Canada urged to investigate its alleged role in torture

posted on November 03, 2005 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

Original author: Jeff Sallot
Source: The Globe and Mail
URL: [link]
Date: November 3, 2005

OTTAWA -- Canada needs to publicly investigate allegations its officials may be complicit in the torture of Canadian citizens in the Middle East, the United Nations Human Rights Committee says in a report that criticizes federal anti-terrorism measures.

But there is no need for a public inquiry, says Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, cabinet's anti-terrorism chief. She refuses to say whether Ottawa has conducted internal investigations of the cases.

The UN panel said yesterday "it is concerned by allegations that Canada may have co-operated with agencies known to resort to torture with the aim of extracting information from individuals detained in foreign countries," referring to the cases of three Canadian Muslim men who were arrested in Syria and say they were brutally interrogated about information they believe was supplied by federal authorities.The committee noted that Canada is holding a public inquiry into the case of Maher Arar, an Ottawa software engineer, to determine whether the RCMP or any other federal agencies were involved in his deportation from the United States to Syria, where he was tortured.

Canada also needs to investigate these other cases as well, the committee said, referring to Ottawa businessman Abdullah Almalki, Toronto truck driver Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, the former principal of an Islamic school.

All were arrested in Damascus and held in the same military intelligence detention centre where Mr. Arar was confined. An independent fact finder for the Arar commission says the accounts of torture by all four are credible.

The UN panel said it notes Canada's firm denials of complicity.

Nevertheless, Canada "should ensure that a public and independent inquiry review all cases of Canadian citizens who are suspected terrorists or suspected to be in possession of information in relation to terrorism, and who have been detained in countries where it is feared that they have undergone or may undergo torture and ill-treatment," the UN committee said.

"Such inquiry should determine whether Canadian officials have directly or indirectly facilitated or tolerated their arrest and imprisonment."

Ms. McLellan, the minister responsible for the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in an interview: "We have no intention of convening a public inquiry. We have other mechanisms."

She said she would not discuss publicly the cases of the three men.

The federal government convened a commission of inquiry in the Arar case because he was deported from the United States to Syria, she said.

The other three Canadians were arrested at the Damascus airport.

(The Syrians eventually deported Mr. El Maati to Egypt, where he was tortured again.)

Ms. McLellan said that if anyone has a complaint about the Mounties they can go to the RCMP public complaints commission. Complaints about CSIS can be taken to the Security Intelligence Review Committee.

(Shirley Heafey, the recently retired head of the RCMP complaints commission, said the force stonewalled her when she tried to get information about national security cases. And SIRC does not review complaints publicly, which is what the UN committee says is needed to guarantee Canadian compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.)

The committee periodically reviews the human rights record of UN member countries. This is Canada's first report card since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, and the panel had a number of concerns about the way Ottawa reacted.

The panel, for example, complained about post-9/11 changes to the rules of evidence, allowing prosecutors to withhold some information from people charged with terrorism because public disclosure supposedly would harm national security or international relations.

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