Maher Arar is an innocent victim of inaccurate RCMP intelligence reports and deliberate smears by Canadian officials, a commission of inquiry says in a report that also recommends the federal government pay him compensation.
Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen who was deported from the United States to Syria -- where he was tortured as a terrorist suspect -- has suffered "devastating" mental and economic consequences as a result of his ordeal, Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor says in a report released yesterday.
"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," the judge says.
Mr. Arar, 36, said he had tears in his eyes when he first saw those words jumping out from the report.
The judge, he said, "has cleared my name and restored my reputation."
The report says there is no doubt Mr. Arar was tortured in a Syrian military intelligence prison soon after his deportation from the United States in 2002.
Judge O'Connor said he wants to personally thank Mr. Arar for his patience and co-operation during the long inquiry process. "I take my hat off to him."
The 822-page report, which has been censored because of government concerns about national security, also calls for the further independent investigation of the cases of three other Canadian Muslim men -- Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin -- who were imprisoned in the Middle East under similar circumstances.
They also say they were tortured.
The RCMP should never share intelligence reports with other countries without written conditions about how that information is used, Judge O'Connor writes.
He also says Canadian government information should never be provided to a foreign country if there is a risk of it being used to torture people.
The report, the result of more than two years of hearings, some of them secret, clears federal officials of any direct involvement in the U.S. government's decision to deport Mr. Arar to the Middle East. Mr. Arar was arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York while travelling on his Canadian passport.
Judge O'Connor blasts the RCMP for providing U.S. authorities with inaccurate intelligence that resulted in Mr. Arar, and his wife Monia Mazigh, being put on a border watch list as dangerous al-Qaeda terrorist suspects.
RCMP antiterrorism investigators violated the force's existing policy when they gave U.S. officials three CD-ROM discs with raw intelligence that had not been analyzed for accuracy.
The Mounties, the report continues, should have flagged the material as being from unproven sources and should have taken precautions to make sure it was not used in U.S. deportation proceedings.
Senior RCMP officers failed to properly supervise the newly created antiterrorism unit to make sure policies were being enforced.
Even after Mr. Arar's return to Canada, the RCMP was causing problems for Mr. Arar. The Mounties, the report says, misled the Privy Council Office at an important meeting, by failing to disclose "certain key facts that could have reflected adversely on the force."
The details of the meeting and who specifically from the RCMP was responsible are not included in the public version of the O'Connor report.
Paul Cavalluzzo, the commission's chief lawyer, declined to say how much material was cut from the public version of the report. But, he said, the commission disagrees with the government on some of its national-security claims and may have to fight it out in the federal courts for the eventual release of evidence that Judge O'Connor believes should be known by the public.
Some of that censored information could be relevant to the cases of the three other Muslim men.
Mr. Cavalluzzo said the commission is not recommending another full-blown inquiry. But the other cases should be examined by an independent fact-finder.
The minority Conservative government, which inherited the Arar file from the Liberals, was cautious and non-committal in its first reaction to Judge O'Connor's report.
What happened to Mr. Arar was "very regrettable," Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said.
The government will study the report before responding in detail, Mr. Day said, delaying further discussion of compensation or possible disciplinary action against the Mounties.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said later in the day that he will bring in new measures within weeks to respond to the recommendations.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which reports to Mr. Day, escapes relatively unscathed. CSIS did not share intelligence about Mr. Arar with the Americans.
U.S. officials refused to testify at the Canadian inquiry. But the report says it "is very likely" they relied on the faulty RCMP intelligence when they decided to send Mr. Arar to Syria, the country of his birth, rather than home to Canada.
"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," the report says, referring to the Mountie probe of possible al-Qaeda terrorist activities in Ottawa after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The RCMP asked the Americans to put Mr. Arar and Dr. Mazigh on a watch list as "Islamic extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist movement," the report says.
"The RCMP had no basis for this description, which had the potential to create serious consequences for Mr. Arar in light of American attitudes and practices" at that time, the report says.
The Mounties also erroneously told the Americans Mr. Arar was in the Washington area on Sept. 11, 2001, when, in fact, he was in San Diego.
Mr. Arar was the victim of a smear by Canadian government sources even after his return to Canada after a year in Damascus prisons.
"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 report says.
Judge O'Connor referred to "leaks" to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper and CTV News that Mr. Arar had admitted training at an al-Qaeda terrorist camp in Afghanistan, a country he's never seen.
The "confession" was obtained by Syrian torturers.
Judge O'Connor says that the Mounties went to extraordinary lengths to investigate Mr. Arar, even after his return to Canada. "They found nothing."
The Arar case cast a shadow over diplomatic relations with Washington until former prime minister Paul Martin obtained assurances from the White House that this would never happen again. The Liberals also set up the Arar inquiry.
Judge O'Connor, the Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, does not recommend a specific dollar sum for compensation. Mr. Arar is suing Ottawa.
Judge O'Connor suggests that the Canadian government and Mr. Arar try to negotiate compensation and Ottawa should take into consideration the Arar family's suffering.
