Maher's Story in Brief
Maher Arar is a 34-year-old wireless technology consultant. He was born in Syria and came to Canada with his family at the age of 17. He became a Canadian citizen in 1991. On Sept. 26, 2002, while in transit in New York’s JFK airport when returning home from a vacation, Arar was detained by US officials and interrogated about alleged links to al-Qaeda. Twelve days later, he was chained, shackled and flown to Syria, where he was held in a tiny “grave-like” cell for ten months and ten days before he was moved to a better cell in a different prison. In Syria, he was beaten, tortured and forced to make a false confession.
During his imprisonment, Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, campaigned relentlessly on his behalf until he was returned to Canada in October 2003. On Jan. 28, 2004, under pressure from Canadian human rights organizations and a growing number of citizens, the Government of Canada announced a Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar.
On September 18, 2006, the Commissioner of the Inquiry, Justice Dennis O'Connor, cleared Arar of all terrorism allegations, stating he was "able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada." To read the Commissioner's report, including his findings on the actions of Canadian officials, please visit the Arar Commission's website or click here.
Read more about Maher's story.
A Message from Maher Arar
It was four years ago that the horrible ordeal I suffered first began. People ask me repeatedly how, during this time, I have been able to cope with the stress of surviving torture, the stress of not being able to find a job, the stress endured at the inquiry, and the stress from the countless hours I spend doing media interviews and talking to my lawyers on the phone. The answers are simple: I draw my strength from my faith; from my loving, caring, strong wife; and from the support and generosity I have received from Canadians. I have rediscovered Canada through its people, people who made me feel proud of being Canadian.
What has also given me the determination to persevere is the obligation I have felt as a human being to keep my case alive in hope that the attention will help other innocent people. Three years ago, I made a very difficult decision to tell my painful, personal story to the Canadian public. I made it clear at that time that I wanted to achieve three objectives.
The most important and first objective was to clear my name.
Justice Dennis O'Connor did so in his report from the Commission of Inquiry examining my case when he stated that he was "able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."
My second objective was to hold those people responsible to account.
The Canadian government has full access to both the public and confidential reports prepared by Justice O'Connor. Since the release of the report the Canadian public has consistently asked the government to take concrete actions to hold those Canadian officials responsible to account. But nothing has been done so far, and the public's trust in the government's ability to restore faith in our institutions has clearly been shaken.
It is important to highlight that the inquiry report does not point the finger at any one person or institution alone. It is also crucial to focus on demanding concrete changes rather than focusing on asking some officials to resign from their jobs. This is because accountability is not about seeking revenge; it is about making our institutions better and a model for the rest of the world. Accountability goes to the heart of our democracy. It is a fundamental pillar that distinguishes our society from police states.
My third objective was to make sure that this does not happen to any other Canadian.
Unfortunately this has already happened to three other Canadian citizens: Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. The similarities between their cases and mine are striking. We were all detained at the same branch of the Syrian military intelligence, tortured by the same people and asked questions that would be of interest to Canadian police and security agencies. It is my hope that the government acts on its promise and holds an independent review of their cases, as recommended by Justice O'Connor in his report.
If the government wants to prevent another tragedy from happening, it must fully implement Justice O'Connor's comprehensive and balanced recommendations.
In my opinion these recommendations, if implemented fully, will protect our national security and safeguard our hard-won civil liberties. We have heard encouraging statements from Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, indicating he intends to implement the recommendations. It is my hope that he will act immediately.
Justice O'Connor will also make further recommendations in a second report before the end of the year. This second report will outline proposals for a new approach to reviewing the RCMP's activities regarding national security investigations. It is my view and my hope, based on testimony at the inquiry, that this should go beyond the RCMP and include at least CSIS and Foreign Affairs.
It is important to make a distinction between "review" and "oversight." Oversight will be more effective as it will prevent tragedies from happening again while review means that tragedy has happened already and an investigation needs to be launched to find out what went wrong.
Here's a good example to illustrate the point: The existence of an oversight agency could have prevented the RCMP from sending false information about me to their American counterparts or, at a minimum, could have made a huge difference when it came to correcting the record early on. Quick hearings could have been held, at the end of which all Canadian agencies could have been ordered to issue a "one voice" letter clearing me of any wrongdoing. Certainly this could have resulted in my being released earlier and also could have served as a deterrent to those Canadian officials who embarked on the damaging smear campaign after my return to Canada.
I hope that many lessons have been learned from my case. Canadians have invested time, effort and money in this inquiry. Now is the time to make sure this investment pays off, by insisting that the government implements all of Justice O'Connor's recommendations. Doing so will help Canada restore its tarnished reputation for promoting and protecting human rights around the globe.