It’s the end of a long week in October for Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan. This was supposed to be her last day in the newsroom before going south of the border on a two-week speaking tour with the other recipients of the International Women’s Media Foundation awards. It’s now the middle of the afternoon and as her deadline approaches, Bolan is an hour and a half behind schedule – she was held up at the Surrey courthouse, where she’s following the sentencing hearing of three Nazi skinhead youths in the murder of a Sikh temple caretaker. When the court recessed for lunch, Bolan checked her voice mail and found two messages – one from a detective with the Vancouver Police warning her that after seven months of relative calm, she could be in danger again and that she should call the RCMP as soon as possible. The second message was from the RCMP, telling her they had received information that if moderate Sikhs beat the fundamentalists in the upcoming Surrey temple elections, there would be violence. And she was specifically mentioned as a target – again.
The Sun’s assignment editor, Graham “Rocky” Rockingham, has pulled up a chair beside Bolan’s desk, where she sorts through her notes. Bolan is quiet, but Rockingham’s voice rises to emphasize his concern. He gets up and paces back and forth, pulling at his necktie and running his hands through his hair, trying to persuade Bolan that full security measures should be restored at once. She refuses. And she ups the ante: not content with the number of stories she stockpiled in the past week, she asks for a laptop (she calls it a portable) to take with her to New York City. Even though she has a legitimate excuse to turn the heat down a couple of notches, she wants to keep covering the approaching Sikh temple elections while she’s away. This has been her beat on and off since 1984 and she knows more about Vancouver’s Sikh community than any other reporter. Rockingham starts to leave, practically tearing out his hair in frustration, then turns back.
“I’m very concerned,” he says gravely.
“I don’t care anymore. I’m not concerned,” Bolan replies. “Just get me the portable.” Rockingham shakes his head and walks away.
“The portable is mightier than the sword,” Bolan shouts playfully, but this time he doesn’t look back.
There was another person the RCMP said was potentially in danger this time, and Bolan knows him. She calls him at a temple in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver with a large Sikh population, to see if he’s been warned and to warn him if he hasn’t. She speaks quietly, playing with her silver bracelet. Their conversation is brief and ends with her telling him what he already knows – that the appearance of quiet does not mean quiet. With Rockingham out of earshot, Bolan admits that she is alarmed; she’s had no such threats since February. For a time, her life had regained a sense of normalcy.
“I think I’m just going to ignore this,” she says. “I don’t want these people to think they’ve scared me off.”
Rockingham returns, still shaking his head. “I’ll get you a computer tomorrow. But don’t bother going to court – I don’t need that.”
She grins at him, an unthreatening and motherly seeming woman of middle years, so short she can barely see over the half-walls of her cubicle.
“That’s the problem with this, you know,” he says, not for the first time. “This isn’t going to stop. These people won’t give up.”
But Bolan won’t give up, either. After 15 years of reporting about Vancouver’s Sikhs, she feels a connection to them. She admits having seized an opportunity to make a name for herself at the start, but since then it has become a mission: to see charges laid against the bombing suspects of Air India Flight 182, still the most devastating act of aviation terrorism ever. The 329 people onboard, including 156 Canadians, all died when the plane exploded off the coast of Ireland. Justice has been a long time coming. Along the way, Bolan has seen friends and colleagues threatened and murdered as the bombers amassed more and more power in the Sikh community. Earlier in her career, it was Bolan’s dogged reporting that propelled the story. Today, it is the story that grips her. She has been through too much not to see it through to the end.
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