OTTAWA (CP) - A key RCMP player in the Maher Arar affair says he never suspected, despite some apparent hints from U.S. authorities, that the Americans were going to deport Arar to Syria in the fall of 2002.
Sgt. Rick Flewelling acknowledged at a public inquiry Tuesday that he discussed the fact that Arar was a dual Syrian-Canadian national with a U.S. official. He added that the American wanted to know whether Arar could be denied entry to Canada if he tried to return to this country.
He also wanted to know whether the Mounties had enough evidence to charge him with any terrorist offence.
Flewelling told his U.S. contact no on both points; Arar could not be barred from entering Canada and could not be charged with anything.
At the time, said Flewelling, he thought he was clearing the way for Arar's release from detention in New York and his return home.
"I honestly thought that (it) would assist him in him coming back to Canada," he told the inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O'Connor.
But Paul Cavalluzzo, the chief counsel to the commission, suggested the kind of questions being asked by the Americans should have raised red flags in Ottawa.
He argued that, faced with a choice between setting Arar free in Canada and sending him to Syria, the country of his birth, the U.S. could be expected to choose Syria.
That would be in keeping with an overall American policy of "cleaning the streets" of suspected terrorists by taking them out of circulation in any way possible, said Cavalluzzo.
"Isn't there a signal here to you?" he demanded of Flewelling.
"I didn't take it as a signal, no," the Mountie replied.
Cavalluzzo continued to press.
"You didn't interpret that to mean: 'You know what? I think these guys may want to send him to Syria.' "
Again Flewelling insisted that possibility never dawned on him, adding he'd never heard of U.S. authorities deporting someone to a third country.
"It did not occur to me at all . . . . It never crossed my mind one bit."
Arar had been detained in New York in late September as he flew home to Canada from Tunisia. After 13 days in custody he was sent to Syria, where he says he was tortured into false confessions of terrorist activity, including training in Afghanistan and ties to Al Qaida.
The inquiry is looking into the role played by Canadian officials in the affair. (MORE)