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RCMP raids reporter's offices over Arar case

RCMP raid Juliet O'Neill's house
Juliet O'Neill
Juliet O'Neill
RCMP raid Juliet O'Neill's house
RCMP raid Juliet O'Neill's house News Staff
Updated: Thu. Jan. 22 2004 6:36 AM ET

Searching for evidence in connection with an alleged leak of confidential information in the Maher Arar case, the RCMP turned its attention to a veteran journalist in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Ten Mounties searched Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill's house for more than five hours Wednesday morning. Another search warrant was executed on her office at the paper's city hall bureau.

"The RCMP is conducting a criminal investigation pursuant to the Security of Information Act into allegations of leaked information regarding Mr. Maher Arar," RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Marsh told reporters.

Acting on the advice of her lawyer, O'Neill answered reporters' questions with little more than "I'm feeling fine."

In November, O'Neill wrote a story on the Arar case, which centres around the Ottawa man deported by the United States and subsequently tortured during a year-long detention in Syria.

O'Neill's lawyer, Richard Dearden, would say his client plans to fight, especially since charges could mean a possible 14-year jail sentence.

In her article, O'Neill quoted leaked documents that suggested Arar was a trained terrorist member of an Ottawa al Qaeda cell.

Under the Security of Information Act, passed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, it is illegal to communicate leaked secret documents.

Scott Anderson, the Citizen's editor-in-chief, said the RCMP search was being conducted under Section 4 of the act.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan has said the RCMP would try to identify the source or sources who leaked information about the Arar case to the media.

But Anderson is still shocked at the move, and accuses Ottawa of going after the media while resisting demands for a public inquiry.

"It's an outrage," he told CTV News. "It's a black day for free speech in this country."

"This is a government that wants to shut down reporters on a case that is embarrassing to them and this new legislation seems to give them the power to do that in a police-state manner."

The newspaper has retained a lawyer and will vigorously defend itself, he said.

Ottawa has, so far, refused to initiate a public inquiry, insisting Canada had nothing to do with Arar's deportation or detention.

Arar to file suit against Ashcroft

On Thursday, Arar is expected to file suit against U.S. officials including Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The 33-year-old computer engineer claims he was tortured during his 10 months in Syrian custody. While in custody, Arar said he was repeatedly interrogated about connections with al Qaeda, the Islamic fundamentalist terror network.

He was released without explanation this fall and returned to Canada.

Arar has denied any links to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Media reports have quoted anonymous government sources as saying Arar trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Arar has called for a public inquiry to clear his name.

The lawsuit will be filed in New York. That's where Arar, who was born in Syria, was detained while on his way home from a visit to Tunisia.

Lawyers at the New York-based American Center for Constitutionals Rights said last year they would assist Arar with his case.

Arar has also filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Syria.

The case has been a source of tension in U.S.-Canada relations, with Prime Minister Paul Martin bringing it up in his meeting with U.S. President George Bush last week at the Summit of the Americas.

"One of the things that I promised him today is that there will be notification prior to any consideration of deportation," Bush told reporters after his Jan. 13 with the prime minister.

On Wednesday night, Arar's case got its prime time U.S. network televison debut in a feature on CBS' newsmagazine 60 Minutes II.

The special reiterated previously made claims that not only did the Americans inform the RCMP and CSIS Arar was being sent to Syria, Ottawa actually okayed it.

The U.S. has consistently said it acted on information it received from Canadian agencies when deporting Arar.

The Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP has launched an inquiry into the Mounties' involvement in the Arar case. The Security and Intelligence Review Committee, which is the civilian overseer of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, is also conducting a similar review.

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