Cross-posted to the E-Group
There has been no public testimony in the Arar inquiry since I last wrote about it, but even though the hearings there have been were in camera and held in an undisclosed location (do you suppose it was Dick Cheney's secret bunker?), a number of interesting things have emerged. Among them are that the Chrétien adminstration didn't learn from history and that the RCMP is, to put it bluntly, unfit for intelligence work.
There's a James Travers article in the Toronto Star that takes us back to the MacDonald Commission which was convened in the late seventies to investigate our national police force.
Along with breaking laws and investigating groups that only threatened partisan political interests, the force's security service also wilfully mislead its political masters.
For those who have forgotten, the commission recommended divorcing the work of bringing criminals to justice from the more subtle, less finite task of insulating the nation from threats that are often as uncertain as they are obscure.
It was because of the Commission's findings that Ottawa took the Mounties out of the business of intelligence and created the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and a civilian agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), to keep an eye on them. But in the rush to be seen to take action after 9/11, in a move that Travers describes as one of ?political expediency?, the MacDonald Commission and the reasons it was struck were forgotten and the government suddenly put the RCMP right back in the spy business again.
Unfortunately it seems no one bothered to figure out whether they were really equipped to handle it. A redacted (the 21st century word for censored) version of the Garvie report, prepared at the request of the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP, was released to the public and the 75% of it that we're allowed to see is pretty discouraging.
The Garvie report paints a picture of an RCMP-led police intelligence unit that cut corners, ignored rules and lacked the expertise to deal with complex national-security cases. It also says the Canadian counterterrorism unit was so strapped for cash that its investigators couldn't buy airline tickets to New York to join Mr. Arar's interrogation.
We had already learned that while Arar was held in New York, the RCMP violated policy by sharing intelligence with American officials without the normal restrictions on it. We now know that the Americans specifically requested information that ?might help them file criminal charges?. And the Mounties' response?
... the RCMP told the U.S. officials that the Canadian side believed the intelligence it was passing along was reliable. But "the reliability assessment of that information was inaccurate."
In other words they screwed up. It sounds like they just took everything they had, including the apartment lease that tied Arar to another suspect, Abdullah Almalki (and which, incidentally, they had obtained without a warrant), and passed it to the Americans figuring they could sort it out for themselves. The lease wasn't mentioned again specifically but it now seems clear that because it was given to the Americans without the proper restrictions on its use, they in turn passed it on to Syrian intelligence.
The Garvie report says RCMP Inspector Richard Roy, the force's liaison officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, learned at some point during Mr. Arar's 12-day detention in New York that "there was a possibility that Arar would be sent to Syria." Yet the officers mentioned this to investigators from the A-O Canada unit only on the morning of Oct. 8, 2002, when Mr. Arar was on board the plane to the Middle East.
The A-O Canada unit were the ones actually handling the Arar file. But, hey, it's not like they needed to know what was going on, eh?
There is only one respect here in which the Mounties look better than CSIS. Only 25% of the RCMP report is censored while a new version of the SIRC report on the role CSIS played was released, after the government admitted that redacting every word on 89 pages was a little bit much, and we still only get to see 30% of it. While it seems to clear CSIS of any serious wrongdoing, it reveals some interesting information about the Department of Foreign Affairs.
At the time our ambassador to Syria was Franco Pillarella. One would think that he would have been busy lobbying for Arar's release from the point where Canada figured out he was there. But apparently Pillarella took time out to be verbally ?briefed? on the results of Arar's interrogation, requested a written transcript, had it translated from Arabic to English and passed it on to CSIS agents. Now is it only me or does it send a mixed message to the Syrians to sit down and be ?briefed? on an interrogation when you're insisting that a citizen of your country is being held illegally? He was insisting that, wasn't he? And did everyone in the Canadian government forget that the Syrians torture prisoners?
This all went down in November of 2002 and Arar had roughly another nine months in a Damascus prison to look forward to. If our ambassador was busy playing spy vs. spy, is it fair to ask how hard he was working to get Arar out of there? Because it took until the following spring to really get things moving and even then the RCMP wasn't on side.
By the next spring, the Arar case had become a cause c?l?bre in Canada, straining relations with the United States, when then-prime-minister Jean Chr?tien's government decided to intervene with Syrian authorities. A letter was drafted from then-foreign-affairs-minister Bill Graham to Damascus, saying, "the government of Canada has no evidence Mr. Arar was involved in any terrorist activities."
The Garvie report says a senior RCMP officer, Deputy Commissioner Garry Loeppky, tried but failed to get that line deleted from the letter, arguing that it was misleading because Mr. Arar "remains a subject of great interest."
Arar's detention was illegal from day one. As a dual citizen, according to international law he had the right to have the Americans return him to Canada instead of sending him to Syria. Even if the RCMP had enough on the guy to charge him, which they obviously didn't, the correct course of action was to get him out of Syria as quickly as possible and back in the hands of Canadian authorities. But from this it looks like the RCMP was quite happy to leave him in that Damascus prison and Foreign Affairs was sitting on its hands for months. Did everyone in the Canadian government forget...oh, never mind.
It's unclear from the Commission website and from all of these stories exactly what happens from here. Last week and the week before were taken up with hearings on the confidentiality of some of the thousands of government documents the lawyers are reviewing. The consensus seems to be that they're on another break but will resume in camera hearings in October for another round of the same. One story I read suggested that public testimony won't resume until early next year.
The tone of the Travers article I quoted near the top of this post almost suggests that we now know enough to assess what happened to Maher Arar. We have a dysfunctional national police force, hurriedly pressed into service as an intelligence agency, blundering around pretending they know what they're doing while CSIS, the real spooks, are using Foreign Affairs to find out what the Mounties have been up to and the government is too busy looking south for approval to remember that the guy in the cell in Damascus is one of ours. But it wouldn't surprise me to find that there are some interesting twists and turns yet to come. And I'm now waiting anxiously to see who gets fired over this. Somebody should be.