OTTAWA – A government lawyer has admitted that Maher Arar was a victim when he was deported on terrorism accusations and detained in Syria – but she did not declare his innocence. Barbara McIsaac, a lawyer for the federal attorney general, made the comment Tuesday as the Arar inquiry met in public for the first time in more than eight months. McIsaac stopped short of saying that Canadian officials did anything wrong. She also argued that if Arar wants to testify at the inquiry into his case, he won’t be allowed to see evidence that had been available to other witnesses. The reason for this, says McIsaac, is because Arar isn’t under investigation. Most of the testimony at the Arar inquiry has been given in secret. Arar’s lawyer, Marlys Edwardh, says it’s unfair to allow Arar to testify and be cross-examined without knowing what government witnesses have said about him in secret hearings.
Edwardh wants the inquiry to appoint an independent fact-finder with security clearance to take Arar’s testimony in private. That person would have access to testimony given to date at the inquiry, including secret evidence provided by police and government officials. McIsaac said such a fact-finder is not necessary because this is an inquiry, not a criminal trial in which Arar must defend himself. She added that the head of the Arar inquiry, Justice Dennis O’Connor, is fulfilling the fact-finding role. In September 2002, Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained in New York on suspicion of being involved in the al-Qaeda network. The U.S. then deported him to Syria, where Arar says he was brutalized by Syrian officials.