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Maher Arar

Maher Arar

Documents suggest Canadian interest in Arar interrogation

OTTAWA - Supporters of Maher Arar say new documents show some Canadian officials actively encouraged his interrogation in a Syrian prison.

They say questions about Canada's complicity in Arar's detention and torture are rampant in the more than 2,000 pages of government e-mail, memos and handwritten notes released Thursday by the public inquiry into Arar's case.

U.S. officials deported Arar, a Canadian citizen, to Syria in 2002 as a suspected terrorist.

He spent a year in prison where he says he was tortured.

The documents released Thursday suggest senior Canadian officials failed to act to prevent Arar's deportation, and that once he was in Syria, Canadian authorities appeared more interested in Arar's interrogation than his treatment.

Among the pages marked "top secret" and "for Canadian eyes only," the most provocative were authored by Franco Pillarella, Canada's ambassador to Syria at the time Arar was deported to Damascus.

Just days after Arar arrived at a Syrian military prison, Pillarella's memos back to Ottawa say his Syrian contact has told him that Arar was being interrogated and had confessed to links with terrorist organizations, alluding to groups based in Pakistan.

The Syrians, wrote Pillarella, "promised to pass on to me any information they may gather on Arar's implication in terrorist activities."

While Pillarella said the Syrians would allow Arar to have consular visits, nowhere did he note having asked about Arar's treatment or how the confessions were obtained.

Instead, on several occasions Pillarella focused on getting Arar's statements so he could bring them back to Canada and hand them over to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP.

Arar's lawyer, Lorne Waldman, says they were shocked to read Pillarella's memos.

"The Canadian officials were extremely eager to obtain the fruits of the torture that was inflicted on Mr. Arar," said Waldman.

There's no indication Pillarella knew Arar was being tortured and parts of the memos are blacked out. But Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International in Canada, says Syria might have taken Pillarella's efforts as encouragement.

"In those early, very critical days, when Mr. Arar was at the greatest risk — when he was being held incommunicado in detention, when he was being subjected to torture — the ambassador's primary concern seemed to be to do some contract work for Canada's security agencies."

The material was also widely distributed to dozens of government officials in Canada, and some of that material ended up getting leaked to media as part of a campaign to discredit Arar, according to his lawyer.

The documents also show that it is possible Arar's deportation could have been thwarted if Canadian officials had acted on the information they had at the time.

In a memo written by Canada's consul in New York while Arar was awaiting deportation, Maureen Girvan told Ottawa that a U.S. immigration officer informally advised her that Arar's case was "of a seriousness that should be taken to the highest level," and suggested Canada's ambassador to Washington contact the U.S. Department of Justice.

That contact was never made and within a week Arar had been removed from the United States. "One would have expected that alarm bells would have rang, and that the officials would have taken the action that was suggested. Unfortunately they didn't. And one wonders whether, if they would have acted at that time, the deportation might have been prevented," said Waldman.

Stephen Bindman, the spokesperson for the government's legal team at the Arar inquiry, has a different interpretation of the documents.

"Taken as a whole, the government believes these documents show the extraordinary lengths to which Foreign Affairs officials, together with other federal departments and agencies, went to provide consular officials to Mr. Arar in New York and Syria."

Bindman says the government won't comment on any of the documents except to say Canadians should reserve their judgment.

Pillarella, who is now ambassador to Romania, will appear to testify when the inquiry resumes public hearings on May 9.


Canadian loses bid to sue Jordan
Judge cites State Immunity Act

Arar deported to Mideast in 2002

Maher Arar has lost his bid to seek compensation in Canadian courts for his alleged harsh detainment in Jordan.

Foreign countries are immune from most prosecutions in domestic courts, Ontario Superior Court Justice Randall Echlin wrote in a decision released yesterday.

Making an exemption to Canada's State Immunity Act would require an act of Parliament, Echlin said, in granting Jordan's application to dismiss Arar's lawsuit.

