Ottawa to protest Arar af­fair

Amer­i­can of­fi­cials used ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct,’ prime min­is­ter says

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - National - By Ja­son Fekete

CAL­GARY — Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper told U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush Fri­day the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment will launch an of­fi­cial protest over the United States’ treat­ment of Ma­her Arar, urg­ing Amer­i­can of­fi­cials to “come clean” about their “in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct” in the case.

In a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion with the pres­i­dent, Harper said he told Bush that For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter MacKay sent a let­ter Fri­day to Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice to launch a for­mal com­plaint re­gard­ing Arar’s treat­ment.

The protest, which was rec­om­mended by Jus­tice Den­nis O’Con­nor’s re­cent re­port into Arar be­ing de­ported and tor­tured in Syria, will urge Amer­i­can of­fi­cials to fully di­vulge their knowl­edge of de­tails that led to Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties ap­pre­hend­ing the Cana­dian cit­i­zen in 2002.

“Amer­i­can of­fi­cials had not been can­did and truth­ful in their deal­ings with Cana­dian of­fi­cials in the case and it vi­o­lated what we un­der­stand to be the pro­to­cols for such com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween our two gov­ern­ments,” Harper told re­porters at a Cal­gary news con­fer­ence.

“What I would like to see is ob­vi­ously the United States gov­ern­ment come clean with its ver­sion of events, I would hope to ac­knowl­edge the de­fi­cien­cies and the in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct that oc­curred in this case,” Harper said.

The prime min­is­ter said he would like to see the U.S. gov­ern­ment ac­knowl­edge “the de­fi­cien­cies and in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct that oc­curred in this case — par­tic­u­larly vis-a-vis its re­la­tion­ship with the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment.”

Arar, a 36-year-old Syr­ian-Cana­dian, was ar­rested while pass­ing through New York’s JFK air­port in Septem­ber 2002 and de­ported to his birth coun­try, where he spent a year in a Da­m­as­cus jail be­fore he re­leased with­out charges.

Upon Arar’s re­turn to Ottawa, of­fi­cials tried to cover up their mis­takes and pro­tect their own in­ter­ests by de­lib­er­ately leak­ing false in­for­ma­tion about him to the me­dia, O’Con­nor’s re­port found.

The re­port also con­cluded an in­ex­pe­ri­enced RCMP anti-ter­ror­ism squad gave false in­for­ma­tion toAmer­i­can au­thor­i­ties — tag­ging Ma­her Arar as an “Is­lamic ex­trem­ist” — which very likely set off a chain of events lead­ing to his de­por­ta­tion and tor­ture.

RCMP Com­mis­sioner Gi­u­liano Zac­cardelli of­fered a pub­lic apol­ogy last week to Arar for the “ter­ri­ble in­jus­tice” he and his fam­ily en­dured af­ter the Moun­ties falsely la­belled him a ter­ror­ist.

The re­port also cleared Arar of any “taint or sus­pi­cion” that he has ter­ror­ist ties, how­ever he still re­mains on a U.S. no-fly list.

On Fri­day, Harper said he’s not cer­tain whether Arar will be re­moved from that list, say­ing the is­sue didn’t come up in his con­ver­sa­tion with Bush.

How­ever, the prime min­is­ter said re­mov­ing Arar from the list “would be an ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion they would want to take.”

Harper stopped short of apol­o­giz­ing to Arar for the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s and RCMP’s ac­tions in the case, but in­di­cated that will come down the road once Arar’s $400-mil­lion law­suit against the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment reaches a con­clu­sion. He said he’s in­structed gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to en­gage in dis­cus- sions with Arar and his rep­re­sen­ta­tives to ar­rive at a “just set­tle­ment” as soon as pos­si­ble.

NDP for­eign af­fairs critic Alexa McDonough ar­gued the Arar fam­ily is de­serv­ing of an im­me­di­ate apol­ogy, one she said is long over­due.

“The apol­ogy doesn’t have to be tied to the dol­lars and cents,” McDonough fumed in a phone in­ter­view.

De­lay­ing the apol­ogy un­til a set­tle­ment is “ut­terly morally bank­rupt,” she said.

(CAL­GARY HER­ALD)

—CP

Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper says the U.S. should ‘come clean’

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