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18 Nov 2003 22:05:15 GMT
Canada says deportation case could hurt U.S. ties

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - A Canadian cabinet minister said on Tuesday that Ottawa may limit its intelligence sharing with Washington because of widespread concerns over the case of a man who was deported to Syria by U.S. agents.

Solicitor-General Wayne Easter -- in charge of Canada's law enforcement agencies -- spoke ahead of a Washington meeting with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Wednesday where he will raise the issue of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar.

The 33-year-old computer technician was arrested by U.S. agents in September 2002 while changing planes in New York on his way home. He was held by the United States for several days then deported to Syria rather than Canada.

Arar, who was released by Syria only last month, said was regularly tortured during his time in a Damascus jail.

U.S. officials say they suspected Arar belonged to al Qaeda and insist they acted on information provided by Canadian police. Pressure on Ottawa is building to hold a public inquiry into the affair, especially into what information police passed on to U.S. officials.

Asked whether another case like that of Arar could jeopardize intelligence sharing, Easter told reporters: "I think's there certainly potential for that situation."

He continued: "If there were other cases similar to this, of course I believe it would jeopardize the relationship we have with our greatest trading partner and with whom we have to share our information in both our interests."

Last week, U.S. lawyers for Arar called on Ashcroft and congressional intelligence committees to investigate the affair. Arar says he was deliberately deported to Syria because the United States wanted him to be tortured.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Jean Chretien criticized the United States for its actions and said Ottawa had asked Washington to investigate whether Canadian officials played any role in the Arar case.

"We need to be assured that the rights of Canadian citizens are not going to be affected by exchanges of information that we may or may not provide to the United States," Easter said when asked what he would be discussing with Ashcroft.

"We'll be having a discussion on how we can move forward as two countries to ensure we are protecting our national security as two countries and to ensure individual rights of our citizens ... are protected as well. That's where I want to go."

Arar's Canadian lawyers wrote to Easter on Tuesday saying "information-sharing between Canadian and American security agencies must be immediately stopped" unless Ashcroft guaranteed "no other individuals will be illegally (sent) to foreign governments for the purpose of being tortured".

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