Arar launched a lawsuit against Jordan and Syria in November 2003, a month after he returned to Canada from a Syrian jail. Arar was detained as a terrorism suspect by American authorities in New York in September 2002 before being flown to Jordan, where he alleges he was beaten for several hours before being driven to Damascus. In Syria, he was held without charge for a year.

Echlin was ruling on Jordan's application to have the lawsuit against it dismissed. Arar's attempt to sue Syria is still technically alive. Syria has not yet responded to his lawsuit.

"The state immunity concept is founded upon the principle that complaints should be brought in the international forum and not through lawsuits commenced in domestic courts," Echlin wrote.

Arar's lawyer, Lorne Waldman, alleged it was information from the Canadian government that led to Arar's detention and his treatment was a breach of his client's constitutional rights.

These factors, Waldman said, should provide an exemption from the application of the immunity act, thereby allowing his suit against the foreign governments to proceed.

"The government of Canada ... should have to seriously consider whether it's acceptable for Canada to allow regimes that engage in torture of Canadian citizens to hide behind state immunity," Waldman said last night.

Yesterday's ruling followed an Ontario Court of Appeal decision last June concerning a lawsuit by Houshang Bouzari, who sued Iran, claiming damages for torture. The suit was dismissed due to state immunity laws. Last month the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an application to hear an appeal.

Echlin also referred to international law in rendering his decision and noted that Britain's courts have also upheld state immunity and recently denied a request by William Sampson (who holds Canadian and British citizenship) to sue Saudi Arabia for torture while he was detained for two years.


Mounties left in dark by U.S. on deportation of Syrian-born Canadian

OTTAWA (CP) - The Mounties provided information on Maher Arar to American authorities but were left in the dark when the U.S. deported the Canadian citizen to Syria, newly released documents show.

More than 1,000 pages, most of them blacked out for national security reasons, were released Friday by the commission of inquiry into the Arar case. Arar was detained in September 2002 in New York as an alleged member of the al-Qaida terrorist network. He was deported to Syria, even though he holds a Canadian passport.

Arar, 35, says Syrian officials tortured him in a grim cell before he was set free several months later. He denies any involvement in terrorism.

The documents are so vague they mislead rather than illuminate, Arar said Friday.

"The government is being very selective in terms of disclosure of those documents," he told a news conference.

One document, marked "secret," describes how the RCMP believed in October, 2002, that Arar was to be sent to Canada, only to be told by a foreign affairs official that it was believed he would be deported to Syria.

"Upon hearing this, the (officer in charge) of the project and his lead investigators became concerned," part of the document reads before being blacked out.

At the time, Arar was caught up in police investigation dubbed Project A-OCanada - although the RCMP documents suggest he was "peripheral" and a "secondary" figure.

There were discussions about sending investigators to New York to interview Arar. Investigators sought clarification from U.S. authorities about why Arar was arrested, and the Mounties also demanded to know whether Arar would be allowed to proceed to Canada.

No answers were given, according to a briefing note compiled for the RCMP commissioner.

In fact, it seems Canadian investigators were never told anything.

"Project A-OCanada investigators were never given access to Arar," the documents state.

"It is not clear why Arar was deported to Syria and not elsewhere. Project A-OCanada has not been informed of Arar's exact whereabouts or his custodial status in Syria."

Throughout the documents, the RCMP maintains it had "no role to play in Mr. Arar's initial detention and subsequent deportation from the United States."

However, investigators acknowledge passing "contextual information" about Arar to U.S. authorities at some point prior to his arrest in New York.

"Following Arar's arrest, authorities in (blank) asked for and received from Project A-OCanada a brief package of information on Maher Arar," said one document.

Canadian investigators even compiled a list of questions U.S. law enforcement officials could use to interrogate Arar.

After that, however, the Mounties washed their hands of the Ottawa engineer.

"Once the RCMP has provided information to its (foreign) partners, the resulting dissemination/actions concerning this information is beyond our control," said another briefing note.

Arar wants to see proof that authorities didn't circumvent Canadian law by sending him to a country where they knew he might be tortured.

