It sure is nice to know that the RCMP thinks it appropriate to allow an innocent Canadian citizen to rot in a Syrian jail to avoid causing ... embarrassment?
On Friday last Justice O'Connor, who's heading the commission of inquiry into Maher Arar's deportation and confinement, released over 1,000 pages of RCMP documents. They're heavily redacted but they still tell a story.
The RCMP seems to feel its new relationship with its counterparts in the U.S. is extremely important. But what it amounts to is: they tell the Americans everything they know, the Americans keep them completely in the dark and the Mounties then disavow all responsibility. Interesting relationship¹.
"The cooperative relationship between the RCMP and its foreign partners regarding the ongoing campaign against terrorism is of the utmost importance. However, once the RCMP has provided information to its partners, the resulting dissemination/actions concerning this information is beyond our control," states a "secret" Nov. 15, 2002, briefing to [RCMP Commissioner] Zaccardelli.
A separate memo to the RCMP liaison officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs, dated Oct. 18, 2002, stated: "RCMP investigators have maintained an open line of communication with it's (sic) Canadian and American partners. All available information obtained by Project A-OCANADA team has been shared with (censored)."
But the sharing of information seems to have been pretty one-sided².
One document, marked ?secret,? describes how the RCMP believed in October, 2002, that Mr. Arar was to be sent to Canada, only to be told by a foreign affairs official that it was believed he would be deported to Syria.
?Upon hearing this, the (officer in charge) of the project and his lead investigators became concerned,? part of the document reads before being blacked out.
There were discussions about sending investigators to New York to interview Mr. Arar. Investigators sought clarification from U.S. authorities about why Mr. Arar was arrested, and the Mounties also demanded to know whether Mr. Arar would be allowed to proceed to Canada.
No answers were given, according to a briefing note compiled for the RCMP commissioner.
In fact, it seems Canadian investigators were never told anything.
It's also revealed in these documents that Arar wasn't a central figure in any ongoing RCMP investigation³.
The RCMP regarded Maher Arar as nothing more than a "peripheral" figure or "potential witness" in their terrorism investigations...
But if that's all Arar represented, and they had no proof of any wrongdoing on his part, why were they so reluctant to assist in his release³?
In late October, 2002, Mr. Arar's lawyer, Michael Edelson, submitted a formal request to the Mounties for assistance in having him released from custody in Syria.
More than two weeks later, after the request was filtered through several bureaucratic layers within the RCMP, Mr. Edelson was turned down flat.
In fact when public pressure on the government to secure Arar's release started to build, the RCMP went into full damage control mode¹.
An April 30, 2003, briefing note to RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli says any intervention could be a "potential embarrassment."
Cited in the memo was the case of Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian-Canadian believed to be an Al Qaeda financier who was released from custody in Pakistan after Chr?tien intervened.
"The intervention of the PM has been raised (in Khadr case) on a number of occasions in an attempt to embarrass the government," the note says.
Was it the poor government's reputation they were concerned about? Or their own¹?
Dozens of e-mails and memos also talk about "media strategy," urging no confirmation of an RCMP probe into Arar and noting the deportation could reflect poorly on the force.
As I said, isn't it nice to know that while a Canadian citizen is imprisoned in a Syrian jail our national police force, who have already admitted they don't have sufficient evidence to charge the guy with jay walking, are worried about media strategy?
The last time I posted about this we'd learned enough to make the RCMP look incompetent. They'd violated their own policies in sharing information without the proper holds, they'd guaranteed the reliability of information which turned out to be unreliable and they'd been caught flat-footed by Arar's arrest and couldn't scrape together enough money to get members of their task force down to New York.
But now they look worse than incompetent. Now they look so infatuated with their new role as superspooks that they don't care whose life they screw up as long as they can avoid negative publicity.
Part of Justice O'Connor's mandate is to suggest a better mechanism for monitoring the RCMP and for dealing with complaints against the force. I imagine it would be outside of that mandate to suggest that the Mounties be pulled back out of the intelligence business altogether, but it's not outside my mandate and that's exactly what I'm suggesting.
Let's go back to the situation the MacDonald commission recommended in the eighties and separate law enforcement on the one hand from intelligence and ?national security? on the other. Maybe if the Mounties go back to being just law enforcement officers they'll place a higher value on due process and the rights of citizens than on their media strategy.
Cross-posted at the E-Group