Ex- minister denies claim RCMP told him of Arar case foul- up
‘ I was not informed,’ Easter tells panel
The former head of the department that oversaw the RCMP has disputed testimony by Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli that he briefed his political masters soon after learning the RCMP spread false information on Maher Arar.
Commissioner Zaccardelli testified last month before a parliamentary committee that he first learned of the RCMP mistakes some time after Mr. Arar was imprisoned in Syria in the fall of 2002.
He also said the RCMP “ had discussions with the minister to inform him of the situation.”
But in testimony before the same committee yesterday, Wayne Easter, solicitor general in the former Liberal government, said he was not briefed about the errors, nor RCMP efforts to correct them.
“ I was not so informed. And I will state that again. I was not so informed,” said Mr. Easter. “ There is no situation where the RCMP came to me and basically said, ‘ We screwed up. We provided improper information’.”
Members of the public safety committee, which has been conducting hearings into the Arar case since the release of Justice Dennis O’Connor’s report, were troubled by the apparent discord in testimony between Mr. Easter and Commissioner Zaccardelli.
“ I have very, very shaky confidence in ( Commissioner) Zaccardelli) and him continuing this role, and this just further undermines that,” said Liberal MP Mark Holland. “ Given the severity of what happened to Mr. Arar, given the weight of the mistakes made by the RCMP, it’s just flabbergasting that they would not have at any point talked to anybody in the political sphere and let them know that they made a mistake.”
Mr. Arar, an Ottawa engineer with Canadian and Syrian citizenship, was detained by U. S. authorities in September 2002 and later sent to Syria, where he was tortured.
An inquiry headed by Judge O’Connor found the RCMP shared inaccurate information about Mr. Arar with U. S. authorities, including that he was an Islamic extremist with links to al- Qaeda, and that the misinformation “ very likely” led U. S. authorities to send him to Syria.
Mr. Easter said he was not informed that Mr. Arar was anything more than a “ person of interest” in an RCMP investigation until the summer or fall of 2003, when he was more extensively briefed.
In fact, the former solicitor general said he did not learn that the RCMP had provided incorrect information to U. S. authorities until the O’Connor report was released last month.
Mr. Easter also cast doubt on Commissioner Zaccardelli’s assertion that the Mounties took steps to correct the record with the U. S. In July 2003, he requested a briefing note from the RCMP to prepare for a meeting with former U. S. attorney general John Ashcroft to express displeasure about Mr. Arar’s treatment. However, the note did not refer to false information provided to the U. S. or efforts by the RCMP to correct the errors.