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Juliet O'Neill

Juliet O'Neill
Photo: Chris Mikula, CanWest News Service

Sealing documents on RCMP raid ruled 'unjustifiable'

Judge finds case involving Citizen reporter violated free press guarantee

OTTAWA - Court orders sealing the detailed reasons for national security raids against the Ottawa Citizen and reporter Juliet O'Neill violated the constitutional guarantees of a free press, freedom of expression and the public's right to an open court system, a judge ruled yesterday.

Ontario Superior Court Judge Lynn Ratushny said an Ottawa justice of the peace was wrong when he hastily agreed to an RCMP request to keep secret the reasons for Jan. 21, 2004, police raids on Ms. O'Neill's Ottawa home and the Citizen's downtown office to execute search warrants under the Security of Information Act.

The RCMP were conducting a criminal investigation into the identity of a source who allegedly leaked classified documents to Ms. O'Neill from Canada's security dossier on Maher Arar the Syrian-born Canadian deported by the United States to Syria, where he was imprisoned and, he claims, tortured.

Judge Ratushny quashed the "sealing" orders and ruled that some of the secret information be disclosed to lawyers for Ms. O'Neill and the newspaper, who are in a protracted legal battle to have the the search warrants declared invalid and have items seized from Ms. O'Neill returned.

In her decision, the judge said the RCMP and Justice of the Peace Richard Sculthorpe committed significant failings in their handling of the sealing orders.

"The sealing orders limited the applicants' charter rights, including the fundamental right of freedom of expression and freedom of the press," Judge Ratushny wrote in a 24-page decision. "They limited the public's right of access to our court system. They limited these fundamental rights in both an unauthorized and unjustifiable way."

Citizen lawyer Richard Dearden said "the decision strongly affirms that freedom of the press and open courts actually matter in this country."

On Nov. 8, the Citizen published a front-page story by Ms. O'Neill about the RCMP investigation of Mr. Arar, who came to their attention during a probe into an alleged al-Qaeda terrorist logistical support group in Ottawa.

Two months later, the RCMP executed search warrants in raids on the newspaper's office and Ms. O'Neill's home, seizing notebooks, files, computer hard drives and other materials.

The RCMP and federal justice officials have 12 days to appeal the ruling.


Juliet O'Neill

MPs to review anti terrorism law used to raid journalist's home

OTTAWA - A parliamentary committee will review a much-criticized section of the anti-terrorism law the RCMP used to search a journalist's home.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan announced Wednesday that a new national security committee of parliamentarians will examine Section 4 of the Security of Information Act.

The law was passed following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States as part of the omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act.

RCMP officers cited the security law last week in searching the home and office of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill.

The Mounties were seeking the source of an information leak behind a November story O'Neill wrote about Maher Arar, an Ottawa man who was arrested by U.S. authorities and deported to Syria.

McLellan also announced a full public inquiry into the Arar affair.

Juliet O'NeillThe government signalled its intention last month to create a new national security committee whose members will be sworn in as privy councillors so that they can have access to sensitive materials.

The government will also offer to swear in opposition party leaders in the Commons as privy councillors, enabling them to see the results of the Arar review, including classified portions, McLellan said Wednesday.

Section 4 of the Security of Information Act was modelled on provisions of the former Official Secrets Act, which had been widely criticized for decades as poorly drafted, vague and likely unconstitutional.

The Anti-Terrorism Act, including the security of information law, was passed swiftly without proper scrutiny after the terrorist attacks on the U.S., said Stuart Farson, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

"It's a big warning for Parliament to be much more careful what goes through when it's under pressure."


RCMP raids home of Citizen reporter

OTTAWA - The RCMP raided the home and office of an Ottawa Citizen journalist Wednesday morning.

Police say reporter Juliet O'Neill possesses leaked documents related to Maher Arar, who was deported by the United States to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured before being returned to Ottawa.

At 8 a.m., RCMP officers with search warrants showed up at the reporter's home, and at the office she uses at Ottawa city hall.

They taped off both places as crime scenes.

They told the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Scott Anderson, they intend to charge O'Neill under the Security of Information Act.

Anderson says the new act makes it illegal to receive or possess secret documents. He says his lawyers are scrambling to learn more about the act-and to get O'Neill a defence lawyer.

The police raids are chilling for journalists, Anderson says, and dangerous to Canadian democracy.

"A major part of a democracy is a free press. A press that's able to report without being handcuffed by the government. And that's exactly what's happening here," Anderson says. "This is a star-chamber mentality that's creeping into the justice system, and it's all suspect."

So far there are no charges against O'Neill.

