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Day sees role for MPs in holding RCMP, CSIS to account on security issues
Jim Brown
Canadian Press

Public Safety minister Stockwell Day. (CPimages/Tom Hanson)

OTTAWA (CP) - Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says greater oversight of national security operations by elected politicians can help restore public confidence in the wake of the Maher Arar debacle.

In an interview Sunday on CTV's "Question Period," Day noted that the United States, Britain and Australia all have legislative committees that monitor their security forces.

He suggested a similar all-party committee of Parliament could keep tabs on both the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

"I am for that," said Day. "I was for that as an opposition member, and the prime minister (Stephen Harper) is for that. It was part of our campaign commitment."

Day cautioned that the members of any such parliamentary committee would have to be sworn to secrecy on operational details affecting national security. Nevertheless, he said, a watchdog group of MPs could help ensure the Mounties and CSIS don't go off the rails.

Day was more ambiguous on whether there should also be a stronger civilian review agency to monitor the RCMP - along the lines of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which already oversees CSIS.

There is an existing body - the RCMP Public Complaints Commission - that is supposed to perform the same function for the Mounties. But the former head of the commission, Shirley Heafey, has complained it lacks the clout to do its job.

Arar, a Syrian-Canadian dual citizen, was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2002 and deported to Damascus. During a year in detention there he was tortured into false confessions of ties to al-Qaida.

Justice Dennis O'Connor, who conducted a public inquiry into the affair, concluded that Arar was innocent, and that the Americans "very likely" acted on the basis of erroneous information passed to them by the RCMP.

Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has said the force later corrected that information, but he has not explained why the Mounties never publicly cleared Arar during his time in Syria.

Evidence before O'Connor indicated that both the RCMP and CSIS considered sending lists of questions for the Syrians to put to Arar, despite the risk of torture.

The judge also called for further investigation of three other cases in which Arab-Canadian men say they were tortured abroad and accuse Canadian officials of complicity.

Day said the Conservative government will act on that recommendation, but gave no details of what form the investigation would take, other than to say it won't be another full-fledged public inquiry.

He also denied the Tories backed away from another of the judge's recommendations - filing a formal diplomatic protest with the United States over Arar's treatment - for fear of angering the Bush administration in Washington.

Day has sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff saying Arar's name has been removed from terrorist watch lists north of the border, and urging the U.S. to delete him from its lists as well.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has also discussed the case with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but has stopped short of an official protest.

Zaccardelli has said he won't resign over the affair, and the government has expressed confidence in his continued leadership of the RCMP.

© The Canadian Press 2006

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