Federal officials contributed indirectly to torture of Canadians: report
The actions of Canadian officials contributed indirectly to the torture of three Arab-Canadian men in Syria, a federal inquiry has concluded.
"I found no evidence that any of these officials were seeking to do anything other than carry out conscientiously the duties and responsibilities of the institutions of which they were a part," former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci concluded in his report, made public Tuesday, 22 months after the inquiry began.
The probe focused on whether the detentions of Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad El Maati resulted from the actions of CSIS, the RCMP and the department of Foreign Affairs and whether Canadian consular officials acted appropriately in the cases.
"It is neither necessary nor appropriate that I make findings concerning the actions of any individual Canadian official, and I have not done so," Iacobucci wrote.
He concluded that the three men were indeed tortured. He also said the actions of the RCMP and CSIS indirectly led to the torture of El Maati; "two actions of the RCMP" indirectly led to the torture of Almalki; and that certain instances of information sharing by CSIS and RCMP officials indirectly led to the torture of Nureddin.
All three men asserted they were imprisoned, tortured, accused of links to al-Qaeda and told by their interrogators that information about them had come from the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. All of the men have denied any links to al-Qaeda.
'I'm not sure what to think of this. If this becomes a trend, I wonder if it's just a scam. On the other hand, the thought of Canadians being tortured because of our failed government is unacceptable.'
Iacobucci found there was no direct action by any Canadian official that led to the detention of any of the men. But in two cases, there were indirect contributions.
He noted three instances of information sharing by Canadian officials that led indirectly to El Maati's detention. The Toronto truck driver was arrested by Syrian officials in 2001 when he was in Damascus to attend his wedding. He was later transferred to Egypt, spending a total of 26 months in prison.
The report said that in September 2001, the RCMP described El Maati to foreign law officials, including Syrian officials, as "linked through association to al-Qaeda" and an "imminent threat to public safety."
"The RCMP appears to have described Mr. El Maati in its way without taking steps to ensure that the description was accurate or properly qualified," Iacobucci wrote, adding that the source of the information did not come from the force's own investigation.
The report said no consideration was given to how Syria or Egypt might respond to an inflammatory label like "imminent threat."
As well, the report noted that in 2000 and 2001, CSIS described El Maati to foreign intelligence agencies as "involved in the Islamic extremist movement" and an "associate" of an Osama bin Laden aide.
Iacobucci concluded that when CSIS received an alleged confession from El Maati, the service sent a number of clarification questions to a foreign agency to be sent to Syrian authorities, which resulted indirectly to his mistreatment.
Iacobucci also said the actions of Canadian officials led indirectly to Nureddin's imprisonment, including the decision by CSIS and the RCMP to share information about Nureddin's suspected involvement in terrorist activities with foreign agencies, including in the U.S. Nureddin, a Toronto geologist, was detained by Syrian officials in December 2003 as he crossed the border from Iraq. He was held for 34 days before being released.
Iacobucci said he couldn’t determine, based on the evidence, whether or not the actions by officials had indirectly led to the imprisonment of Almalki, an Ottawa communications engineer, who was arrested in 2002 in Syria and kept in custody for 22 months.
But Iacobucci criticized the RCMP for suggesting that Almalki was somehow linked to al-Qaeda, was engaged in activities that posed an "imminent threat" and was an "Islamic extremist."
He said the force did not substantiate these accusations on its own and took the information from other foreign agencies.
Canadian documents which contained information about raids on Almalki's home, also made their way into the hands of Syrian officials, the report said. This, along with questions submitted by the RMCP to Syrian officials to be posed to Almalki, indirectly led to Almalki's mistreatment, the report states.
Cases compared to that of Maher Arar
The men have compared their cases to that of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was exonerated by a separate inquiry and paid more than $10 million in compensation by the federal government.
Iacobucci was appointed in December 2006 to investigate the cases, but he admitted that he could have used more information.
"We did not get any information from some very important sources, namely the governments of Syria, Egypt, the United States and Malaysia. We do not know the full story."
The three men have been joined by human rights groups such as Amnesty International in decrying the inquiry process, saying it was unfair, flawed and secretive.
The government has cited the need to protect national security and quicken the inquiry process as a justification for keeping proceedings out of the public eye.
Government needs to 'do the right thing': Almalki
But the three men said Tuesday they were happy to have some answers and some vindication but, Almalki said, "government needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing."
"It's the right thing to do, for the Canadian government, is to issue a public apology. When Canadian citizens are treated in the way we were treated. Tortured in the most severe methods a human being can imagine.
Almalki said he doesn't see any distinction between Canada directly or indirectly causing his torture.
"The RCMP fully knew that I would be tortured if they sent questions. They sent it anyways. Does it make a difference if Justice Iacobucci said directly or indirectly? Well apparently directly means that the Canadian official would be the one holding the whip."
Day says procedures have been corrected
But Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day points out that Iacobucci himself found no fault with any individual RCMP, CSIS or Department of Foreign Affairs staff.
"I think it's more a case of good people acting with deficient procedures and deficient policies," he said.
Day said he's been assured those procedures have since been corrected.
As for the question of compensation, Iacobucci wasn't asked to address it and Day said it would be inappropriate to comment since all three men are suing the federal government.
With files from the Canadian Press