An RCMP spokesperson say the raids are part of a criminal investigation. He says the force is looking for information on how the documents ended up in a journalist's hands.

The raids come just as Arar, a Canadian citizen who says he was tortured after being deported to a Syrian prison by the United States, is set to launch a lawsuit against American officials.

Arar and his lawyers from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights are expected to announce details about the lawsuit to be filed on Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is among the American officials expected to be named in the lawsuit.

U.S. authorities detained Arar at Kennedy airport in New York in September 2002, while he was on a flight back to Canada from Tunisia.

He was accused of having ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and deported to Syria, the country where he was born.

The Canadian government announced earlier this month it would investigate leaks by unnamed government officials who alleged Arar trained at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan.

But the government has rejected calls for a public inquiry into his deportation.


Abid Ullah Jan, the author of "A War on Islam?," is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN). His latest book, "The End of Democracy" is available at Amazon.ca Abid Ullah Jan Books

The choice is up to Canada

"Arrests, detentions, secret trials and deportations have been the hallmarks since 9/11 in Canada. Protests continued throughout 2003 against the draconian security certificate that can land anyone behind bars without any evidence."

The sad reality of our age is that under the influence of the US, its allies are no more equal partners any more. They are dictation-takers to diktat their own citizens for the "security" and pleasure of the US.

Partly unknowingly, but mostly under immense pressure, all American allies are inching toward becoming dictatorships no different than that in Egypt or Pakistan.

The obsession with American security is also leading countries, such as Canada - so far upholding the finest values of human rights and liberty - into becoming dictatorship-lite.

Unlike many Canadians, those who have tasted repression elsewhere can feel the rising chill in Canadian air with each passing day.

Arrests, detentions, secret trials and deportations have been the hallmarks since 9/11 in Canada. Protests continued throughout 2003 against the draconian security certificate that can land anyone behind bars without any evidence.

Last week the the most depressing week for Canada from the perspective of human liberties and public right to information. Imagine Calgary Herald giving Canadians the news early in the morning: "Canada OK'd deporting Arar [a Canadian citizen]." [1] Imagine their receiving another report two hours later, telling them Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided a journalist Juliet O'Neil's offices "in response to her November 8 article about the Maher Arar case."

Then think of the Canadians receiving the news the same day that Canada Customs officers are joining their U.S. counterparts in the coding of international passengers arriving at airports nationwide for security checks. Customs agents will be assigning passengers numbers from one to 10 based on the security threat they pose.[2]

Imagine calls for a public inquiry into Arar's case - the reality of which is already public with RCMP's raid on a journalist's offices and home. Latest report by CBC's 60 Minutes II has confirmed the earlier speculations that the Canadian intelligence quietly approved of the United States' decision to arrest and deport Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar to Syria. What else could a public inquiry dig out?

On the other hand, in O'Neill's case, the RCMP is reportedly attempting to identify the RCMP source that leaked information to O'Neill. The principle at work seems to be: forget the violation and culprits, catch the person who helped the truth reach the public.

Bob Carty, Board member of Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression (CJFE) believes that police raid on O'Neill's offices is "an extremely invasive action" and "an affront to every journalist's right to practice his or her profession." [3]

Bob Carty believes journalists "should not be faced with criminal prosecution for doing their jobs." However, it is important to note that this principle does not hold water in the unfolding police world environment where obsession with the US "security" reigns supreme over the principles of journalism, justice, human rights and liberty.

Mr. Arar's case and the related excesses on the part of Canadian government are only signs of what Canada would become in a few years time. Holding a full-scale public inquiry would reveal nothing more than what has already been revealed. [4]

This is time to focus on the road that leads Canada to the club of most repressive regimes under the influence and auspices of the United States.

Forget the speeches of political leaders full of empty promises, forget the media platitudes and ersatz adulations, forget wishful thinking of living in a free world. If you want to know the real state of Canada in a few years time, take a good look at the source of its inspiration and influence - the USA.

Signs of the most dangerous trends in the making are: Watching Canadian soldiers leaving for consolidating occupations; listening to CBC reporting soldiers returning from assistance in occupation as coming home from "tour" in Afghanistan; taking humiliation, arrests and deportations of Canadian citizens by the US for granted, and accepting raids on offices of journalists as a routine.

To see consequences of acquiescing to such trends, one has to look at what has become of the United States.

See the curse of racism well accepted in the name of racial profiling in the US. See the millions of unemployed, many with advanced college degrees. See the high-paying jobs flowing to other countries. See the dollar in decline and nothing left to arrest the fall. See corporate executives looting their own companies and then walking free. See the schools that lack basic supplies. See the closed emergency rooms. See the rolling blackouts.

