RCMP raids home of Citizen reporter

The RCMP raided the home and office of an Ottawa Citizen journalist Wednesday morning.

The RCMP raided the home and office of an Ottawa Citizen journalist Wednesday morning.

Police say reporter Juliet O'Neill possesses leaked documents related to Maher Arar, who was deported by the United States to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured before being returned to Ottawa.

At 8 a.m., RCMP officers with search warrants showed up at the reporter's home, and at the office she uses at Ottawa city hall.

They taped off both places as crime scenes.

They told the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Scott Anderson, they intend to charge O'Neill under the Security of Information Act.

Anderson says the new act makes it illegal to receive or possess secret documents. He says his lawyers are scrambling to learn more about the act—and to get O'Neill a defence lawyer.

The police raids are chilling for journalists, Anderson says, and dangerous to Canadian democracy.

"A major part of a democracy is a free press. A press that's able to report without being handcuffed by the government. And that's exactly what's happening here," Anderson says. "This is a star-chamber mentality that's creeping into the justice system, and it's all suspect."

So far there are no charges against O'Neill.

An RCMP spokesperson say the raids are part of a criminal investigation. He says the force is looking for information on how the documents ended up in a journalist's hands.

The raids come just as Arar, a Canadian citizen who says he was tortured after being deported to a Syrian prison by the United States, is set to launch a lawsuit against American officials.

Arar and his lawyers from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights are expected to announce details about the lawsuit to be filed on Thursday at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is among the American officials expected to be named in the lawsuit.

U.S. authorities detained Arar at Kennedy airport in New York in September 2002, while he was on a flight back to Canada from Tunisia.

He was accused of having ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and deported to Syria, the country where he was born.

The Canadian government announced earlier this month it would investigate leaks by unnamed government officials who alleged Arar trained at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan.

But the government has rejected calls for a public inquiry into his deportation.