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The Hill Times, October 2nd, 2006
By Simon Doyle

CSIS didn't want Arar returned to Canada

Opposition MP wants to question CSIS director Jim Judd before Commons Public Safety Committee

Liberal Public Safety critic Irwin Cotler says he intends to call CSIS director Jim Judd before the House Public Safety Committee to face questions surrounding the intelligence agency's role in the Arar affair.

"I'm going to ask that CSIS also be invited before us, because I think we need to learn as much as we can. The mantra has been that we want to make sure that what has happened to Maher Arar never happens again. Well, then we have to know what role CSIS has in all of this," Mr. Cotler (Mount Royal, Que.) said in an interview last week.

Mr. Cotler said he has concerns about a section in Justice Dennis O'Connor's 822-page report on Maher Arar, released Sept. 18, which documents the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's resistance to bringing Mr. Arar home in 2003, when the government intended to pressure Syria to release Mr. Arar through a diplomatic note.

In May and June 2003, the Canadian government intended to send a letter to Syria indicating that it spoke with "one voice"–seeking the powerful support CSIS and the RCMP–to call for Mr. Arar's release. But according to Justice O'Connor's report, CSIS "was uncomfortable" with a statement in the letter that there was "no evidence" that Mr. Arar had links to al-Qaeda. The agency argued "very strongly" against a letter that it saw as sending the wrong message to U.S. authorities.

"CSIS wanted to make it clear to the Solicitor General that there was 'political jeopardy' in signing a joint letter and that bringing Mr. Arar back to Canada was going to be a political 'hot potato' with American authorities," Justice O'Connor wrote in the report, which cleared Mr. Arar and found that the Mounties had reason to view Mr. Arar only as a "person of interest" and not as a suspect. The report also found that inaccurate and misleading information that the RCMP sent to U.S. authorities "very likely" led to Mr. Arar's extraordinary rendition.

Mr. Arar, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and recently moved from Ottawa to Kamloops, B.C, was wrongfully deported by U.S. authorities and detained for more than a year in Syria, where he was tortured and held in a coffin-sized cell.

In a scrum last week, Mr. Cotler said the report shows that CSIS shares some blame in the government's failure to pressure Syria to release Mr. Arar. "It suggests that CSIS may also have been somewhat associated with the tendering of information at the time that may have been neither accurate nor fair to Maher Arar."

As a result of CSIS' resistance to the letter, the foreign affairs minister was not properly briefed, Justice O'Connor's report says, and on June 5, Gar Pardy, then director general of the consular affairs bureau at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, proposed a letter for then Liberal foreign affairs minister Bill Graham (Toronto Centre, Ont.). However, the proposed letter did not include the important reference that there was "no evidence" of links between Mr. Arar and al-Qaeda.

Mr. Graham's office then attempted to revise the letter, adding the line, "I assure you that there is no evidence he is involved in terrorist activity."

Mr. Pardy sought approval of the revised letter from CSIS and the RCMP, and the RCMP responded with CSIS approval, suggesting that Mr. Graham include what Justice O'Connor called the following "inaccurate" lines that would have done more damage to Mr. Arar's situation in Syria: "Mr. Arar is currently the subject of a national security investigation in Canada. Although there is not sufficient evidence at this time to warrant Criminal Code charges, he remains a subject of interest."

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli testified at the Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Thursday of last week. Mr. Zaccardelli said after Mr. Arar's extraordinary rendition from New York to Syria in 2002, he was alerted to Mr. Arar's case and that he attempted to correction false information about Mr. Arar that the RCMP sent to U.S. authorities.

"I learned about it when I reviewed the information. We tried to correct it with the Americans. We let Canadian officials know about that," Mr. Zaccardelli said of the false information.

But opposition MPs said Mr. Zaccardelli's testimony was incomplete and asked if he had known that the RCMP's information was false, why he did not correct the record in Canada. It remains unclear why the RCMP and CSIS together resisted–as Justice O'Connor documents–the attempt by the minister of foreign affairs to send a letter to Syria saying that there was "no evidence" that Mr. Arar was linked to al-Qaeda.

It is also unclear at which point Mr. Zaccardelli realized Mr. Arar was innocent and why he did not alert the public or governing Liberal ministers at a time when anonymous sources were leaking false and damaging information to the media about Mr. Arar. "I did not make a public statement. I didn't know everything about Mr. Arar," Mr. Zaccardelli said.

Justice O'Connor's report shows that in November 2003 the RCMP also gave an "incomplete briefing" to the Privy Council Office and other government officials. In the briefing, RCMP was asked to provide a timeline and key facts, but withheld from the government some of its major errors in information-sharing with U.S. authorities, Justice O'Connor wrote.

