CSIS watchdog to probe Arar case

Globe and Mail Update

UPDATED AT 4:36 PM EST Monday, Dec. 22, 2003


The Security Intelligence Review Committee on Monday announced an investigation of CSIS's involvement in the Maher Arar case.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was arrested while changing planes in New York. He was deported to his native Syria, where he says he was mistreated for 10 months before his release in October.

Foreign Minister Bill Graham has said he was told by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on December 2nd that both the RCMP and CSIS were involved in providing information to United States about Mr. Arar. This was after Mr. Graham asked Mr. Powell for a full account of the Canadian involvement in the case.

CSIS had previously stated that it had no involvement in the Arar arrest.

SIRC — the only independent, external committee with the legal authority to review CSIS activities and report to Parliament — hopes to release a report by the spring of 2004.

"We will review all materials available to us, we will then provide findings and make recommendations and follow up on those recommendations," a SIRC spokeswoman told on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Arar's attorney, Lorne Waldman, issued a press release Monday afternoon saying that the investigation doesn't rule out the need for a full public inquiry into the role played by CSIS.

"The SIRC process is a closed-door process that the public does not have access to, and right now, what we need is a public process so that both Maher, and the public can learn what happened, and why it happened, and ensure it will not happen again," Mr. Waldman said.

The committee will not subpoena people involved in the case. They may ask for clarifications, but will conduct no full interviews. Instead, the investigation will focus on e-mails between CSIS and various domestic and foreign agencies like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and foreign intelligence agencies.

The report will be prepared pursuant to section 54 of the CSIS act. Under section 54, the committee "may on request by the Minister or at any other time" forward to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness a report on any matter that relates to "the performance of its duties and functions."

According to a SIRC news release, the investigation into CSIS's role in the Arar case has not been requested by Mr. Graham, who said recently that there had been no Canadian involvement in the decision to deport Mr. Arar.

The committee is conducting the review on its own initiative.

"To do a section 54 is unusual for us," admitted the spokeswoman. "In the last 10 years, we've only conducted a section 54 seven times."

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