Jan. 25, 2004. 01:00 AM
Road to RCMP raid began in Guantanamo


The genesis of the RCMP raid on Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill lies in 9/11, of course, but more precisely in the panicked response of the American and Canadian governments.

The road to the raid began in Guantanamo Bay, where the rule of law was first set aside. Due process has since been ignored in many places, against many innocents in the United States and, to a lesser degree, in Canada.

But other outrageous actions against people and groups have been taken, as in her case, within the gambit of the law — under the scary provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act and our Anti-Terrorism Act and related measures.

The 650 or so foreigners held in Guantanamo Bay in violation of the Geneva Convention; the thousands of young Arabs and Muslims hauled in for questioning in the U.S.; the hundreds of illegal Pakistanis deported under U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft's selective prosecutions; the 23 Pakistani and Indian youths locked up in jail and dragged through the courts in Canada on false terrorism-related charges; the five people, including three landed immigrants, kept in detention in Canada under security certificates without charge and without access to lawyers; the Canadians abandoned abroad in the clutches of oppressive regimes; the hundreds of thousands of people racially profiled at the U.S. border; and, of course, the tortured Maher Arar, have all been victims of the same culture of paranoia, and the ensuing bureaucratic butt-covering, that came calling on Ms. O'Neill.

But the biggest victim, by far, has been our democracy.

When you ignore the fundamental rights and freedoms of some, you risk losing them for all. When you let security forces get addicted to almost unrestricted power, you never know on whom that power will turn.

Yesterday, a Mohammad; today, an O'Neill.

Her case will serve, as her lawyer Richard Dearden said, as "a test for the star chamber procedures implemented after 9/11."

To put the procedures in perspective, I spoke to Daniel Ells-berg of Pentagon Papers fame, a messenger of bad news hounded by the Nixon administration for leaking in 1971 the secret history of the Vietnam War.

Reached in Los Angeles Friday, he noted that some of the illegal measures launched against him, including wiretapping and a raid on the office of his psychoanalyst, are now legal under the Patriot Act. Such are the expanded powers of police now.

On our side of the border, the best comment on our malaise came from Phil Crawley, publisher of the Globe and Mail.

"I woke up and thought, `I am in some totalitarian state,'" he said.

But Paul Martin consoled Canadians, from the comforts of Davos, that "we are not a police state." Not quite. But we do have aspects of it, thanks in part to his favourite cabinet minister.

As justice minister, Anne McLellan piloted the post-9/11 laws that eviscerated many of our cherished civil liberties.

As Martin's deputy prime minister and the czarina of his super-ministry of public security, she is defending the RCMP raid that he is condemning.

In trying to appease Americans on security and please Canadians on the Arar issue, the Prime Minister is pulling in two different directions.

A bigger issue is whether he is losing control of the government even before fully assuming it.

It was clear during Jean Chrétien's last weeks that the Liberals were in the dark about the Arar case.

Most of what then-solicitor-general Wayne Easter said proved to be either incomplete or false. Wor se, Ottawa seemed to learn more from Washington than from its own employees.

Clearly, more than the rogue elements that Easter spoke of in the RCMP are at work.

It is difficult to see how Martin can limit further political damage to himself and the body politic without taking the following steps:

Order an independent inquiry into the Arar case, as well as those of the 23 Pakistanis and Indian youth whose lives were ruined by police incompetence or malice.

Charge Arar or clear his name and compensate him.

Compensate those young men, not one of whom was found to have had anything to do with terrorism.

Deliver on the promise of a new watchdog to oversee Mountie intelligence gathering.

Better still, reassess the ill-advised post-9/11 decision to bring the RCMP back into the spying business, best left to Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which already has an independent watchdog.

Reopen for public discussion and parliamentary scrutiny the Anti-Terrorism Act and related legislation that were rushed through in the post-9/11 panic.

A good place for Martin to start would be the Throne Speech, scheduled for Feb. 2.

As for Scott Anderson, editor of the Ottawa Citizen, who is rightly complaining about the "star chamber-police state attitude that has crept into government and law enforcement post-9/11," his words would have had greater credibility had his paper, along with others in the CanWest chain, including the National Post, not been cheerleading the "tough" anti-terrorism measures that have done so much damage to our freedom and liberty, while doing so little to combat terrorism.

E-mail: hsiddiq@thestar.ca

Additional articles by Haroon Siddiqui

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