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The erasing of key wiretap recordings by CSIS, Canada's spy agency, was a major challenge to the government's legal case against the suspected perpetrators of the Air India bombing, a senior Crown lawyer on the Air India file said today.

The public inquiry into the 1985 terrorist attack is hearing Tuesday from James Jardine, who is now a B.C. provincial court judge but who previously served as lead Crown counsel on the Air India file.

At times still visibly frustrated with the spy agency, he told the inquiry about a note he wrote upon learning CSIS had erased wiretap evidence of the prime suspects.

"In the brashness of the moment, I wrote: 'inconceivable, incomprehensible, indefensible incompetence," said Mr. Jardine, who was speaking as an individual and not as a judge.

Through a full day of testimony, Mr. Jardine is outlining the behind the scenes battles waged by himself and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to pry evidence from the resisting hands of CSIS.

The inquiry is seeking to highlight the difficulties that arise when CSIS is in sole possession of material needed as evidence by police and government lawyers. Canada's spy agency was created in 1984 to focus on assessing threats to national security. Should its work uncover possible criminal activity, the police are then urged by CSIS to conduct their own investigation.

Mr. Jardine's testimony highlights the many difficulties that arose between CSIS and the RCMP as the two agencies worked out the ground rules of their new relationship.

Mr. Jardine told the inquiry that he specifically told the RCMP to tell CSIS weeks after the bombing that he would need all evidence, including wire taps, as he went about building a case that would stand up in court.

Yet at virtually every turn, the recently-created spy agency resisted out of fear that supplying evidence was outside of its mandate and would sacrifice national security.