"Canadians want to know if Canadian agencies are contracting out torture," he said.

"That is really the main question here."

In late Oct., 2002, Arar's lawyer, Michael Edelson, submitted a formal request to the Mounties for assistance in having him released from custody in Syria.

More than two weeks later, after the request was filtered through several bureaucratic layers within the RCMP, Edelson was turned down flat.

"The RCMP, as a matter of course, does not involve itself in subjects of foreign policies," wrote the officer in charge of the Mounties' Proceeds of Crime Section.

Of note, the letter did confirm that Arar remained the subject of an ongoing RCMP investigation, even though he had no criminal record in Canada was considered "peripheral" to the probe.

Arar's co-counsel says the documents appear to show that investigators repeatedly provided inaccurate and misleading information to the RCMP commissioner and to the Solicitor General.

One document said Arar refused to be interviewed by officers several months before his deportation and imprisonment in Syria. However, another paper showed Arar had agreed to questioning with his lawyer present.

"Senior officials and ministers use the information provided in these memos to make public statements and important decisions," said Lorne Waldman.

"There can be dire consequences if they are mislead."


Mounties warned against release of Arar

The RCMP regarded Maher Arar as nothing more than a "peripheral" figure or "potential witness" in their terrorism investigations even as they warned other government departments not to be too aggressive in trying to free him from a Syrian jail, according to newly released documents.

"The lobbyists are pressuring for quick intervention in an attempt to effect a return prior to Arar being charged by the Syrians," wrote assistant RCMP commissioner Richard Proulx, in a 2003 internal memo.

"The potential for embarrassment exists should the Prime Minister become involved in a similar fashion to the incident following the Egyptian Embassy bombing in 1995 in Pakistan," the memo said.

"In that situation the Prime Minister intervened on behalf of Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian Canadian who was subsequently released from Pakistani custody.

"Khadr is now recognized internationally as a high ranking Al-Qaeda member."

The RCMP's fear that Mr. Arar could emerge as a more serious terrorism suspect led them to urge bureaucrats and politicians to water down any letters to Syria that would suggest he had been cleared of all suspicion.

In September, 2002, the 34-year-old computer engineer from Ottawa was arrested in a New York airport. Citing information from unspecified foreign agencies, the United States deemed him an al-Qaeda terrorist and sent him to a Syrian jail.

He was freed only after growing public protests and a written appeal from former prime minister Jean Chrétien to Syria's President.

Nearly 1,000 pages of formerly secret RCMP documents were released yesterday by the commission probing Mr. Arar's detention.

The documents were heavily censored, which angered Mr. Arar, who decried the continued secrecy and the RCMP's handling of the case. "Is this how our federal police force should be treating Canadian citizens?" he said.

Those parts of the documents that were disclosed portray a major terrorism probe that eventually became an exercise in damage control.

In the records, the Mounties said it was the United States that deemed Mr. Arar an al-Qaeda member. "The RCMP had little, if any, control or influence in this matter," Mr. Proulx wrote in another memo.

He and other Mounties repeatedly state that they fail to see how their cross-border exchanges concerning Mr. Arar could have given the Americans grounds for a deportation.

The questions the Mounties faxed over included such basic information as "What is your occupation?" and "Where were you on Sept. 11th?" although the released version memo blacks out more targeted questions.

After they fell under scrutiny, the Mounties spoke to a colleague who was trying to piece together what happened with Mr. Arar.

They described him only as a "secondary" target, or a "potential witness." They also denied trying to discourage efforts to free him. "But did we ever say we don't ever want him released? Absolutely not," one unnamed Mountie said.

However, even as public sympathy for the jailed man built and efforts to obtain his release mounted, the RCMP issued a sheaf of memos resisting efforts by bureaucrats seeking their co-operation in clearing his name outright.

In fact, after a top Foreign Affairs official suggested that the Mounties could write a letter to the Syrians saying there was no case against him, angry RCMP officers retorted such a letter would be "highly problematic" and that it would "shift the responsibility for Mr. Arar's jailed status squarely on the RCMP."

