INDEPTH: MAHER ARAR
The Maher Arar inquiry - frequently asked questions
CBC News Online | September 18, 2006
Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian engineer who was travelling back to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia in September 2002, when he was pulled off a plane in New York. A long nightmare was about to begin. American authorities suspected him of involvement in the al-Qaeda network. Within days, Arar was deported to Syria, where he says he was systematically tortured and brutalized for a year.
Arar, who denies any links to terrorism, has said Canadian officials played a key role in his deportation. Shortly after his release in October 2003, he held a news conference to detail his treatment and his suspicions. His supporters and the opposition demanded a public inquiry into Canada's role in the so-called "Arar affair." In January 2004, the federal government announced the establishment of the Arar inquiry. It heard its first testimony in June 2005 and wrapped up the main portion of its testimony three months later.
In October 2005, the inquiry released its fact-finder's report on Arar's treatment. Fact-finder Professor Stephen Toope said: "I conclude that Maher Arar was subjected to torture in Syria." The then-Liberal government called on Syria to investigate the case and prosecute any official who was responsible for Arar's treatment.
The final report was to be released in September 2006.
What is the purpose of the Arar inquiry?
Formally known as the “Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar,” the commission has two main mandates.
The first is factual. The commission wants to know the role Canadian officials may have played in Arar’s detention in the U.S., his deportation to Syria, his imprisonment and treatment there, and his return to Canada.
The second part of the Arar commission deals with policy review – one of the commissioner’s jobs is to recommend an arms-length review mechanism for the RCMP on national security matters. A host of organizations, from the RCMP to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have already weighed in.
Who are the main characters?
The inquiry commissioner is the Honourable Dennis O’Connor, the associate chief justice of Ontario. This isn’t his first public inquiry. From 2000 to 2002, he presided over an inquiry into the deadly contamination of the Walkerton, Ont., water supply.
The role of lead commission counsel is held by Paul Cavalluzzo. He also served as the Walkerton inquiry’s commission counsel, under Mr. Justice O’Connor.
Ron Atkey, an independent expert on security issues and the Constitution, occupies a special role – that of “Amicus Curiae,” literally Friend of the Court.
It’s Atkey’s job to determine if government requests to keep documents secret for reasons of national security hold water. Atkey has already publicly mused that the commission’s interim report “may never see the light of day, because of continued national security claims.”
Barbara McIsaac is the main lawyer for the federal attorney general.
Marlys Edwardh and Lorne Waldman are lawyers for Maher Arar.
How much of the testimony so far has been kept secret?
Throughout much of the inquiry’s history, the commission has been in a running battle with the federal government over National Security Confidentiality (NSC). Government claims of NSC began early on. One 89-page report from the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which monitors CSIS, had every single word blacked out when it was released. Several months later, the government released another version of the SIRC report in which only 70 per cent of the document was blacked out for security reasons.
Large amounts of testimony given during in camera sessions last year have not been publicly released. The commission has released summaries of evidence given by CSIS staff, but again, large sections have been edited out. In April 2005, the commission released more than 2,000 pages of documents relating to Foreign Affairs staffers and their dealings with the Arar case. Those documents were also “redacted,” meaning that they’re partially blacked out.
While Mr. Justice O’Connor has access to all the unredacted documents and obviously has heard all of the in camera testimony, Arar does not enjoy such access. Critics say it will be difficult for him to testify and be cross-examined if he doesn’t know what others have said about him in secret. The government says Arar is not under investigation.