Wednesday, January 28, 2004

ARAR INQUIRY

Public Security Minister Anne McLellan has announced there will be a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deportation of Maher Arar. McLellan said the inquiry would, "assess the actions of Canadian officials in dealing with the deportation and detention of Maher Arar."

Justice Dennis O'Connor who headed the Walkerton Inquiry will head this this one.

"He will have all the powers set out in the (Inquiries) Act, including the authority to hold public hearings, summon witnesses, compel testimony and to gather such evidence as needed to conduct the inquiry,"

This inquiry was long overdue, however, it is good that the government has come to realize that an inquiry is necessary. Many questions have been raised about Canada's security and intelligence services since the realse of Arar. Arar has some questions of his own that he hopes the inquiry will answer:

- What information did the RCMP and CSIS pass on to U.S. authorities that led them to believe he was a terrorist? How reliable was this information? Did the agencies use lawful means to obtain it?

- When did U.S. authorities first contact their Canadian counterparts? When did Canadian authorities learn of the deportation decision and who approved, encouraged or failed to discourage this action?

- Why did Foreign Affairs officials not take his concerns that Americans would deport him seriously? Why did they not protect him?

- What information did CSIS and RCMP share with Syrian military intelligence? Did they provide information that was the basis for interrogation by his Syrian captors?

- Who revealed information obtained under torture to the media and why? What were they trying to achieve by doing this

These are all necessary questions but hopefully the inquiry will not confine itself to the Arar deportation specifically. The questions specific to Arar lead to broader questions about how the RCMP and CSIS are operating, particularly under our new anti-terrorist legislation.

Opposition leader Stephen Harper made this point today saying:

"From what I've seen, the terms of reference for this are fairly narrow," he said. "We don't just want to look at the deportation. We want to look at the role of Canadian government agencies in this, what information may have been disseminated and why."

As Harper alludes to, obviously, obviously more attention has been drawn to this case in the past week because of the search of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Niel's home and office. It is unfortunate that the suspect, if not outright illegal, deportation of a Canadian citizen to face torture was not enough to prompt an inquiry. It is even more unfortunate that intimidation of the press had to be added to the list of questionable RCMP tactics before an inquiry was called.

Regardless, we now have the inquiry. Hopefully it will give us answers.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:15 PM