Canada must share intelligence with torturers

Published Saturday November 1st, 2008

OTTAWA - Canada's deputy attorney general says the demands of national security mean Ottawa can't be "shutting our doors to regimes we don't like."

John Sims' comments come in the wake of an inquiry that concluded federal officials were partly to blame for the torture of three Arab-Canadians jailed in Syria and Egypt as part of international terrorism probes.

Former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci found Canadian officials indirectly contributed to the brutalization of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin by sharing unsubstantiated and sometimes inflammatory information with foreign intelligence and police agencies.

None of the three men, all of whom deny involvement in terrorism, has ever been charged.

Sims, the top Justice Department bureaucrat, told a gathering of intelligence officials and academics Friday that security agencies need to take stock.

"I think people will read and think carefully about the latest report, and see if there are things that we need to do to avoid the kinds of problems and deficiencies that are being described."

But Sims said the intelligence taps cannot be turned off in a world in which counter-terrorism has come to the fore.

"The need to exchange information with unpalatable regimes is a significant and troubling aspect of the new reality. Threats to the security of Canada often originate in, or have significant connections with, countries where the commitment to democratic values and the rule of law is tenuous, or has never really existed in the first place."

He said this is not really new, noting the United Nations was established to enable communication between countries who sometimes disagree.

"In the context of information sharing we must be vigilant, however, to be sure that we do not become implicated in human rights abuses abroad. At the same time, shutting our doors to regimes we don't like is not an option."

He suggested that walling off Canada from such countries might save some Canadians from harm, but it might also make many other Canadians vulnerable to terrorism.

Amnesty International Canada wrote Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week demanding immediate action on Iacobucci's "strong and important" report.

Amnesty says Canada must apologize to the three men and ensure they receive appropriate compensation.

The human rights group also wants "disciplinary, criminal or other action" to hold Canadian individuals accountable, and calls on Ottawa to lodge official diplomatic protests with the Syrian and Egyptian governments regarding the human rights abuses.

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