"Psychologically, Mr. Arar's experiences in Syria were devastating," the report says. Economically, "Mr. Arar went from being a middle-class engineer to having to rely on social assistance to help feed, clothe and house his family."
Mr. Arar said that after his return to Canada there were several times when he was ready to throw in the towel.
But the strength of his wife kept him going in a search for justice.
"My life has been ruined," he said of the smears by government officials and other parts of his ordeal.
"I wanted the people responsible for what happened to me to be held accountable. Justice requires no less. I call on the government of Canada to accept the findings of this report and hold people accountable," Mr. Arar told reporters. He declined to name names, but said the government has the report and can see who in the RCMP needs to be disciplined.
Asked if Canadians should have confidence in the Mounties, Mr. Arar paused for several seconds then said he's looking forward to the second part of Judge O'Connor's report -- this winter -- dealing with recommendations for civilian oversight of the federal police force.
The Arar family recently moved from Ottawa to Kamloops, B.C., where Dr. Mazigh received a university teaching appointment.
THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY BY MR. JUSTICE DENNIS O'CONNOR
1. RCMP GAVE THE U.S. WRONG INFORMATION ABOUT TERRORIST LEANINGS
'One aspect of the Canadian and American lookout requests that is highly alarming is the most unfair way in which Project A-O Canada described Mr. Arar . . . The requests indicated [he was]part of a group of Islamic extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement, a description that was inaccurate, without any basis and potentially extremely inflammatory in the United States in the fall of 2001. The provision of this inaccurate information, particularly without a caveat, at what turned out to be a critically important time in Mr. Arar's ordeal was unfortunate, to put it mildly, and totally unacceptable.'
2. SENIOR RCMP OFFICIALS FAILED TO MONITOR INEXPERIENCED OFFICERS
'It was incumbent upon the RCMP and its senior officers to ensure that Project A-O Canada received clear and accurate direction with regard to how information was to be shared and to exercise sufficient oversight to rectify any unacceptable practices. I observe that, given that Project A-O Canada had few officers with experience or training in national security investigations, I would have expected CID [Criminal Investigations Division]to exercise more, rather than less oversight. That did not happen.'
3. OFFICIALS SHOULD HAVE KNOWN ARAR WAS BEING TORTURED
'Leo Martel, the Canadian consul in Damascus, visited Mr. Arar the next day in an office at the Palestine Branch. He did not observe any physical signs of torture on Mr. Arar and indicated in his report of the meeting that Mr. Arar had appeared healthy but added, "of course it is difficult to assess." 'There were actually many indications that all was not well. . . . I am satisfied that the October 23 consular visit should have alerted Canadian officials to the likelihood that Mr. Arar had been tortured when interrogated while held incommunicado by the SMI [Syrian Military Intelligence] Some Canadian officials did operate under the working assumption that Mr. Arar had been tortured. Others, including the Ambassador, were not prepared to go that far based on the information available. In my view, after the first consular visit, all Canadian officials dealing with Mr. Arar in any way should have proceeded on the assumption that he had been tortured during the initial stages of his imprisonment and, equally of importance, that the "statement" he had made to the SMI had been the product of that torture.'
4. DEPARTMENTS FAILED TO CO-OPERATE TO SECURE ARAR'S EARLY RELEASE
'I conclude that the RCMP and CSIS should have supported DFAIT's [department of foreign affairs]efforts to obtain a "one voice" letter, because of a number of factors. Had the RCMP and CSIS put their minds to the task and approached it with a view to offering real support, they could have done so. In the end, proposing a letter that inaccurately said that Mr. Arar was a subject of a national security investigation was not helpful.'
5. OFFICIALS SHOULD HAVE BELIEVED ARAR HAD BEEN TORTURED
'After Mr. Arar's return, some officials in the Canadian government did not believe Mr. Arar's public statements that he had been beaten or tortured. As it turns out, their conclusions were wrong. Mr. Arar had indeed been beaten and physically tortured during the first two weeks of his imprisonment in Syria. Inaccurate memoranda and other written communications such as those I refer to above can contribute
to and support false conclusions.'
6. OFFICIALS LEAKED DAMAGING INFORMATION TO THE MEDIA
'When Mr. Arar returned to Canada, his torment did not end, as some government officials took it upon themselves to leak information to the media, much of which was unfair to Mr. Arar and damaging to his reputation. . . . At least one leak sought to downplay the mistreatment and torture Mr. Arar had suffered in Syria. Quite predictably, the leaks had a devastating effect on Mr. Arar's reputation and on him personally. . . . Mr. Arar, an educated, hard-working engineer,has had great difficulty finding employment. It seems likely that the smear of his reputation by the leakors has taken its toll.'
7. RCMP FAILED TO INFORM THE GOVERNMENT PROPERLY
'On November 14, the RCMP produced a timeline that omitted several significant facts . . . These omissions were serious and the effect of the timeline was to downplay the potential problems with the RCMP investigation. In the circumstances that existed in November, 2003, it was very important that the RCMP accurately brief the government on what had occurred, to enable the government to make an informed decision on how to proceed.'