Maher Arar exonerated, RCMP slammed

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Written by Scott Gilbert

The long awaited report on the public federal inquiry into the Maher Arar torture case was released this Monday, September 18th. A second report is expected later this year, but will be more focused on recommendations of intelligence gathering reform than on the innocence of Arar. As was widely expected, Justice Dennis O’Connor concluded that there was "no evidence" to indict Mr. Arar and that he posed no threat to the security of Canada. The 822 page report on the incident did however lay most of the blame on the RCMP.

The whole ordeal began in the fall of 2001 when the RCMP passed incorrect information about Mr. Arar to US authorities. Mr. Arar was being watched by the RCMP because he appeared to know Abdullah Almalki, another man who was being watched, but has never been charged with any crime. Justice O'Connor's report says that is was "almost certainly" this information that led Mr. Arar to be picked up by US customs officials as he flew home alone from a vacation with his family. He was held briefly before being deported Syria, where he was tortured for about a year.

The practice of deporting suspected terrorists to other countries where torture is used in interrogation has become common since 9/11, and is called "extraordinary rendition". The Arar case, and that of several other Canadians, implies that although Canada is not directly involved in the deportations, it is complicit with them in more ways than one. On numerous occasions Canada sent questions to Syrian authorities that they wanted asked of the detainees. The O'Connor report notes that Canada is well aware of the methods commonly used in Syria to extract information from suspected terrorists and that asking such questions only increases the likelihood that the detainees will be tortured.

In the months following the 9/11 attacks, Canadian police services and intelligence agencies were eager to contribute to the hunt for terrorists and were passing their suspicions on to US authorities. Arar and his wife Monia Mazigh were fingered as having ties to Al-Qaeda (a charge that has now been proven false). Mr. Arar was one of the top suspects of several men living in Canada at the time. Although it is now know that Mr. Arar has always been far from having association with terrorism, the RCMP told US authorities he and his wife were "Islamic Extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist movement". As Justice O’Connor rightly states in his report, "The potential consequences of labelling someone an Islamic extremist in post-9/11America are enormous".

The report found that the RCMP not only hid crucial information about its activities from politicians who were speaking publicly about the case, but of the information it did present, much of it was twisted and misleading with the clear intent of covering up the illegal activities of RCMP officers who were involved in the case.

Since 9/11 the RCMP has regained permission to carry out spy-like operations; they previously conducted such operations routinely until the 1980s when a rogue faction of the RCMP was slammed in another federal inquiry for blatantly breaking Canadian law on numerous occasions when they violated the civil liberties of Canadian citizens with their spying activities. It was from this event that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was born, a civilian organization that was tasked with intelligence gathering relating to national security, but has no police-like powers. Andrew Mitrovica, a writer for the Globe and Mail, reports in his book Covert Entry: Spies, Lies and Crimes Inside Canada’s Secret Service that many of the RCMP officers accused of misdeeds in 1980s left the policing field and joined the ranks of CSIS.

Many believe that it is utterly shameful that in a country widely considered to be a beacon for human rights, our own national police force would not only commit the harm and deceit so detailed in Justice O’Connor’s report, but that they would lie to and mislead - on numerous occasions throughout a public inquiry - the Canadian public, elected politicians and a federal judge.

Although many remain hopeful that strong and well-placed reprimands will come from this inquiry, the question is whether the government of Stephen Harper will act upon them. When asked to comment on the O’Connor report and whether Canada would be filing official objections to the conduct of US and Syrian authorities, both Mr. Harper and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day refused to comment until further notice.

Maher Arar has agreed to speak on his case at the University of Guelph, and will likely do so at some point during this academic year. A documentary about this case is currently in the making. For more information about this case please visit here

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