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Arar probe costing taxpayers $20-million Add to ...

The total bill to taxpayers for the federal probe of the Maher Arar affair to date has risen to more than $20-million -- nearly double earlier cost estimates, Ottawa disclosed yesterday.

Projections last year had suggested the Arar commission would cost $11-million, but Ottawa increased the forecast in new estimates of overall government spending released yesterday.

It said the new figure represents not only the probe itself, but the cost to federal departments "to support the work of the commission."

The judicial probe, which began in 2004 and is expected to wrap up this year, is investigating the role of Canadian agencies in Mr. Arar's 2002 arrest in the United States and deportation to Syria. Mr. Arar, who was later released, says the Syrians tortured him into making a false confession that he had trained at a terrorist camp.

The Arar commission's price is still dwarfed by the projected $60-million cost of the Gomery inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.

Separately, Ottawa's latest spending estimates reveal how expensive it was to protect U.S. President George W. Bush during his two-day visit to Canada last fall.

The bill is at least $10-million, according to expenses claimed by the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to cover "costs related to security during the visit of the President of the United States to Canada."

At the time of the Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 visit, experts suggested the precautions Ottawa took constituted the most security ever devoted to one man on Canadian soil. Ottawa has not released the full cost of the Bush security detail and a federal official said the $10-million is only an estimate of what it will take to reimburse the cities of Ottawa, Gatineau, Que., and Halifax, plus local police forces, for security during the event.

Yesterday's federal spending estimates also revealed that Ottawa has granted $11.1-million to Canada's Chief Electoral Officer so he is prepared for an election that could happen at any time if the fragile Liberal minority government falls.

The cash was given to Jean-Pierre Kingsley's Elections Canada agency to help it put in place "appropriate preparations to hold general elections on short notice, given the minority government."

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