"We had no role to play," the memo said.

Memos show that after Mr. Arar was freed in the fall of 2003 and came back to Canada to speak of being tortured, the RCMP's job of hunting terrorism suspects became even more difficult. - they became consumed with damage control. They spent much time managing media, plugging leaks, and coughing up documents to overseers probing the Arar affair.

"Project investigators have been tasked almost exclusively with tasks and requests in relation to the issues surrounding Maher Arar," laments one anonymous investigator in the documents. "No meaningful progress has been made on the [censored]."

It was not meant to be this way. While the grounds of the World Trade Center in New York were still smoking, the Mounties had launched a major probe, Project O Canada, in the hopes that it would break new ground.

In late September, 2001, the RMCP outlined how they were about to embark on a "unique" and "precedent setting" terrorism investigation. The next month, RCMP members from Toronto and Ottawa met in Newmarket, Ont., near Toronto, to work out a battle plan.

At that point, the Toronto team was extremely interested in Ahmad Abou El-Maati, an Arab truck driver who had lived in Afghanistan. Mr. El-Maati left Canada that fall and was arrested on arriving in Syria.

Other investigators, meanwhile, came to look at Mr. Arar, doing basic surveillance on him and obtaining his 1997 townhouse lease from his former landlord. It was thought to be a piece of a puzzle because the emergency contact he wrote down was a major target - Abdullah Almalki, another Ottawa computer whiz.

In the fall of 2001, Mr. Almalki - who had years before worked in Afghanistan for a charity connected to Mr. Khadr, the 1995 bombing suspect - was in Malaysia. He too would be arrested as he flew to Syria.

Meanwhile, the Mounties sent out a memo about the Arar-Almalki lease to unnamed parties, possibly American agencies. In December, 2001, Toronto airport authorities seized Mr. Arar's computer and looked through it as he passed through.

This occurred as the Mounties were stepping up their investigation from intelligence gathering to "a criminal investigation so that detailed information can be gathered in a manner suitable for court purposes," a newly released memo says.

By January, 2002, the RCMP executed warrants at residences associated with Mr. Almalki and Mr. El-Maati and others. Police noted that Islamic societies in Ottawa complained "of police strong-arm tactics such as the searching of children by officers."

The RCMP had no warrant to execute against Mr. Arar, but stopped by his home to ask questions. They were informed he was abroad. He returned to Canada to tell the officers he would meet them only with his lawyer present. The RCMP felt Mr. Arar's lawyer's conditions were too stringent. No meeting took place.

By August 2002, Mr. El-Maati had already spent more than half a year in jail in Syria. The Mounties were dismissive of his complaints of mistreatment, and discussed "a proactive measure to discuss media lines to be used when Ahmad El-Maati's allegations about torture" surface, according to one memo.

"The media attention is expected to be intense," they said.


Suit alleges RCMP stonewalling probes

Canada's RCMP watchdog has launched a court action alleging the force's commissioner and its officers are breaking laws intended to make them accountable.

In court documents, RCMP complaints chairwoman Shirley Heafey alleges the Mounties have stonewalled more than one investigation into potential misconduct by unlawfully editing notes or by refusing to hand over documents as required.

In a dispute that will be heard in the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa on Feb. 12, Ms. Heafey expresses rising frustration, saying that her meetings with RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli have failed to resolve issues hampering the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.

An RCMP spokesman said yesterday he could not comment on a matter before the courts. But in court documents Ms. Heafey suggests the Mounties are fighting to guard sensitive information and the identity of confidential sources.

The Globe and Mail learned of the legal dispute just one week after the Mounties raided the home of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill in an attempt to discover how she obtained a leaked document from confidential sources.

In a court-filed application meant to get at information she says is being kept from her, Ms. Heafey alleges that the RCMP is not living up to laws meant to make police accountable. The battle comes at a crucial time, she argues, because new terrorism laws are empowering the RCMP to do more searches and detentions than ever before.

