JURIST Special Guest Columnist Faisal Kutty, vice-chair and counsel to the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations and a doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School York University in Toronto where he also practices law, says that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to Maher Arar provides a unique opportunity to address the erosion of civil and human rights in Canada’s own “War on Terror”…

“My priority right now is to clear my name,” said Maher Arar during his first public appearance in 2003 upon his return after being tortured for over a year in Syria. The Canadian Arar Commission findings which cleared him and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent apology – which came after months of negotiations — go a long way in helping Arar fulfill his first wish, even though some believe the apology did not go far enough (Harper apologized “for any role Canadian officials may have played”, while the Commission squarely blamed Canadian and American officials).

The Syrian-born Arar was detained by U.S. authorities on September 26, 2002, during a stopover in New York en route from Tunisia to Canada. The Canadian citizen was subsequently sent to Syria for torture under the controversial American practice of “extraordinary rendition” even though he had repeatedly requested that he be sent to Canada. He was eventually released and returned to Canada in October 2003 after Canada put pressure on Syria.

According to the inquiry called after public outcry in Canada, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents acted on false and misleading information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The comprehensive inquiry which lasted more than two years was headed by Ontario’s Associate Chief Justice and cost the public purse more than $16 million. The Commission findings paved the way for the Prime Minister’s formal apology to Arar on behalf of the Canadian government and an offer of $10.5 million plus legal fees to a settle a lawsuit launched by Arar.

Canada’s top cop, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, resigned as a result of the Maher Arar controversy.

Meanwhile, American authorities are refusing Canada’s request to purge Arar’s name from U.S. watch lists. His inclusion on U.S. lists effectively excludes Arar from at least one third of the world’s nations, according to his lawyers. U.S. Senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy has threatened to hold extensive hearings into Arar’s case, lambasting the US’s removal of Arar to Syria as absurd and outrageous and noting that instead of sending Arar a “couple of hundred miles to Canada and turned over to the Canadian authorities… he was sent thousands of miles away to Syria.” He has called for the U.S. to apologize to Arar as well.

Arar and his wife, Monia Mazig, are true champions and will push this matter as far as they can – hopefully getting a “terrorism-free” stamp from U.S. officials through the courts eventually. In addition to the Canadian lawsuit which was just settled, Arar has launched a separate lawsuit against American authorities. The U.S. suit revolves around the practice of his deportation to certain torture.


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