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editorial

Maher Arar listens to a question at a press conference in Ottawa on Dec. 12, 2006. The RCMP is laying a torture charge against a former Syrian military intelligence officer for alleged involvement in the brutal treatment of Ottawa telecommunications engineer Arar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom HansonTom Hanson/The Canadian Press

Of the many indignities that Maher Arar has been forced to suffer, perhaps the most insulting has been the allegation that he was not, in fact, tortured while being held for a year in a Syrian prison. Syria still denies the allegation, as do many high-level government officials in the United States, the country responsible for turning Mr. Arar over to Syrian authorities in the first place.

So Mr. Arar must be particularly pleased that the RCMP has now charged a Syrian man in absentia with the very crime of torturing him. Whether or not the charge against a Syrian intelligence officer named George Salloum, whereabouts and condition unknown, leads to a trial in Canada, its existence alone is a critical step in Mr. Arar's determined efforts to clear his name, and a deserved slap in the face of those who continue to deny him justice.

It is also, in its way, a vicarious victory for people everywhere who have suffered state-sanctioned torture. The individuals who do the actual torturing – whether in the prison cells of Syria or Mexico or Guantanamo Bay or you name it – are rarely, if ever, hauled out of the shadows and into the courts to answer for their crimes.

That Mr. Arar was tortured in Syria is not in doubt. A commission of inquiry confirmed that it happened, along with the fact that Mr. Arar's arrest and rendition from the U.S. to Syria in 2002 was the result of shoddy, inaccurate work by the RCMP. He was not, as alleged incorrectly by the RCMP, a terrorist – a conclusion to which even Syrian officials came after torturing him.

Mr. Arar subsequently received a $10.5-million settlement from the federal government in 2007, along with an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The RCMP also apologized, although no one in the police force was ever held directly accountable.

There is thus a redemptive quality to the fact that the RCMP is now actively assisting Mr. Arar in his search for justice. Investigators had to work hard to convince Mr. Arar to co-operate with them, given that they were in part responsible for his rendition to Syria and that Syria held him for as long as it did because of subsequent RCMP actions. The Mounties have launched an international manhunt for Mr. Arar's tormentor. If they get their man, they will have taken another step toward repairing damage they themselves inflicted.