Harper could be called before Arar inquiry

Maher Arar
Ward Elcock

Ward Elcock

Justice Dennis O'Connor

Justice Dennis O'Connor

CTV.ca News Staff
Updated: Wed. Jun. 23 2004 2:34 PM ET

Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper could be called as a witness at the inquiry into the deportation of Maher Arar to Syria.

Harper revealed Tuesday evening that he had received a secret briefing on Arar's case. He said he had heard mixed messages, "not just in the House of Commons, but to us privately, by authorities in this country, that had suggested that the deportation of Mr. Arar was appropriate."

In Ottawa Wednesday, the commission's counsel Paul Cavalluzzo said Harper's comments about are cause for concern. He said Harper would be asked to testify if he can shed light on the case.

"We are going to thoroughly inquire into what happened. If we feel that Mr. Harper is going to help us in our mandate, he will be called.''

Cavalluzzo added that other party leaders including Liberal Paul Martin might be called before the inquiry as well.

Lorne Waldman, Arar's lawyer, said he wants to know who briefed Harper and how he arrived at his opinions, because "this is very, very serious.''

Arar, 34, was detained at the airport in New York City in September 2002 during a stopover on his way back to Canada from a family trip in Tunisia. Less than two weeks later, he was deported to Syria, where he says he was beaten, tortured and forced to give a false confession about alleged links to al Qaeda.

He was released 10 months later without explanation and returned to Canada last fall.

He told Canada AM Wednesday that the inquiry underway into his deportation will be difficult but necessary for his emotional recovery from the ordeal.

"I do have my own questions that I need answers for," he told Canada AM on Wednesday before the third day of hearing was set to get underway.

"It's very emotional, especially when the word 'Syria' is mentioned and 'prison' is mentioned. It just reminds me of what happened to me. But it's important for me to be there ... because getting answers is healing."

The public inquiry into the Arar case continued Wednesday with Jack Hooper, the deputy director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service testifying.

On Tuesday, CSIS's former chief, Ward Elcock, testified. He told the inquiry that he knew about the controversial American practice of sending suspected terrorists for questioning in foreign countries.

He testified he was aware as early as March of 2002 of rumours that U.S. officials were transferring suspects to Egypt and Jordan and bypassing extradition procedures.

But it was unclear whether he had independent knowledge, or got it from newspaper reports.

He also cited national security to avoid saying whether CSIS trades information with Syria.

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