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Arar inquiry possible, Martin suggests
Ottawa denies it endorsed a U.S. plan to deport the man to Syria, where he says he was tortured
Robert Fife, with files from Mark Kennedy and Anne Dawson
CanWest News Service, with files from The Edmonton Journal and Canadian Press
Public Security Minister Anne McLellan said she had no advance knowledge of Wednesday's police raids on the home and office of reporter Juliet O'Neill.
CREDIT: Ed Kaiser, Edmonton Journal
Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar is suing the U.S. for deporting him to Syria as a suspected terrorist. He would not say if he also plans to sue Canadian government.
CREDIT: Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press
PM Paul Martin, at World Economic Forum in Davos, says police should be looking for who leaked the information on Arar, not whether a reporter now has the information.
CREDIT: Tom Hanson, Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Paul Martin opened the door on Thursday to a public inquiry in to the Maher Arar affair even as the government denied a U.S. media report that Canadian intelligence sanctioned Arar's deportation to Syria.

But CanWest News Service has learned Washington deported Arar to Syria only after the RCMP informed U.S. law enforcement officials they did not have enough evidence to detain or charge him if he were sent home.

Intelligence sources say the RCMP and U.S. officials were in regular contact after the 33-year- old software engineer was arrested in the fall of 2002 at New York's JFK Airport en route from Tunisia to Montreal.

Sources said the U.S. offered to send him home if the RCMP would charge him, but the Americans were informed Canada did not have enough evidence against Arar, who was a target of an RCMP security investigation.

On Wednesday, the CBS-TV news program 60 Minutes II reported Canadian intelligence officials were told and approved of the U.S. decision to deport Arar to Syria, where he said he was tortured.

Thursday, in Davos, Switzerland, Martin denied Canada approved of the deportation, saying Ottawa expected Arar to be returned home without conditions.

The prime minister also said he hasn't ruled out a public inquiry, but he wants to wait for the results of investigations by the RCMP public complaints commission and security intelligence review committee, the watchdog agency for Canada's spy service.

He added it will be up to Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan to decide what to do after she sees those reports.

In Edmonton, McLellan also denied the RCMP or CSIS consented to that deportation even as Arar and opposition MPs renewed calls for an immediate public inquiry.

"We have absolutely no knowledge that there was any information provided to Canadian officials that Mr. Arar was going to be deported," she said.

In fact, McLellan, using information from the secret RCMP file on Arar, confirmed a CanWest News Service report the RCMP had six officers waiting to follow him when he returned from Tunisia via New York.

"I don't think you'd probably have those officers at Dorval (in Montreal) waiting to receive him if you had any information that he was going to be deported to a third country," she said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci have also said intelligence on Arar came from Canadian law enforcement agencies that did not want him returned to Canada.

But McLellan and Martin said the two Americans had subsequently stated that Canadian security officials were not involved in the U.S. decision to deport Arar. They have not denied that Canada was consulted.

Arar, who on Thursday launched a lawsuit against the United States over his deportation, said he needs a public inquiry to clear his name of allegations he is a terrorist. He would not say if he plans to sue the Canadian government.

"I am looking for justice. I need to clear my name and I want to make sure this does not happen to any other person," he said

The suit says Attorney-General John Ashcroft and other top U.S. officials knew Arar would be tortured when they deported him to Syria in 2002.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Canadian by the Center for Constitutional Rights, also alleges that U.S. authorities deported Arar, then under suspicion of being connected with al-Qaida, to take advantage of violent interrogation techniques banned in the United States.

"Federal officials intentionally deported Mr. Arar to Syria, precisely because that country can and does use methods to obtain information from detainees that would not be legal or morally acceptable in this country," lawyer Barbara Olshansky, deputy legal director of the New York-based group, told a news conference.

Also named in the New York lawsuit were Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge, FBI director Robert Mueller, James Ziglar, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and 14 other officials.

Martin also said Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill, whose home and office were raided Wednesday by RCMP in connection with leaks in the Arar affair, is "clearly not" a criminal.

"Let me put it to you very boldly," said one reporter. "Do you think that Juliet O'Neill is a criminal?"

Martin paused briefly and then replied with emphasis in his voice.

"Clearly not. I just don't know enough about this case to comment further."

Asked the same question later in Edmonton, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan was less empathic.

"Keep in mind what I've said," McLellan replied. "All that's happened here . . . is that a search warrant has been executed. In this country, you have to have charges laid and you have to be convicted in a court of law before anyone's considered a criminal."

McLellan, Canada's minister of public security whose responsibilities include oversight of the RCMP, said she had no prior knowledge of police raids.

"I didn't and it wouldn't have been appropriate in my opinion for me to know," she said from her constituency office in Edmonton. "This is a criminal investigation. It's conducted by the RCMP. And, obviously in this country we want to ensure the independence and integrity of criminal investigations and therefore, in my opinion, it would not have been appropriate to know in advance.

Who will decide on those charges is uncertain since Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has recused himself from the Arar case and no one in his department has been put in charge of the file.

The RCMP raid stemmed from a story that O'Neill wrote last November about how Canadian security officials were suspicious of Arar as a potential security threat.

O'Neill could face charges under the Security of Information Act, introduced by the federal Liberal government in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

 Copyright  2004 Vancouver Sun

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