Judge orders release of Maher Arar information

Maher Arar reacts during a news conference on Sept. 18, 2006 in Ottawa. (CP / Fred Chartrand)

Maher Arar reacts during a news conference on Sept. 18, 2006 in Ottawa. (CP / Fred Chartrand)

CTV.ca News Staff
Updated: Wed. Jul. 25 2007 9:09 AM ET

A Federal Court judge has ordered the government to release portions of the Maher Arar report that were censored to the public.

Justice Simon Noel ruled Tuesday that he will uncensor some -- but not all -- of the 1,500 words that had been blacked out, The Globe and Mail reports.

The passages are to be revealed within 10 days, unless any of the parties launch an appeal.

"In the end, I have agreed in part with the Attorney-General and in part with the [Arar] Commission," Noel wrote in his 64-page ruling, without revealing further details.

Government censors blacked out only a fraction of one per cent of the findings, The Globe reports, but the secret portions are expected to be crucial.

The public findings of the Arar Commission report released last fall were significant.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli resigned after its release and Ottawa paid Arar $10 million in compensation for his wrongful detention in Syria.

The revelations also prompted another inquiry to look at the detention of other Canadian Arabs held in Syria after 9/11.

During Federal Court hearings this spring, commissioner Justice Dennis O'Connor and Arar argued the public needs to see all findings in the report.

The federal Attorney-General, however, countered by saying national security would be imperilled if Canada is forced to divulge state secrets, particularly ones received from foreign agencies, or "third parties."

Noel recognized Ottawa's argument, and at one point in his decision wrote, "The third-party rule is one that is sacred among law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and is premised on mutual confidence, reliability and trust."

Only a select few know what has been ordered uncensored at this point, but the consequences of disclosure or non-closure could be profound.

For example, one censored section raises the question of whether statements obtained by torture from the other Syrian prisoners ended up in RCMP search warrants, The Globe reports.

"The reliability of such information is always in question," reads the passage, with three asterisks blocking out the details. (Readers are referred to a later section urging authorities to better assess the reliability of intelligence possibly derived from torture overseas.)

International exchanges were key to the ordeal suffered by Arar, a Syrian-born telecommunications engineer who was flagged by Canadian agencies as a possible "Islamic extremist" in 2001.

The next year, U.S. authorities arrested Arar at a New York airport and declared him an al Qaeda member, citing two Canadian "associates" then jailed in Syria. Arar was flown to the Middle East in shackles and tortured during his one-year detention.

Justice O'Connor began unravelling Arar's account in 2004, but Syria and the U.S. refused to provide any information. The Canadian government frequently invoked national security considerations to force proceedings behind closed doors.

The commission was still able to scrutinize relevant Canadian files before concluding federal agencies spread misleading information about Arar.

The commission also concluded Arar should not have been considered a threat to national security.

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