See the defense budget bloat to half a trillion dollars. See the billions in tax dollars pouring out to puppet regimes. See the American women and children sleeping in alleys and eating out of trash dumpsters. See the closed factories, the rusted foundries, and the abandoned mills. See the poverty and starvation.

And above all see the growing evidence of government's complicity in the terrorist attacks on the US. Closing eyes to the mounting evidence that no terrorist organization could carryout 9/11 without a high-level support from within the US will keep on forcing Canada and other countries into making strategic blunders after blunder.

Unless approved on high level from within, no terrorist act can ever be carried out in the kind of state that the US has become. Canada or any another country must not exchange their values and freedoms for the exaggerated security threats to the US.

Canadians must not forget to see that no one looks up to the US as a bastion of freedom, law, and democracy any more. No one look upon the United States as a moral leader any more.

Before sacrificing further liberties of its citizen, Canadian government must look at the state of affairs in the US and see its future in blindly following its leads.[5]

The choice is up to Canada to remain Canada - land of the free, or become a mini-United States.

Notes:

[1]. Robert Fife, "Canada OK'd deporting Arar, reports U.S. TV," CanWest News Services. Canada Post, Thursday, January 22, 2004
http://www.canada.com/national/story.asp?id=14F49C7F-E3E9-452C-B18E-98C1B4E4BADC

[2]. TOM GODFREY, "Custom coding in plane travel, New airport security," TORONTO SUN, January 22, 2004
http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/TorontoSun/News/2004/01/22/320583.html

[3]. OLIVER MOORE, "RCMP raid reporter's home," Globe and Mail, January 21, 2004
http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040121.wraid0121/BNStory/Front/

[4]. KATHLEEN HARRIS AND JOHN STEINBACHS, "Arar case targets reporter Raid on home 'smacks of police-state mentality' SUN MEDIA, January 22, 2004.
http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/TorontoSun/News/2004/01/22/320589.html

[5]. BOB HERBERT, "The Other America," New York Times, January 23, 2004.


Canada's dossier on Maher Arar

The existence of a group of Ottawa men with alleged ties to al-Qaeda is at the root of why the government opposes an inquiry into the case. The Citizen's Juliet O'Neill reports.

There is said to be a sign in an office at the RCMP that reads like this: "Beware rogue elephants — The Easter Bunny."

It's a half-joking reference to "rogue elements" of the RCMP that Solicitor General Wayne Easter has said may have passed information about Maher Arar to authorities in the United States, from which he was deported to Syria last year.

The other half of the joke is no joke at all. The RCMP — not rogue elements, but workaday investigators — had caught Mr. Arar in their sights while investigating the activities of members of an alleged al-Qaeda logistical support group in Ottawa. RCMP watchers were suspicious when they saw Mr. Arar and their main target, Abdullah Almalki, talking outside in the pouring rain away from eavesdroppers.

It is the existence of that now-disbanded alleged group, most if not all of whose members, including Mr. Almalki, are now in prison abroad, that a security source cites as the root of why the Canadian government is so fiercely opposed to a public inquiry into the case of Mr. Arar.

And it was in defence of their investigative work — against suggestions that the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, had either bungled Mr. Arar's case or, worse, purposefully sent an innocent man to be tortured in Syria --that securityofficials leaked allegations against him in the weeks leading to his return to Canada.

One of the leaked documents is about what Mr. Arar allegedly told Syrian military intelligence officials during the first few weeks of his incarceration.

It contains minute details of seven months of supposed training at the Khalden camp in Afghanistan by the Mujahadeen in 1993. It alleges he was trained in small arms use and military tactics and names specific instructors. It even contains a code name he is said to have confessed to: Abu Dujan, after a legendary Muslim fighter who was recognized by a red headband that signalled a determination to fight to the death for the prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Arar says he confessed to training in Afghanistan when he was tortured, agreeing to an Afghan camp name at random. He had never been in or near Afghanistan.

The document also tells of a purported trip by Mr. Arar to neighbouring Pakistan while en route to the Mujahadeen camp. It says he went at the behest of Montreal members of a group named the Pakistani Jamaat Tabligh, described as an Islamic missionary organization not know to be involved in acts of violence or terrorism. It said he had been assigned in the early 1990s, while studying at McGill University, to recruit followers for the Jihad.

There was nothing in the document about any terrorist activities in Ottawa or anywhere else. It gave an account of his work record, including his salary at one company, and said his lawyer had told the RCMP he would speak with them when he returned from a trip to Tunisia in January, 2002, but there had been no further contact from the RCMP.