At the committee Mr. Zaccardelli said he was "truly sorry" for the "nightmare" and "terrible injustices" suffered by Mr. Arar and his family. Following the meeting, observers and insiders called it a strategic attempt to grab headlines with an apology but obfuscate the details surrounding the RCMP's role in the affair.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day (Okanagan-Coquihalla, B.C.) also testified before the committee last week, after Mr. Zaccardelli, and expressed confidence in Mr. Zaccardelli for his "forthright" response and promise to implement the recommendations of the O'Connor report.

Justice O'Connor also revealed in his report that CSIS, "for reasons of its own, preferred that Mr. Arar not return to Canada." While DFAIT drafted its letter to argue for Mr. Arar's release in June 2003, Jack Hooper, assistant director of operations for CSIS, called an assistant deputy minister at DFAIT to explain why it opposed the return of Mr. Arar. CSIS feared that if Mr. Arar returned with a public story of torture it could "impair" deportations from Canada to Syria, according to the report. Justice O'Connor added that "CSIS was concerned that, if detainees such as Mr. Arar were returned to Canada, CSIS would require more resources to monitor individuals."

"I certainly have some questions about CSIS' role both in terms of how much they were coordinating with the RCMP at that early stage after 9/11," Joe Comartin, the NDP's Public Safety critic, said on the Hill last week before Question Period. Mr. Comartin, who is also a member of the Public Safety committee, said he is suspicious that there is more to the story surrounding CSIS because of the government's censor of passages in the report due to reasons of "national security, national defence or international relations."

"I'm suspicious that there may be more information there that may help in our oversight of CSIS. I'm suspicious some of that material was redacted out because of national security claims on their part," Mr. Comartin said, adding that the anonymous leaks of false and damaging information to the media about Mr. Arar could have also come from CSIS.

"At least, potentially, the leaks that occurred could just as easily come from CSIS or DFAIT, and I don't think there's enough attention being paid to that possibility," Mr. Comartin said. "The fact that most people are assuming that it was probably the RCMP who did it is probably not a safe assumption."

Lorne Waldman, Mr. Arar's lawyer in Justice O'Connor's Commission of Inquiry, told The Hill Times for a previous story that that the government leaks were part of a cover-up attempt to portray Mr. Arar as a terrorist and to quash what, at the time, was growing public support for a commission of inquiry. If the leakers had succeeded in quashing that momentum for an inquiry, Mr. Waldman said, the RCMP's mistakes would have not been revealed.

In a scrum on the Hill last week after the committee hearing, Mr. Waldman said there are serious allegations in which people need to be held accountable. He drew attention to the report's finding that a CSIS officer claimed not to know that Mr. Arar's statement of links to terrorism would have been obtained under torture.

"These are very, very serious findings and there are a large number of people who have been found at fault: the CSIS officer who didn't realize that the statement that Mr. Arar had given [was] under torture, when any person who knew anything about Syria would have come to that conclusion, as every reasonable person did," Mr. Waldman said. "There are many people who need to be held accountable, and we have not heard today any timeline for any accountability process."

Mr. Cotler said that when the committee discusses future work he will make a recommendation that the CSIS director, Mr. Judd, appear before the committee. As of late last week, Mr. Cotler said he had not had discussed the idea with other opposition members on the committee but intends to do so.

Mr. Cotler also questioned whether the RCMP had acted wrongly on inaccurate information gathered from CSIS. "Even in the first instance, maybe they gave some of that to the RCMP, and the RCMP acted on CSIS," Mr. Cotler said. "I still think we need to know the role of CSIS because at the end of the day what we're talking about is how do we develop a security-related law and policy, how do we develop an anti-terrorism law and policy that comports with the rule of law?" Mr. Cotler said.

Wesley Wark, a professor specializing in Canadian security and intelligence at the University of Toronto, said in an interview that the O'Connor report showed that on some of the most important matters in the report, CSIS played either a small or no role. "One of the key findings was that CSIS officials themselves did not pass any intelligence information to the United States about Mr. Arar either before his detention or during that period of detention in New York," he said in an interview.

Prof. Wark added, however, that the decision of CSIS to pass information about Mr. Arar to the RCMP is significant, even if the RCMP is responsible for what it did with the information. "At one point CSIS felt that case was sufficiently solid, if you like, to pass it to the RCMP, to allow them to see whether they thought it was worthy of further criminal investigation and possible laying of charges."

The Hill Times

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