Former Guantanamo Bay detainee sues Canada for $35 million over 14-year imprisonment

Mohamedou Ould Slahi is suing the federal government for its alleged role in his 14-year detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi says Canadian authorities contributed to his detention

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who wrote a best-selling book about his experiences in the U.S. military prison, is shown in October 2016, after he was reunited with his family in his native Mauritania. He was detained for 14 years and is now suing the Canadian government for its alleged role in his detention. (AFP/Getty Images)

A man who spent 14 years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay is suing the Canadian government for $35 million for its alleged role in the series of events that led up to his detainment, during which he was tortured.

A statement of claim, filed on behalf of Mohamedou Ould Slahi in the Federal Court of Canada on Friday, argues Canadian authorities took actions that "caused, contributed to and prolonged [his] detention, torture, assault and sexual assault at Guantanamo Bay."

Slahi, a Mauritanian national, lived in Montreal from November 1999 to January 2000, during which time he was investigated by security services. Slahi, 51, is accusing Canadian authorities of harassing him during their investigation, with the stress forcing him to return to Mauritania.

The core of Slahi's claim is that Canadian authorities shared false information about his activities and otherwise contributed to events that eventually led to his arrest, after which he was transported first to Jordan and Afghanistan, and then Guantanamo Bay, where he spent 14 years imprisoned without charge.

"Canada's sharing of flawed intelligence sparked a vicious echo chamber," says the statement of claim. The suit was first reported by the Toronto Star on Saturday.

'Enhanced interrogation techniques' used

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said they did not comment on the specifics of their operations or intelligence shared with partners.

During his detainment, Slahi wrote several books, including a memoir that formed the basis for the 2021 film The Mauritanian. Slahi is now a writer-in-residence at a Dutch theatre.

At the time of Slahi's arrest in 2002, officials suspected him of having links to terrorism, in part because he prayed at the same Montreal mosque as the attempted "Millennium bomber," Ahmed Ressam. Slahi said he had also travelled twice to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the early 1990s.

U.S. interrogators, suspecting Slahi of membership in al-Qaeda, employed "enhanced interrogation techniques," which are now considered torture.

"Eventually, the torture broke him down. Slahi began to confess to the lies his interrogators put to him," the statement of claim reads. One of the false confessions concerned a plot to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto, which Slahi said he had never heard of.

There have been several high-profile instances of compensation paid to individuals who were the subjects of detention or torture, to which the actions of Canadian authorities contributed. Maher Arar, for example, received $10.5 million in 2007 following his detention in Syria, and the government settled a lawsuit from Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr for the same amount in 2017.

Mustafa Farooq, head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said Canada's alleged complicity in the events surrounding the torture of a Canadian resident stems from Islamophobic stereotypes, and that accountability is needed.

"The reality is that Mr. Mohamedou was in peril in part because he happened to be praying at a mosque, where he was at the wrong place in the wrong time and happened to come under the surveillance of the Canadian state," Farooq said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"Part of the reason that it's so horrifying is that the Canadian government and Canadian national security administrations participated in having a man who had done nothing wrong tortured, that [they] knew about it, and that [they] tried to make sure Canadians never found out about it."


Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press