It’s been slightly more then four years since Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was arrested by American security forces for suspicion of terrorist activity on the advice of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The American’s deported Mr. Arar to Syria, his country of birth, where he spent a year in jail being tortured for information about his non-existent ties with al-Qaeda.
This year Justice Dennis O’Connor, of the Canadian judiciary, led a commission of inquiry investigating how it was possible that an innocent man could have ended up being forced by Syrian torturers to confess to crimes he didn’t commit. Those sections of the Mr. O’Connor’s findings that the government has allowed to be released, parts being suppressed for reasons of “National Security”, contained two very damning accusations.
The first was that the information the RCMP passed to American intelligence forces was not only false, but that it had never been properly vetted for accuracy before being handed over. The second was that before and after the time Mr. Arar was imprisoned Canadian officials “leaked” information to the press damaging to his reputation in order to cover their own asses.
The fallout from this report has started to be felt by the RCMP, Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has resigned from the force, and Mr. O’Connor will be releasing a second report this coming week which will contain suggestions for increasing oversight of the force’s activities.
Although there had been rumours of pressure on Mr. Zaccardelli to resign from the force this past fall, the axe finally fell this week when he decided to change the testimony he had given previously to a House of Commons committee investigating the incident. Back in the fall he had testified that the RCMP had discovered their mistake about Mr. Arar and had tried to correct the situation.
This week however he informed the same committee that he actually had no knowledge of whether such an attempt had taken place or not. He has been quoted as saying the O’Connor commission was causing events to take on a life of their own, leading one to suspect that there is information in the report that contradicts his earlier testimony. Perhaps it’s part of what is still being suppressed, or that next week’s list of recommendations will contradict him.
Either way, no matter how you spin it, the country’s top cop lied to parliament last fall to cover his ass. He had been at the helm when Mr. Arar was arrested so he was responsible for what happened. The only reason he could have for telling the committee that they tried to correct their mistake would be to make it look like he was on top of things, and to reduce his culpability.
But, as Mr. Arar pointed out in a statement released in response to Mr. Zaccardelli’s resignation, no action has been taken on finding out who were the mysterious Canadian officials who leaked information to the press that has destroyed his and his family’s life. Although he was careful not to demand that journalists reveal their sources he did say that he hoped they would reveal the information in the event of an independent investigation into the leaks.
According to Mr. Arar’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, his client’s life, and the lives of his family, have been irreparably damaged by the leaks and events. Unlike other Muslims he will never again be able to make the pilgrimage to Mecca without fear of harassment or even arrest; a trucking company owned by his brother has been wiped out because they can no longer enter the United States because of their name; and Mr. Arar’s parents suffered horrible anxieties while their son was jailed in the country they fled.
Mr. Arar also wonders why it is that Prime Minister Steven Harper is so reticent about issuing an apology on behalf of the Canadian government. He knows that Mr. Harper wasn’t Prime Minister at the time, (although given Mr. Harper’s allegiances that’s probably fortunate) and bears no direct responsibility, he is now the voice and face of the Canadian government. The least he could do is apologise on behalf of the institutions that failed Mr. Arar.
Mr. Arar’s concerns about the government’s inaction were only partially assuaged by the resignation of Mr. Zaccardelli because as he points out there was more than just the RCMP involved in his case. Aside from the unknown government officials from some unknown department, the Canadian civilian spy agency, CSIS, was also involved in his case.
Mr Arar believes there is need for more than just the RCMP to be overseen, but all agencies responsible for the collection and dissemination of information concerning Canadian citizens. He claims such a step is needed in order to prevent a repeat of what happened to him and the three other men who have come forward to report the same things happening to them.
Mr. Arar has filed a civil suit against the government and its various agencies. The original amount was for 400 million dollars, but that has been whittled down to a figure in the mid – thirties as he begins to have meetings to settle the final amount. But Mr. Arar’s real concern appears to be that the government take steps to ensure that no one need ever go through what he had to.
In Canada we believe that we don’t have to worry about being arrested for no apparent reason. If we want that belief to be a reality, than we had best hope that the government follows through on all the recommendations offered by Justice O’Connor. Otherwise there always will remain the chance of what happened to Mr. Arar happening to you and me.