by Tim McSorley
Date: December 10, 2016
Saturday, December 10, is Human Rights Day. It’s also the anniversary of an ongoing stain on Canada’s human rights record.
Fourteen years ago, Mohamed Harkat
, an Algerian refugee to Canada, was arrested outside his home under a government security certificate on allegations of having ties to terrorism. Despite never being charged, and never being shown the evidence against him, Harkat has faced solitary confinement, the strictest bail conditions in Canadian history and lives under the constant threat of deportation to Algeria — where he would certainly be imprisoned and likely tortured.
We like to believe that Canada stands above torture. And while the practice is banned in Canada, our international human rights obligations means that we must oppose torture everywhere. That includes never deporting someone to a situation where they could face torture.
Sadly, Canada has a history of complicity in sending Canadians to torture abroad: The U.S. government whisked Maher Arar away to Jordan, and then Syria, where he was tortured. Canadian officials were complicit in his rendition and turned a blind eye to his torture. In 2007, after the two year O’Connor Inquiry, he received an official apology from the Canadian government, plus a $10.5 million settlement and $1 million in legal fees.
While no apology or settlement can undo the horrors of torture, other Canadians haven’t even received that much. A follow-up to the O’Connor Inquiry, the Iacobucci Inquiry, found that Canadian agents and officials played an indirect role in the arrest and torture of three other Canadians: Ahmad El Maati in Egypt, and Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin in Syria. This included problematic sharing of information with foreign spy agencies, providing insufficient consular support, and officials ignoring allegations of torture.
The inquiry ended in 2008, and yet no compensation or redress has been offered. This, despite a 2009 majority vote in the House — including Justin Trudeau and Liberal MPs — in favour of a Public Safety Committee report calling for an apology, redress and full adoption of the recommendations of the O’Connor Inquiry, including the creation of an integrated and independent review body for national security.
Sadly, we’ve seen the opposite of redress: The former Conservative government and the current Liberal government have fought hard against a $100 million lawsuit brought by the three men for redress for the abuse they faced. In fact, the Liberals have doubled down, arguing in court that a 2014 law brought in by the Conservatives to protect intelligence sources should apply retroactively, in a bid to stop key testimony.
When the prime minister says Canada is “back” and promises to fight for equality and human rights, a fundamental first step should be apologizing, providing redress and eliminating all complicity in torture.
We have a golden opportunity to make things right: The government is currently holding public, country-wide consultations on our national security framework. Prime Minister Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale could help set the tone for what is to come by stating right away that they will take some fundamental steps:
* Ensuring no person is deported if there is a risk of torture, starting with the end of deportation proceedings against Mr. Harkat.
* Committing to redress and apologies for all victims of torture in which Canada is complicit, starting with Mr. El Maati, Mr. Almalki and Mr. Nureddin.
* Withdrawing ministerial directives – still on the books – which allow Canada to accept intelligence that may have been garnered under torture, in violation of our international commitments.
* Eliminating the security certificate system, which allows for detention without charges or access to the evidence being used to bring the certificate.
* Repealing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015 (Bill C-51), which brought in a tangled mess of laws that open the door wide for the types of violations that led to the torture of Mr. Arar, Mr. El Maati, Mr. Almalki and Mr. Nurredin.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, on Human Rights Day 2017, we could finally say that Canada has cut all ties to torture?
Tim McSorley is the national coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.