OTTAWA -- The RCMP went too far when it searched the home and office of an Ottawa journalist looking for information about the Maher Arar case, says former deputy prime minister John Manley. "I thought it was a huge over-reaction," Manley said yesterday on CTV Question Period.
"The ability of the police to investigate is obviously important, but when you encroach on the privacy of a journalist, you've taken it a step beyond what I think most Canadians really consider is acceptable."
The Mounties spent five hours last week at the home of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill, investigating an alleged leak of inside information about the Arar case. Among items seized were computer files, telephone numbers, a phone log, datebook, cassette tapes and notebooks.
Manley insisted, however, the search doesn't mean a public inquiry is needed into the way the RCMP has handled the case, or into the force's possible role in last year's decision by U.S. authorities to deport Arar -- an Ottawa engineer and Canadian citizen -- to his native Syria on suspicion of terrorist activities.
"I don't personally see what a public inquiry will benefit anybody," said Manley, who was in charge of co-ordinating anti-terrorist strategy with Washington under the government of former prime minister Jean Chretien.
Manley maintained the decision to deport Arar was an American one and said U.S. officials couldn't be compelled to testify at a Canadian inquiry.
There is also a danger, he said, a public probe "could potentially compromise" Canadian security and endanger intelligence-sharing arrangements between Ottawa and Washington.
Manley shrugged off suggestions the targeting of O'Neill could intimidate other reporters or have a chilling effect on media freedom.
O'Neill, however, said there's a real danger that she and others won't be able to do their jobs in future.
"The most difficult part is going to be finding out whether I can go back to work as a normal journalist. Already people, other colleagues, are reporting that their sources are drying up. Who's going to want to answer a call from someone who's been branded a criminal for doing her journalistic work?"