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U.S. consulted RCMP on Arar arrest
 
Robert Fife
CanWest News Service

The federal government has acknowledged for the first time in heavily edited documents that the United States consulted the RCMP before Maher Arar was arrested and deported to Syria where he spent a year in jail without charges.

The documents, obtained under the Access to Information Act, say U.S. law enforcement gave the RCMP "clear evidence" of Mr. Arar's "involvement in al-Qaeda."

The papers also acknowledge for the first time the RCMP had the Syrian-Canadian under investigation since January 2002 because of "Arar's contacts with persons in Ottawa who were of interest to them."

Solicitor General Wayne Easter has indicated Mr. Arar faces an RCMP national security investigation, but refuses to say whether the Mounties shared intelligence on Mr. Arar with the Americans. Mr. Easter has said RCMP confirmation of intelligence sharing on Mr. Arar could jeopardize a continuing investigation and harm co-operation with the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

However, the documents provided to CanWest News Service by access investigator Ken Rubin support the RCMP's assertion it did not encourage the U.S. to deport Mr. Arar to Syria.

"The RCMP has confirmed that the Americans consulted them prior to deporting Arar, but did not raise the issue of his possible deportation to Syria nor did the RCMP give any indication that such a course of action would be acceptable to them," one document said.

But the document went on to say the RCMP were investigating Mr. Arar from the "early days of this case" based on contacts Mr. Arar allegedly had with "persons in Ottawa who were of interest to them."

Kerry Pither, a spokesman for the Arar family, said if the U.S. had any evidence linking Mr. Arar to al-Qaeda, then he should have been charged and kept in U.S. custody. She also noted the Syrians freed Mr. Arar because the U.S. failed to substantiate allegations he was a member of Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.

Mr. Arar, who has been in seclusion with his family since returning to Canada two weeks ago, is expected to soon reveal what happened to him and the yearlong ordeal in a Syrian prison.

U.S. officials have said the RCMP provided intelligence on Mr. Arar that led to his being placed on a watch list used to screen passengers at U.S. ports of entry. Officials say the U.S. had "good intelligence" on Mr. Arar but will not provide details. The RCMP believe the 33-year-old software engineer had links to two other Syrian-Canadians, now in jail in Syria, whom he met at the Ottawa Mosque. Arwad Al-Bouchi, who lived in Ottawa in the 1990s before moving to Saudi Arabia, was arrested in Damascus in 2002, while Abdullah Almaki was arrested in Syria that same year. The circumstances of their arrests are unclear. Mr. Arar was arrested during a stopover in New York City on Sept. 26, 2002, and deported to his native Syria, where he was detained for a year.

The documents show there was friction between Foreign Affairs, which was seeking Mr. Arar's release, and the Solicitor-General's department, which made no effort to free him.

In a Feb. 18, 2002 letter to an unknown individual, Mr. Easter showed little concern for Mr. Arar's fate and suggested any complaints should be sent to the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. He indicated in the letter the RCMP had co-operated with the U.S. on the Arar case. "International law enforcement agencies are working together and sharing information and intelligence to fight terrorism on a global scale," he wrote to individuals, whose name was whited out. "Therefore when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police receives requests for assistance and receives or surfaces information through either tips or from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, they take these matters seriously, assess the information and take appropriate action in accordance with Canadian law."

Robert Fife is Parliamentary Bureau Chief

 Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen



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