Ottawa to protest Arar affair
American officials used ‘inappropriate conduct,’ prime minister says
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.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the U.S. should ‘come clean’