Privacy watchdog seeks information from journalists in Arar probe
By JIM BRONSKILL
OTTAWA (CP) - At least two journalists, including the Ottawa Citizen reporter whose home was searched by the RCMP, could soon face a grilling from the federal privacy watchdog about the Maher Arar affair.
An investigator in the privacy commissioner's office contacted the Citizen's Juliet O'Neill in early January to advise her she would be asked to attend a meeting about information leaks in the Arar matter. Joy Malbon, an Ottawa-based reporter with CTV News, was also approached last month by the same investigator.
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has the power to summon witnesses, administer oaths and compel the production of evidence if individuals refuse to co-operate with her investigators.
Arar was deported to Syria on suspicions of terrorism, has complained to Stoddart about apparent federal leaks to the media concerning his case.
The Ottawa engineer and Canadian citizen was detained by American officials during a September 2002 stopover in New York as he returned from vacation overseas.
Within weeks the United States sent Arar to his birthplace of Syria, where he was imprisoned for several months before being set free. Arar, who says he was tortured in custody, denies any involvement in terrorism.
The Canadian government has called a public inquiry into his arrest and deportation.
The inquiry was announced just days after the RCMP seized materials from O'Neill's home in an effort to find the source of a November story she wrote about Arar.
O'Neill's article cited "a security source" and a leaked document offering details of what Arar allegedly told Syrian intelligence officials during his incarceration.
Richard Dearden, a lawyer for the Citizen, said he hopes the privacy commissioner's office will not compel O'Neill to testify. "To seek her confidential source would infringe her freedom of the press. And we will oppose it."
In an interview Wednesday, O'Neill insisted she would not "go to the commission and tell them who my source was."
Malbon aired a story last October, citing senior federal sources, that also dealt with Arar's alleged statements while imprisoned in Syria.
Malbon said Wednesday she would refuse to divulge confidential information to the privacy watchdog. "I would certainly not reveal my sources, no."
She has referred the federal privacy investigator to her boss, Robert Hurst, CTV's president of news.
Neither O'Neill nor Malbon have heard anything further from the privacy commissioner.
A spokeswoman for the commissioner declined to comment.