Heed his words. Please.

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

  • "I am not a terrorist," Arar.

    "I am not a terrorist," Arar.

For the first time since his release from a Syrian prison, Maher Arar has spoken to the press about his ordeal.

On an average Tuesday morning, against the backdrop of Canadian flags, in the safety and security of a parliamentary press room in Ottawa, the city he calls home, Arar fought back obvious emotion to issue his statement to the media. Put simply, "I am not a terrorist."

But nothing is, or ever will be, "average" to Maher Arar again. From September 26, 2002 to October 6, 2003, his life was demolished. Detained at Kennedy Airport in New York during a stopover on a return from vacation in Tunisia and eventually deported to Syria, his birthplace (despite holding a Canadian passport), Arar's whereabouts were not even known for sure until almost a month after his detention. It was suspected, according to U.S. officials, that he was a member of al-Qaeda, although no evidence was ever presented and no charges were ever laid.

This story has many twists and turns. There is Arar's wife, Monia, who was a beacon of hope to her husband and a thorn in the sides of Canadian officials who pledged "all possible consular assistance" but delivered only "quiet diplomacy". It was Monia that lobbied unsuccessfully to have Canada recall its Syrian ambassador, only to have Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham assure her that, not to worry, Maher would be tried in civil, not military court in Syria. He had finally been formally charged with membership in a banned Muslim organization, the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria.

There is the refusal of Solicitor-General Wayne Easter to divulge what the RCMP's role was in the deportation to Syria. He is backed up by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Richard Proulx who refuses to discuss the case with MPs. The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, states that the U.S. was acting on information from Canadian authorities. We have yet to find out to which "authorities" Powell is referring. RCMP? CSIS?

All of this, and I'm sure a little more, would come to light if Arar's call for a public inquiry is ever heeded by the government. To this point, the RCMP's Public Complaints Commission is the only official investigation into this matter. This is wholly unacceptable. The RCMP investigating itself? A citizen of our country was detained, deported, imprisoned and tortured. The only acceptable process is an open, impartial public inquiry. It's time for the Canadian government to step out of the shadows and bring this into the cold light of day. Basic human freedoms, ones that we so often take for granted, were stripped from Maher Arar and his family. Are we going to sit idly by and make no noise about this atrocity?

  • For a transcript of Maher Arar's statement to the press, click here.

A lot has been made recently of Canada's "soft diplomacy". The William Sampson case in Saudi Arabia was another example of Canadian David fighting a powerful Goliath, with the glaring difference being that we didn't defeat Goliath. How could we? We have no leverage. It is, of course, a good thing that Canada is not feared like the U.S., but do we not at least deserve respect?

Because it is difficult for Canada to throw some serious weight around during these situations, we must show our power - our strength - in how we deal with their aftermath. Show the world that our system is open and transparent. Every one of us knows someone of Middle Eastern descent. I personally have an Iranian-born friend who has been living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He, too, is a Canadian citizen, but on a recent return visit from Canada, he was denied re-entry to the States. He is certainly not a terrorist. He's a gentle songwriter.

And after all of this, the past is gone. We must deal with the present to ensure future generations never suffer the same fate as Maher Arar.

So, open it up. Let's see the evidence. How can we ever trust our government officials again? How can we be certain that this will never happen again? How can you be certain that it won't happen to you?

If, in my words you detect a defence of Arar, it is unintentional. These are merely the facts. Only Arar himself is 100 per cent sure of his innocence. What I am defending is our freedom. And that is why his request for a public inquiry must be granted.

But don't count on it.

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