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Maher Arar and wife renew call for full inquiry

Monia Mazigh and Maher Arar
Monia Mazigh and Maher Arar News Staff
Updated: Mon. Dec. 29 2003 6:29 AM ET

It's been almost two months since Maher Arar returned to Canada, yet Canadians are no closer to knowing why the Americans deported Arar to a Syrian prison. Craig Oliver talked to Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, who say that only a full public inquiry can answer that question.

The government has announced there will be RCMP and CSIS internal investigations.

A transcript of Oliver's interview, from CTV's Question Period year-end show: 

Oliver: Can I ask you, Mr. Arar first, how have you coped in the almost more than three months since you came home?

Arar: I can tell you it's not easy to try to get back to normal life. But what is making things easier for me is the fact that I have a lot of support from my wife and my family and the people around me ... the healing process is long and so far I've improved a little bit, but I think things will take longer for me to get back to normal life.

Oliver: Why do you think there has been the reluctance to have a public inquiry up to now? Everyone seems to be dragging their feet on that?

Mazigh: Since the beginning, my husband and I asked for a public inquiry. For us, it's very important, and we personally think that it's going to be a win-win situation where the government will win out of it, and we are going to win eventually because my husband will have his name cleared. Why is there any reluctance? I think some people who maybe feel that they are not ready to give all the answers are still resisting, but we hope that ... one day the truth will come out.

Oliver: Well, I want to come back to that in a moment, but I guess I also want to ask you about the media attention. You've obviously made a decision to keep up the whole issue, to keep it going with things like "60 Minutes" and this interview which we appreciate you doing. Has that been a conscious decision, and why have you decided not to let this thing go?

Arar: Because what happened to me could also happen to other people in the future, so I felt it's an obligation upon me as a human being and as a Canadian, to do something for other people in the future. To keep my story alive will help other people. It will also put more pressure on the government to call for public inquiry. We have not found the answers yet for what happened to me.

Mazigh:  And I think it is not an obvious choice. Many people will just, after the terrible ordeal that my husband went through  ... But we decided that we have to do something because what happened to him is something unacceptable, and we don't wish to any other people to happen again.

Oliver: What was your reaction to the American Ambassador (Paul Cellucci) having said that as far as he's concerned the Americans can do this again if they think it's necessary for their internal security? In other words, if you've got a Canadian passport and they don't like something about you, they send you back to the country where you originally may have come from.

Arar:  It's very disappointing, and I think it's our government's role ... to make sure that the Canadian passport is really respected and to take positive steps towards that. So we have to let the Americans know that if this happens again, we will not cooperate with them on security issues anymore.

Oliver: We spoke a few moments ago about why there's so much reluctance about a public inquiry. Is that because governments are afraid there may be something to hide here, or at least does that leave the impression that there is something to hide? Does that make you feel like these people may have some reason to think you're guilty of something.

Arar:  Well, there are many indications, for example Mr. Easter admitted that some information that was passed on to the Americans came from Canadian sources which at the beginning he refused to answer. And there are many other things that happened to me that only can be answered by public inquiry....

Oliver: For instance the fact that you were under, apparently, RCMP surveillance before you left Canada. Why would they have had you under surveillance? Can you figure out any reason why that might have been the case?

Arar:  I would like to know, and I was very open to meeting with the RCMP. I, in fact, contacted my lawyer ... my lawyer advised me not to meet with them unless he was present. So I was very open. I had nothing to hide and they did not contact me.

Mazigh:  At any time we never suspect that we were under surveillance, you know. I take care of my kids, I'm at home and we never suspect anything unusual. So why we were under surveillance, we don't know. And probably if the public inquiry is going to happen, it's going to be one of the things that it will come out.

Oliver: There almost, at times, seems to be a very subtle underground campaign to leave doubts about Mr. Arar. For instance, The Washington Post wrote a story that you had incriminating evidence in a wallet or on your person when you were picked up at the airport. What would that have been?

Arar:  Well, what they said in the article is, I had phone numbers on me that, in my wallet, in my pocket ... numbers of al-Qaeda agents or something. That's not true at all. I had phone numbers in my Palm Pilot of coworkers, relatives, and some friends. I didn't have any phone numbers of any terrorists on me.

Oliver: Could it have been that some of these people might have been under suspicion by American and Canadian authorities and you might not have been aware of that?

Arar: There is no single person in there, in this list, that I have any reason to be suspicious of, on that list in my Palm Pilot.

Mazigh:  I think this explanation that had been given in The Washington Post by, I don't know, maybe some officials ... or unnamed U.S. officials, came a little bit late after one year. Because it was the first time that it has been mentioned. So we found it quite ridiculous to say that.... If they claim that they have this kind of information, it's going to be very interesting to reveal it to the Canadian public or the U.S. public.

Oliver: Well, at any point in your life, for whatever reason, however much goodwill, were you sympathetic, in company, with some of these organizations which U.S. intelligence agencies worry about but many Arabs admire? For instance, I'm thinking of something like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, something like that.

Arar:  I was asked, (by) the Americans, on the second day of intensive interrogation. They asked me a couple of questions about my political views and I was very open, I had nothing to hide. They asked me about Iraq, Palestinian and bin Laden. I was very clear. For instance, when they asked me about the war in Iraq, I said I don't support wars in general. I don't support terrorism in any kind of, in any form and I told them Saddam Hussein is a dictator, but who is going to suffer in this war are the people.

Oliver: Then, of course, there was this matter of the lease signed by a person who U.S. and Canadian officials said was connected with terrorism. How did you sign a lease for somebody you sort of didn't know? That was used against you in public. That was one public thing.

Arar:  The Americans consider this as an evidence. I don't consider it as an evidence because it could have happened to many other people. And just to let you know that the person they're talking about, he has not even been charged with anything so far and I have not, had no reason to be suspicious of him. And basically the way it happened... I knew his brother much better, and that's where I actually worked and that's where I took my first job. And I told him to come with my lease and he told me I'm late and he just called his brother and his brother came and signed the lease. It's as simple as this.

Oliver: Do you think there's any chance regarding the lawsuit against the Syrian government?

Mazigh: Eventually we hope that it is going to bring us some answers and to shed the light on many unanswered questions. It's now in front of the court, and let's let the justice take its place. And we are waiting. We agree, and we take the decision to go public and to don't stop and don't relent and we are continuing our effort and we hope that it's going to help us and to help our country and many Canadians.

Oliver: Well, thank you both of you for keeping up the fight. I hope you can have as good a holiday season as it's possible for you to have.

Arar:  Thank you.

Mazigh: Thank you.

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