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RCMP open to idea of police watchdog
Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Canada's top Mountie says he has had a change of heart about the prospect of a new review agency scrutinizing the police force's national security activities.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli told the Maher Arar inquiry Friday he is now "much more open'' to the idea of additional independent monitoring because it helps build all-important trust.

"Effective and appropriate review is essential not only for the public but for our organization as well,'' Zaccardelli said.

"I welcome people coming in to see what my men and women do.''

The federal government appointed Justice Dennis O'Connor to examine the actions of RCMP members and other Canadian officials in the 2002 deportation of Ottawa engineer Arar to Syria from the United States.

O'Connor has also been asked to study models for a new agency to keep a closer eye on the RCMP's national security activities.

Zaccardelli's testimony marked the end of the commission's scheduled public hearings, which began last year. O'Connor is expected to report by the end of March.

In a brief submitted to the inquiry earlier this year, the RCMP expressed serious reservations about the government's plan to more closely monitor security and intelligence activities of the force.

In recent years the Mounties have publicly clashed with the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, the force's existing watchdog.

Zaccardelli indicated Friday he once felt there was no need to beef up independent review.

"But my thinking has evolved in all of this,'' he told O'Connor.

Zaccardelli stressed the importance of public perception, noting an effective watchdog can help build the trust needed to carry out sensitive security probes.

However, he also argued any new review mechanism must not interfere with active investigations, must recognize that police forces share information, and must protect secrets whose disclosure could harm Canada.

He also said it should not create red tape that ties up RCMP investigators' time, nor needlessly duplicate existing review functions.

In addition, Zaccardelli defended the track record of co-operation between the Mounties and the RCMP complaints commission.

O'Connor could recommend the government enhance the powers of the complaints commission, meld the body with other security watchdogs, or create a new, overarching review agency.

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Gwen Boniface and Ottawa police chief Vince Bevan also appeared Friday to discuss how more outside scrutiny might affect inter-agency co-operation on security investigations.

Arar, a Syrian-born Ottawa man, was detained in New York in September 2002 over accusations of involvement with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

Several days later the telecommunications engineer was sent to Damascus by U.S. officials.

Arar, who denies any participation in terrorism, says he was brutalized for months before being released in the fall of 2003. An independent review recently concluded Arar was indeed tortured.

The Mounties have acknowledged passing information about Arar to the United States.

© Canadian Press 2005

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