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Arar lambastes federal moves to limit disclosure of documents at inquiry
Jim Bronskill
Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) -- Information obtained under torture by foreign countries and relayed to Canadian intelligence services should not be suppressed at the Maher Arar inquiry, the Ottawa man's lawyers say.

In a submission filed Thursday, Marlys Edwardh and Lorne Waldman asked Justice Dennis O'Connor, the inquiry commissioner, to approach with skepticism the government's application to withhold a wide range of documents from public scrutiny.

Government lawyers argued late last month that disclosure of investigative methods used by the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service could make them pariahs of the global intelligence community or even provide terrorists with valuable information.

Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained in New York on suspicions of terrorism in September 2002.

The Ottawa telecommunications engineer, travelling on a Canadian passport, was subsequently deported by U.S. authorities to his birthplace of Syria.

Arar says he was tortured for months by Syrian officials before being released. He denies any involvement in terrorism.

The federal government appointed O'Connor, an Ontario judge, to lead an inquiry into Arar's detention and deportation, including any role Canadian agencies may have played.

The government has informed the commission of inquiry that it intends to withhold from public disclosure certain information, such as investigative techniques, on grounds of national security.

In their submission, Arar's lawyers said the government's position regarding the scope of national security confidentiality is "overbroad to the point of being offensive" to those knowledgeable about criminal justice.

"The techniques of sophisticated criminal and counter-terrorism investigations are, for the most part, well-known."

Much material related to the Arar case has already entered the public domain through "selective leaks or statements" by government authorities, the brief adds.

The lawyers say it's time to publicly examine the question of whether information obtained by torture should be used in any way by Canadian intelligence services -- as may be the case with Arar.

"If our intelligence services rely on information extracted under torture, they are complicit in the torture," Arar's lawyers say.

Such information is worthless, and any evidence that Canadian services make use of it must not be kept from the public, the brief adds.

Arar's counsel also point to "the horror, outrage and degradation" associated with the use of torture by American troopsin Iraq, saying it has "challenged the moral authority from which western democracies speak."

© Canadian Press 2004

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