The document said Mr. Arar had told U.S. interrogators in New York City that he had travelled to Pakistan with the Tabligh group, but he denied going to Afghanistan and that he first met Mr. Almalki at a family gathering. He allegedly told the American interrogators that Mr. Almalki approached him and one of his brothers in 1994 or 1995 with a proposition for a joint business venture in the communications/computing field in Ottawa. But the brothers decided against it because conditions in Ottawa were too competitive.

One of Mr. Almalki's brother's had told Mr. Arar in 1998 that Mr. Almaki had worked for an aid organization in Afghanistan. The last time the brother had seen Mr. Almalki was in October, 2001. Mr. Arar later heard from the brother that Mr. Almalki had moved to Malaysia. (Mr. Almalki's family says he was arrested in Syria during a visit from Malaysia. Mr. Arar saw him in prison in Syria and said he had been tortured.)

Mr. Arar is demanding a public inquiry into the role of the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) into his deportation. He also wants to know if Canadian officials devised the questions he was asked in the United States and during torture sessions in Syria, says Mr. Arar's spokeswoman, Kerry Pither. She said the questions focused on Afghanistan and his knowledge of Mr. Almalki.

When the RCMP called on Mr. Arar in January, 2002 — the same month that RCMP executed a search warrant against Mr. Almalki, seizing computers and files and interrogating two of his brothers — Mr. Arar was out of the country.

He telephoned the RCMP from Tunisia and later agreed to meet them, accompanied by his lawyer. The RCMP never followed up, Mr. Arar says. Mr. Arar had disappeared, says a security source — a notion Ms. Pither says is outlandish. Mr. Arar was in Canada for the next six months and could have been contacted with a phone call.

When an RCMP investigator knocked on his door a couple of weeks later, he found Mr. Arar and his family were gone. Neighbours said he and his family had held a garage sale, packed and moved. However, Ms. Pither says the RCMP could have contacted Mr. Arar through his lawyer. She did not know whether they had moved at that time.

Eight months later, while returning to Canada from Tunisia, where Mr. Arar's family was on an extended family visit that had begun in June, Mr. Arar was pulled aside at New York's JFK airport, detained and then, under a deportation order citing him as a member of a prohibited terrorist group — al-Qaeda — was spirited to Syria, from where he had emigrated when he was 17 years old.

It is the existence of a suspected Ottawa-based al-Qaeda "cell" and what its members were believed to be up to, that a security source cites as the root of why the Canadian government is so fiercely opposed to a public inquiry into the case of Mr. Arar.

Such an inquiry could open a can of worms involving Syrian, American and Canadian investigations into alleged terror plots in Ottawa and alleged shipments of electronic and computer equipment to al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Perhaps most difficult for the government, an inquiry would present a dilemma over what to do about suspects who have wound up in prison in their native countries, including Mr. Almalki. If Mr. Arar has caused such an uproar, others may do likewise.

An inquiry might also put the spotlight on allegations of a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy and on allegations that the plot had been abandoned in favour of apparently easier targets — on Parliament Hill and elsewhere in the nation's capital.

Right suspect, wrong target was how one source put it when the CanWest News reported last summer on Mr. Almalki's suspected involvement in an alleged U.S. Embassy bombing plot. The RCMP officially denied knowledge of the plot last July, effectively shutting down the story that stemmed from a report in the New Yorker magazine by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

The story told of how after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, the Syrians had emerged as one of the Central Intelligence Agency's most effective intelligence allies in the fight against al-Qaeda, sharing hundreds of dossiers on al-Qaeda cells throughout the Middle East and in Arab exile communities in Europe. Syria had accumulated much of its information, Mr. Hersh wrote, because of al- Qaeda's ties to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic terrorists who have been at war with the secular Syrian government for more than two decades.

The contents of seven search warrants issued to the RCMP by an Ontario Court of Justice judge the day before Mr. Almalki's apartment was searched, remain sealed. And most, if not all the targets of the RCMP investigation into the alleged cell are said to be in prison abroad. Only Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian-Canadian, is said to be at large, possibly in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Affairs Department has for months had a list of seven Canadian men with alleged links to terrorism in prison abroad. Until a few weeks ago, that list included Mr. Arar. The seven are among the more than 3,000 Canadians in prison in foreign countries, most of them in the U.S. and most of them on more common criminal charges, such as possession of drugs.

Gar Pardy, the recently retired consular affairs chief from Foreign Affairs, says the RCMP and CSIS persistently opposed Foreign Affairs' efforts to bring Mr. Arar's case to the prime minister for intervention.

"The RCMP and the security people, that's where the division came down," Mr. Pardy said in an interview. "They were saying we have our responsibilities and we don't agree. I think it delayed our efforts to get him out of there to some extent, although I don't think by a heck of a lot quite frankly.