Canada's fraying anti-terror policy

posted on November 01, 2005 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

Original author: unsigned editorial
Source: The Toronto Star
URL: [link]
Date: November 1, 2005

Prime Minister Paul Martin's government has vented a blast of outrage at Syria, now that a fact-finder has confirmed what many had long believed, and that was that an innocent Canadian, Maher Arar, was tortured in Damascus after American officials shipped him there to be squeezed for information as a suspected terrorist.

Arar was beaten with steel cables during 18-hour interrogation sessions and was held for 10 months in a tiny cell. Despite strenuous Syrian denials, Stephen Toope, a McGill University law professor, concluded Arar's claims of being tortured were credible, and squared with reports of abuse from three other Canadians who were held in Syria and treated harshly.Now Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew is demanding that Syria's busy torturers be prosecuted. Good luck to him. While he's at it, he should press for compensation for Arar from the Americans who imperilled him.

Better yet, Ottawa's outrage should prompt a fresh evaluation of our own domestic anti-terror policies. Canada keeps foreign terror suspects locked up for years on end, unless they agree to be shipped back to places where they may be tortured. That is becoming impossible to justify.

The Supreme Court has just wisely agreed to hear an appeal by one of those Canadian detainees. Hassan Almrei, a Syrian, is one of five Arab men held here under national security certificates. Given what Arar went through, Almrei has good reason to fear being shipped home. Two Egyptians and an Algerian are in the same boat. The fifth suspect, Moroccan citizen Adil Charkaoui, has been released by a Federal Court judge who found that there is no need to detain him when he can be controlled through house arrest and other measures.

There is no easy rule-of-thumb to deal with terror, post-9/11. But the Supreme Court has ruled that Ottawa must not deport people to countries where they may be subjected to torture except under exceptional circumstances. Human Rights Watch and other credible groups contend that torture and abuse are common in Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.

There is a serious message here for the federal government. Canada's practice of trying to deport people to possible torture is not sustainable. Alternative removal destinations must be sought.

Equally important, the judges who preside over security cases must rigorously test the Crown's allegations, give detainees a chance to reply, and make the cases as open as possible, consistent with national security.

Also, rather than detain people indefinitely, the courts should make more use of curfews, monitoring bracelets, restraining orders and such.

No one wants to be "soft" on terror. Canadians deserve and expect to be protected. But we should not have to lock people up and throw away the key. Or expel people to torture or death. The Martin government must rethink these policies. Canada's legal system must insist on it.

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