Jun. 24, 2004. 08:51 AM
Maher Arar and his wife Monia Mazigh attend the first day of the Ottawa inquiry into his deportation and torture in Syria in 2002.
Miro Cernetig 
Graham Fraser 
Richard Gwyn 
Stephen Handelman 
Chantal Hebert 
James Travers 
Ian Urquhart 
Thomas Walkom 
Security watchdog censors Arar report
All 89 pages of SIRC document are blacked out
Deleted material may pose a risk to national security


A report with all 89 pages blacked out is what the federal government has released to the public concerning the involvement of Canadian intelligence officials in the deportation and detention of a Canadian citizen.

Paul Cavalluzzo, counsel for the commission of inquiry probing the deportation of Maher Arar, held aloft the censored document at the start of yesterday's hearings.

"There is nothing. Not one line, one word, that this commission can release to the public without violating the law," Cavalluzzo told the inquiry.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the civilian agency that reviews the actions of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), prepared the report after an investigation into the agency's involvement in the detainment and deportation of Arar.

Arar, a 34-year-old Syrian-born Ottawa resident, was detained in New York on Sept. 26, 2002 on a stopover on his way to Montreal. He was subsequently deported to Syria, via Jordan, where he said he was tortured for almost two weeks and held in a "grave-like" cell for a year.

While unedited copies of the review were submitted to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Anne McLellan and Justice Dennis O'Connor, who presides over the inquiry, the government also prepared an edited public report that deletes information that may pose a risk to national security.

Not one word, however, can be read on the edited report.

SIRC reports were referred to this week during testimony from former CSIS head Ward Elcock, who defended the agency's handling of intelligence by saying repeatedly that SIRC had never found fault with their practices. While not specifically mentioning SIRC's review of the Arar case in his testimony, it was later confirmed by Barbara McIssac that Elcock would have been given a copy of that report before his testimony.

McIssac told reporters Tuesday that the SIRC report had been given to the commission and that the government had "claimed national security confidentiality for some parts of the document, not all of it."

These comments led to demands by reporters to release a public version of the report and prompted Cavalluzzo's statements at the inquiry yesterday.

McIssac said yesterday she had made a mistake in saying there were some portions of the document that would be released.

"This is a tremendously complicated process. There are a lot of documents that need to be reviewed and co-ordinated and we have to make careful determinations about what claims for national security we're going to make," she told reporters.

But Arar's lawyer Lorne Waldman and Canadian Islamic Congress lawyer Faisal Joseph said the censored report was indicative of the government's unwillingness to openly participate in the inquiry.

"I thought I'd see something with maybe a few blackouts but I never would have expected to see a SIRC report with every page completely black," Waldman said. "This just shows me again that the government is not prepared to be open and transparent in this process."

Justice O'Connor will ultimately decide what can be made public and what might jeopardize national security if released. Cavalluzzo stressed that even testimony or reports given in camera will be rigorously tested and that the commission is in no way bound by the findings of the SIRC report or a similar review into the actions of the RCMP.

Testimony from CSIS Deputy Director Jack Hooper yesterday dealt with how the agency decides what individuals should be investigated and described the structure of the "targeting committee," which has to approve investigations and at what level from non-intrusive to elaborate probes that include surveillance and wiretapping.

Waldman focused on the issue of profiling subjects, which he told the inquiry is a complaint in Canada's Muslim communities. He asked Hooper if he considered it inappropriate for officials to ask Muslims about how often they pray or their religion in general.

"I think it would be viewed as offensive," Hooper answered.

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