The assistant commissioner of the RCMP instructed staff to withhold key information from Canada's foreign minister about their investigation into a Canadian citizen allegedly tortured in a Syrian jail, an inquiry heard Wednesday.
Former foreign affairs minister Bill Graham asked for a thorough briefing by RCMP after then-U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci suggested Maher Arar's deportation by U.S. authorities to Syria was based on Canadian intelligence.
But in an Oct. 18, 2002 memo that was read at the Arar inquiry, Richard Proulx informed the RCMP commissioner "there will be no information of an operational-tactical nature released to (Foreign Affairs)."
The RCMP's deputy commissioner for operations, Garry Loeppky, defended the decision, saying day-to-day operational decisions, tactics employed and evidence are of no concern to Foreign Affairs.
Loeppky said the Mounties would provide only information that the department or the minister would need "to carry out their mandate."
"And that would be within the assessment made by RCMP?" asked David. "In other words, it's the RCMP that is deciding what is necessary for (Foreign Affairs) to carry out their mandate in terms of what information is passed on?"
Loeppky replied that "if they felt they required more information in a specific area, there would be a dialogue. It's a process."
How would Foreign Affairs know what additional questions to ask if they're not being told what's going on the first place? But apparently the RCMP sees no problem in withholding information from our government while telling law enforcement officials in other countries everything they can think of.
In June, RCMP Superintendent Michel Cabana, who led a counterterrorism probe in the Ottawa area after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, told the inquiry that he was under clear orders that "caveats were down."
That meant formal checks and balances limiting any foreign agency's use of shared information were set aside because of the exigencies of the moment.
Supt. Cabana said this order came from the RCMP's most senior levels. Investigators were ordered to pull out all the stops in sharing any and all anti-terrorist information with their U.S. counterparts, he said, and would have been derelict had they not.
As a result, even the most sensitive secrets of the RCMP national security investigation, known as A-O Canada -- which looked into the activities of Ottawa computer engineer Maher Arar as well as several other Ottawa-area men -- were freely shared in late 2001 and 2002 with a large group of agencies, both domestic and foreign.
Leoppky disputes the idea that formal instructions to open the information floodgates were ever issued but he can certainly understand how people might have gotten that impression.
"The traditional stove pipes had to come down," he said. "So given the bombardment of messages, it's understandable that some people might have understood the sharing went further."
As long they weren't sharing the information with the Department of Foreign Affairs, it was understandable.
Cabana, by the way, is the RCMP officer who recently testified that "everyone knew there was a risk Arar was being poorly treated." Good thing they didn't share that with Foreign Affairs, eh?
Cross-posted at the E-Group.