Canada judge finds US Arar deportation 'very likely' prompted by false RCMP info

[JURIST] Canada's Arar Commission [official website], the official judicial inquiry into the circumstances under which Canadian Maher Arar [advocacy website; CBC timeline] was detained in the US in 2002 and removed to Syria where Arar says he was tortured, concluded Monday that Canadian officials did not play a role in the US decision to detain and remove Arar, but Commissioner Dennis R. O'Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, opined that the US decision was "very likely" based on inaccurate, unfair and overstated information about Arar passed on by the RCMP, Canada's federal police force. The Syrian-born Canadian was detained in 2002 during a layover at New York's JFK airport on a flight home to Canada from Tunisia; he was detained by US immigration officials and then deported to Syria, where he was born. Arar alleged he was deported so that he could be tortured in Syria, where he eventually made false admissions of terrorist activity. Referring to information linking Arar to al Qaeda, the US Justice Department said that deporting him was "in the best interest of the United States." Syria has denied the allegations of abuse.

The commission, established in 2004 [JURIST report] under Canada's federal Inquiries Act [text] to trace events leading to Arar's deportation to Syria, released its findings [press release, PDF] Monday, detailing several conclusions:

On Maher Arar, the Commissioner comes to one important conclusion: "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada. ...

On the role of Canadian officials, taking into consideration evidence heard in public as well as in camera, the Commissioner found: "No evidence that Canadian officials participated or acquiesced in the American's authorities decision to detain and remove Mr. Arar to Syria (…) and there is no evidence that any Canadian authorities – Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) or others – were complicit in those decisions." However, the Commissioner also notes that: "It is very likely that, in making the decisions to detain and remove Mr. Arar to Syria, the U.S. authorities relied on information about Mr. Arar provided by the RCMP. Although I cannot be certain without evidence of the American authorities, the evidence strongly supports this conclusion". CSIS did not share information with the Americans at this time.

The Commissioner also found that both before and after Mr. Arar's detention in the U.S. the RCMP provided American authorities with information about Mr. Arar which was inaccurate, portrayed him in an unfair fashion and overstated his importance to the investigation. Some of this inaccurate information had the potential to create serious consequences for Mr. Arar in light of American attitudes and practices at the time. ...

While he was detained in Syria, the Commissioner found that Canadian agencies relied on information about Mr. Arar received from the Syrians which was likely the product of torture. No adequate reliability assessment was done to determine whether the information resulted from torture.

In his report the Commissioner points to a need for a more coherent connection between Canadian agencies when dealing with terrorism investigations; he observed a failure of communication between Canadian agencies involved in the Arar case. "There was also a lack of a single, coherent approach to efforts to obtain his release."

Finally, the Commissioner found that both before and after Mr. Arar's return to Canada, Canadian officials leaked confidential and sometimes inaccurate information about the case to the media for the purpose of damaging Mr. Arar's reputation or protecting their self-interest or government interests.
The commission released the findings of its factual inquiry [commission materials] in three parts: Analysis and Recommendations [PDF text], Factual Background - Volume I [PDF text], and Factual Background - Volume II [PDF text].

O'Connor also issued several recommendations covering multiple areas, including the national security activities of the Canadian police, "the information sharing practices of other government agencies ..., the investigative interaction with countries with questionable human rights records," and the need for "clear policies and more training on issues of racial, religious or ethnic profiling." O'Connor also recommended "that the Government of Canada assess Mr. Arar's claim for compensation in light of the report's findings and respond accordingly." The commission was also tasked with conducting a policy review [commission materials] and that report is expected to be released by the end of the year. CBC News has more.

In 2004 Arar filed a lawsuit [CCR materials] in US federal court challenging US extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] practices under the Torture Victim Protection Act [text]. Arar's lawyers argued the Act provides the US court with jurisdiction over cases involving civil rights abuses committed abroad, including Arar's case, but US District Judge David G. Trager dismissed the case [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February of this year, citing "the national security and foreign policy considerations at stake" and holding that Arar, as a non-citizen, could not raise a constitutional right to due process. Arar is appealing that decision.

 

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