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Canadian spies OK'd deportation
Robert Fife
The Ottawa Citizen; With files from Global National
Maher Arar is shown with his wife, Monia Mazigh, after arriving back in Canada in October following his release from a Syrian jail. More than a year earlier, the RCMP had six officers at the Dorval airport waiting for Mr. Arar to return from Tunisia. He was stopped in New York instead, and deported to Syria.
CREDIT: Rod MacIvor, The Ottawa Citizen

Canadian intelligence quietly approved of the United States decision to arrest and deport Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar to Syria, CBS's 60 Minutes II reported last night.

Prime Minister Paul Martin and other senior government officials have denied the RCMP or Canadian Security Intelligence Service consented to Mr. Arar's deportation to Syria, where he says he was tortured.

The government conceded Canada exchanged intelligence with the Americans about Mr. Arar's activities and alleged links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, but insisted it did not know he would be deported to Syria, which engages in torture.

However, 60 Minutes II, citing senior U.S. officials, said Canadian law enforcement agencies were fully aware and sanctioned Mr. Arar's deportation in the fall of 2002 -- the same time Foreign Affairs officials were urging U.S. agencies to return him to Canada.

"While Canadian diplomats were demanding answers from the U.S., it turns out that all along it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who'd been passing U.S. intelligence the information about Arar's alleged terrorist associations," CBS correspondent Vicki Mabrey reported.

"U.S. government officials we spoke to say they told Canadian intelligence they were sending Arar to Syria and the Canadians OKed it."

The CBS report contradicts assurances given by the RCMP and CSIS to their political masters that they played no role in Mr. Arar's deportation, but it supports statements made by U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci.

Last April, Mr. Cellucci said that the Ottawa software technician was well-known to Canadian law enforcement agencies and "they wouldn't be happy to see him come back to Canada."

But just last week in Monterrey, Mexico, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham told reporters Mr. Cellucci no longer stood by the assertion that Canada approved Mr. Arar's deportation.

"That was a statement (Mr. Cellucci) made at one point at a cocktail party, but he subsequently said that Canada had not been consulted and he said the decision was made by the United States and by itself without discussing it (with Canada)," Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Martin also told reporters in Mexico the RCMP could not have been involved in Mr. Arar's deportation because it had officers in Canada "waiting at the airport expecting (Mr. Arar) to come" back from Tunisia.

Officials say the RCMP had six undercover officers at Montreal's Dorval Airport on Sept. 26, 2002, waiting for Mr. Arar's return from Tunisia through New York's JFK Airport to follow him to gain intelligence on his activities in Canada.

"If you have people at Montreal airport waiting for a guy to get off the plane, you certainly weren't in cahoots with the guys shipping him elsewhere and giving tacit approval. Otherwise, why would you have six guys at the airport?" a source said.

The CBS revelation has renewed demands from MPs in all parties for a full public inquiry.

"All of this underscores yet again, how urgent it is to get on with a full, independent public inquiry into the Arar fiasco," NDP MP Alexa McDonough said yesterday.

Officials say Mr. Martin has been extensively briefed on Mr. Arar's activities abroad and in Canada, suggesting this is why the government backed off holding a public inquiry into his deportation.

The RCMP Public Complaints Commission is looking into the RCMP's role in the Arar case while CSIS's activities are being investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee.

Mr. Arar, who holds both Canadian and Syrian passports, spent 10 months in a Syrian prison cell which he has described as no bigger than a grave. He said he endured extensive torture during his captivity. He returned to Canada in the fall.

Canadian and U.S. intelligence officials say they are "100-per-cent sure" Mr. Arar trained at the same al-Qaeda camp in Khaldun, Afghanistan, as Ahmed Ressam, the former Montrealer convicted of planning a terrorist attack against the U.S.

Mr. Arar denies he is a member of al-Qaeda and maintains he has never been to Afghanistan. He says he confessed to travelling to the country only after being tortured by Syrian intelligence officers.

U.S. officials claim Mr. Arar had the names of "a large number of known al-Qaeda operatives, affiliates or associates" in his wallets and pockets when he was detained. The U.S. order to deport Mr. Arar to Syria via Jordan declared that sending him home to Canada would be prejudicial to the interests of the United States.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

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