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Struggle to get at the facts in Maher Arar case

The Hill Times, August 2nd, 2004
OPEN GOVERNMENT
By Ken Rubin


RCMP knew the day that Arar was detained in New York on Sept. 26, 2002

The battle at the Arar Inquiry into the detention, deportation and imprisonment of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar is shaping up to be whether the Canadian government is prepared to discuss or even admit how its security intelligence apparatus operates in practice. That at times may amount to operating as a parallel government with a de facto foreign policy that can lead to rendition and torture.

A [severed] RCMP June 27, 2021 briefing note to the then Canadian solicitor general on Arar's detention and deportation released under the Access to Information Act -- which I've obtained on behalf of Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh -- is an example of this.

The RCMP, knew from "a U.S. Embassy representative" (read "intelligence liaison officer"?) that very day that Mr. Arar was detained in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, after a stopover flight from Zurich (incorrectly in the note identified as "Geneva"), and that "Arar was not going to be granted entry into the United States."

Yet the Canadian government's Foreign Affairs' Consular Services did not find out about Arar's whereabouts or his status for several days. And the Prime Minister seems to have been kept in the dark for longer. Mr. Arar was not sent back to Canada but deported to a Syrian jail.

Returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia in September 2002, Arar was on a stopover in New York when he was detained by U.S. officials, claiming he has links to al-Qaeda. He was deported to Syria, despite the fact that he was carrying a Canadian passport. Arar said he was tortured while he was incarcerated in a Syrian prison for a year and a half.

The RCMP, like CSIS, deny, along with the Attorney General, any involvement or complicity with the detention and deportation of Arar. Yet released access records show or hint, that they were exchanging information (or misinformation) on Arar, including in meetings with Syrian intelligence.

Already, before the Arar Inquiry's postponement of its July hearings until this fall, the inquiry had heard in more general terms that Canadian officials exchange information with regimes with serious human rights violation records and that sometimes the evidence exchanged can be obtained under torture.

Then on July 14, 2004, the Arar Inquiry stated it needed more time to come up with more documentary evidence from the government, and was having difficulties in sorting out government national security confidentiality claims being made on records submitted to date. The inquiry's news release explicitly said that the blame was not to be placed on the government.

However, having been seeking government records on the Arar case for 15 months since May, 2003, I am not quite as generous with the stalling and secrecy issues surrounding this case. Thousands of pages still remain stalled, hidden and unavailable. This is not acceptable. The inquiry was set up in late January, 2004 and government agencies started collecting records for the inquiry in March, 2004.

The struggle at the inquiry is, in effect, over the government's security claims that amount to an unprecedented back door assault on the public's right to know hardly anything about how Canada's national security apparatus works in practice.

The government's heavy-handed wish to impose draconian national security confidentiality grounds on the inquiry goes far beyond any existing statutory prohibitions passed by Parliament. If the government's confidentiality wishes are adopted as the rule of thumb, then our civil liberties are going to be very severely tested.

Postponing the likely riveting testimony from the Arar family and other non-government witnesses who were scheduled to be heard from at the inquiry the last two weeks in July for a few months does not help keep pressure on the Canadian government to deliver the goods to get to the bottom of the Arar affair. Problems with obtaining and processing still secret and unavailable evidence would not have been

a factor in their ability to testify.

The tough documentary and public procedural issues that the inquiry still faces need to brought more out into the open at the inquiry than they have been. Holding most of the rest of the inquiry hearings in secret proceedings will have an impact on what becomes known about how responsibly security agencies have been operating.

Other official inquiries carried out in Britain and the United States concerning events connected to Sept. 11, 2001 and going to war in Iraq have reported that serious misinformation was received from their intelligence agencies and strongly suggested improving on those agenciesí accountability, coordination and oversight.

Syria, and even the United States representatives, are turning their back on the Arar Inquiry. But the Canadian government, now under a minority Liberal government, should not be allowed to get off the hook and slide away from discussing their security mistakes. Otherwise, they will never be corrected.

Ken Rubin is an independent public interest researcher with separate individual intervener standing at the Arar Inquiry
kdrubin@cyberus.ca
The Hill Times