The case does not directly involve Maher Arar -- the Ottawa computer programmer whose complaint Ms. Heafey had been examining until a public inquiry into his case was called on Wednesday. Rather, it centres on an anonymous man who complained that the RCMP used heavy-handed tactics during a drug raid.

That search, which found nothing, occurred in 1999. Almost five years later, Ms. Heafey says the Mounties have yet to cough up the sworn information used to obtain a search warrant and all the related notes.

"Information from the notes of the member who applied for the search warrant was removed . . . prior to delivery of those notes to the commission," she says in her court-filed application. She says another Mountie did the same thing.

The application says she has made repeated requests for the material, even bringing up the matter twice in meetings with Commissioner Zaccardelli. "Despite his statutory obligation to provide all materials under the control of the RMCP which are relevant to the complaint" he has refused to do so, the document states.

Ms. Heafey says the case is not isolated and further alleges the RCMP is stonewalling on an investigation surrounding a complaint that the force failed to properly investigate a protest on the Burnt Church reserve in New Brunswick.

This week, Ms. Heafey also issued a statement saying that that new national-security laws made it impossible for her to get to the bottom of the Arar affair.

On Wednesday, Ottawa announced it would hold a public inquiry looking into possible RCMP involvement in the deportation of Mr. Arar. He had been a figure of interest to the Mounties before the decision by the United States to deport him to Syria, where he was held for 10 months as a suspected al-Qaeda member.

Ms. Heafey said she will use her expertise to assist the inquiry.


Ottawa promises inquiry will get to the bottom of Arar case

OTTAWA -- A full public inquiry has been called into why a Canadian citizen was deported by U.S. officials to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan announced on Wednesday that Justice Dennis O'Connor would head the inquiry into the Maher Arar case.

The announcement was welcomed by Arar and his wife Monia Mazigh. "We are delighted with the announcement," Mazigh told a news conference.

McLellan said O'Connor would have all the powers allowed under the Public Inquiries Act, including the ability to call witnesses and compel testimony.

O'Connor recently led the inquiry into the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton, Ont. "I am very pleased that he has agreed to accept this task," said McLellan.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has offered to have opposition party leaders who have seats in Parliament sworn into the Privy Council, so they can see even the classified sections of the inquiry, McLellan said.

"It's important to remember why we're here. It's about a man called Maher Arar. It's about his deportation and detention and it is about the actions of Canadian officials, if any, in relation to those events," said McLellan.

Arar said he was eager to see the terms of reference for the inquiry, and wants to contribute to defining them.

Arar's lawyer Lorne Waldman said Arar would eventually be asking for compensation, but Arar said that wasn't his main goal.

"The most important thing is to exonerate myself and to be certain it won't happen to others," he said.

McLellan said O'Connor would also "be asked to make recommendations on an independent, arm's-length review mechanism for the RCMP's activities with respect to national security."

Arar has been asking for a public inquiry since he returned to Montreal in October. He says he was tortured while he was held in a Syrian jail.

The inquiry is expected to find out what role Canadian security agencies played in his deportation and detention.

Conservative justice critic Vic Toews said the government had been pressured into calling the inquiry, but noted "It's also the right thing to do." Toews told CBC Newsworld he was concerned the scope of the inquiry wouldn't be broad enough.

"Is it going to look at the relationship between the government and the RCMP?" he said. "We need to have the RCMP at arm's length to the government."

Arar was arrested in September 2002 while switching planes in New York when he was returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. After holding him for nearly two weeks, U.S. officials deported him to Syria where he was born, despite the fact he was travelling on a Canadian passport.

U.S. authorities said they had reason to suspect Arar was linked to al-Qaeda. There have been allegations that they were acting, in part, on information that came from Canada.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien refused to call a public inquiry, but the Security Intelligence Review Committee announced in December it would investigate the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's role in the case.

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is looking into the Mounties' role.

The prime minister has said the United States has to respect Canadian passports.

Earlier this month, Arar launched a lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging the Americans sent him to Syria knowing he would be tortured there.

Written by CBC News Online staff