal airport.

Media reports from the time state the plane “disintegrated” off the coast of Ireland when the bomb detonated, and 131 bodies were recovered from the ocean. 

“The reaction to the Air India event has always bothered me,” said Dolan. “The media covered the bombing, but I didn’t get a sense there was any national mourning for the victims. It was always treated as a South Asian tragedy and not a Canadian tragedy.” 

There has since been a government apology (almost 25 years later) and a memorial built on Canadian soil. There was a public inquiry into the events and the investigation, which many said was, at best, “troubled,” with “critical blunders.” Though more serious rumours swirled. Evidence came forward through public trials and the inquiry indicating there were early signs of a threat. 

Dolan spent 30 years as a teacher -- 20 in the classroom, 10 as a guidance counsellor -- and said he often asked students to name the worst Canadian terrorist attack in history. None of them named the bombing of Air India Flight 182 by Canadian Sikh extremists.

“I don’t think the Canadian public has ever accepted it as a Canadian tragedy,” said Dolan. “I think, as a collective, we need to own the tragedy and not relegate it to a footnote. There should be more recognition of a time where we really failed as a nation.” 

By about 2005, Dolan started forming an idea for a book. 

“I thought, ‘What if you told the story from a different lens, would people react differently?’” said Dolan. 

His first novel, recently self-published through Friesen Press and written during the COVID pandemic from Dolan’s Thornbury home, is about a terrorist attack with similar circumstances, but involving Irish-Canadians. 

“I don’t think I have any business writing from a South Asian perspective, so I took the Irish perspective,” he said, noting his ancestry is Irish. 

His book begins with a deathbed confession from a father to his son. The father, an RCMP Security Service agent, tells his son he knows who brought the plane down and asks his son to follow a trail of evidence left by the father. Thus the book is titled My Father’s Secret.

The book swings between the son’s investigations with the help of a journalist in 2003 and back to the terrorists plotting the attack in the 1970s. It features scenes in Toronto, Georgian Bay, and a cottage in Craigleith becomes a significant location. 

My Father’s Secret mirrors much of what happened to Air India Flight 182, from the characters to the “big misses” in the investigation. 

“It is historical fiction, inspired by the Air India tragedy and investigation, and written in the thriller genre,” said Dolan. 

He’s pleased with the book and the feedback so far, and hopes people enjoy the read. 

More important to him, however, is his goal that the book will push people to revisit the true events of the bombing of Air India Flight 182 and the “absolute disaster” of the investigation. 

My Father’s Secret is available at The Blue Mountains Public Library, by request at Jessica’s Book Nook, and online where books are sold. 

You can find more on Dolan’s website here.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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