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Ottawa urged to review relationship with CIA following interrogation report

Abousfian Abdelrazik in an interview with the Globe's Paul Koring, Sept. 21, 2009, in Montreal.

Tory Zimmerman/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa should review its policies on intelligence-sharing with the United States in response to a damning report on the abuse of CIA detainees during interrogations, Canadian civil-liberties advocates and human-rights lawyers say.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report, released Tuesday, says the Central Intelligence Agency used brutal interrogation techniques that violated U.S. laws and treaty obligations and failed to yield valuable information. At least one detainee died of suspected hypothermia and another was waterboarded more than 180 times.

"I don't think that anyone in the intelligence community in the world, at least in democratic countries, can wake up tomorrow and tell themselves that their relationship with the CIA and the United States can remain the same," Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ said. "Until and unless the United States shows that there's going to be real accountability for these criminal acts, I think our relationship with the CIA has to be very closely monitored and reviewed at all times."

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Mr. Champ, who helped Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik get his name removed from a United Nations terrorist blacklist several years ago, said he believes the original listing was the result of flawed information. He said he believes most of that information came from former al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, a detainee who was waterboarded repeatedly by the CIA.

Mr. Champ said Ottawa should think twice before co-operating with the CIA in the future – and should not rely on information from the agency that may have come from torture in the past. "If we think that information that came from the CIA may have been derived from torture, then I say unequivocally we can't be relying on it, we can't have that information in our intelligence banks," he said.

Mr. Zubaydah also appears to have provided information about Canadian terror suspect Mohamed Harkat, who was first detained in 2002 on a national security certificate. Mr. Harkat's lawyer, Norm Boxall, said information from Mr. Zubaydah may have been provided at the beginning of Mr. Harkat's security certificate process, but the judge decided not to give it any weight.

However, Mr. Boxall said he remains concerned by reports that the Conservative government has in recent years instructed federal agencies to share information with allies – even when there's a substantial risk of torture.

"We shouldn't be receiving information we think is potentially obtained by torture," he said. "It's as simple as that. We shouldn't receive it and nor should we act on it."

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the government neither condones nor engages in torture. However, Jason Tamming suggested in an e-mail that Ottawa would not rule out information that may have been obtained through torture. "The primary responsibility of Canadian security agencies is to protect Canadian life and property," he wrote. "If we get a tip from any source that Canadians' lives are in danger, we will act to save those lives."

Canada had a role in the United States' extraordinary rendition program, allowing the CIA to use its airspace and airports repeatedly after Sept. 11, 2001 for secret fights transporting detainees to prison sites outside the U.S. A total of 20 aircraft linked to the CIA made stops in Canada during 74 flights, according to reports. In addition, the RCMP provided inaccurate information about Canadian citizen Maher Arar to the United States, leading to his rendition to Syria in 2002 where he was held for a year and tortured. Mr. Arar was eventually awarded $10.5-million in a legal settlement.

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Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the group has been concerned about information-sharing practices since the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We are very concerned about new torture directives that were unveiled in the last few years," Ms. Pillay said, adding that they appear to open a door for Canadian intelligence agencies to rely on information provided by countries known to torture.

"If one of our closest partners in the global counterterror effort engaged in practices that would run afoul of the legal obligations under the convention against torture, it does raise very serious questions about what the implications are for Canada and how Canadians may have been affected," she said.

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