Inquiry opens into 3 Canadians' torture cases

A public inquiry opens Wednesday in Ottawa into the arrest and torture of three Canadians by Syria and the possible complicity of officials in this country.

A public inquirybegan Wednesday in Ottawa into the arrest and torture of three Canadians by Syria and the possible complicity of officials in this country.

Syrian-born Canadian Abdullah Almalki was at the centre of an RCMP national security investigation that cast suspicion on Maher Arar. ((Tom Hanson/ Canadian Press))

Like Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed Al Maati and Muayyed Nureddin all spent time in Syria's most feared prison where they say they were tortured and accused of links to al-Qaeda.

All were eventually freed and allowed to return to Canada.

The federal government announced the inquiry late last year, several months after OntarioAssociate Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor issued a report saying Arar had no discernible links to international terrorism and the Canadian government had given faulty information to the United States, resulting in Arar's deportation to Syria and subsequent detention and torture.

Arar has since been given $12.5 million in compensation and a full apology from the House of Commons on behalf of the government of Canada.

An investigator in the Arar inquiry, Stephen Toope, described allegations by Almalki, Al Maati and Nureddin that they'd been tortured in Syria as "convincing."

A formerjudge of the Supreme Court, Frank Iacobucci, is to preside over the latest enquiry.

Canada's 'extraordinary rendition'

In the opening days, he is hearing from lawyers for the government and the three men, as well as groups like Amnesty International that want to make submissions to the inquiry.

Amnesty's Alex Neve says his organization wants to argue that, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Canada may have operated its own version of the Bush administration's"extraordinary rendition" program.

Neve said his organization wanted to know if this countrywas "negligently, willingly, directly, indirectly sending counter-terrorist suspects off to be interrogated, held without charge or trial, brutally tortured in other countries."

In his opening remarks, Iacobucci said most of his work will be done behind closed doors for national security reasons, but he promised that least some of the hearings will be open to the public.

CBC's security correspondent Bill Gillespie says the inquiry's outcome could have an important impact on the rules that Canadian intelligence agencies must abide by in future, Gillespie said.

Torture and Canadian complicity

Almalki spent 22 months in custody after his arrest in Syria in 2002.He told CBC's The Current that his Syrian torturers told him they were getting their information from Canada.

Kuwaiti-born El Maati was a truck driver who was tortured in both Egypt and Syria, and has told reporters that both countries spoke of getting information about him from Canadian officials.

Nureddin was the principal of an Islamic school in Toronto and was arrested at the Syrian border as he was returning from visiting relatives in northern Iraq in 2004.

All three men were investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for links to terrorism but were never arrested or had any restrictions placed on their movements in this country.Their lawyers say they were targeted because they were Muslims and knew others who were under CSIS or RCMP investigation.

Alex Neve says the three men just want to clear their names and get on with their lives in Canada.

"They want to shake off the cloud that hangs over their names," he said, "They want to dispel the rumours about their reputations and their association to terrorism."