Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology today on behalf of the Canadian government for instigating the 2002 deportation of Maher Arar from the United States to Syria on suspicion of connections to terrorism, suspicions that Canada later determined were false. Arar, who claimed he was tortured by Syrian security forces, will alse get a $10 million settlement — but it’s the apology that has the most meaning to Arar (via Newsbeat1 and Memeorandum):
Ottawa has reached a $10-million settlement with Maher Arar over Canada’s role in a U.S. decision to deport him to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to make the settlement announcement on Friday afternoon, when he will also issue a formal apology to Arar on behalf of Canadians. Sources told the CBC the government will also pick up Arar’s legal fees. …
Ottawa set up a judicial inquiry into the case led by Justice Dennis O’Connor after Arar returned to Canada more than a year later.
O’Connor released his report in September 2006, concluding that Arar had no links to terrorist organizations or militants. He also concluded the RCMP had given misleading information to U.S. authorities, which may have been the reason he was sent to Syria.
Arar apparently can use the money. He has not been able to shake the notoriety of the case, and when he Googles his name, all that comes up are articles about his purported connections to terrorism. He will not travel outside of Canada, mostly because his name still remains on the American watch list, which makes him ineligible for entry to the US.
A year ago, a federal judge dismissed Arar’s case, ruling that he had no jurisdiction to question the decision of American security officials, especially since the RCMP had indicated that Arar was a threat. However, American officials have never really answered why Arar got deported to Syria rather than returned to Canada. He is a Syrian native, but emigrated to Canada at 17 with his parents. He holds a Canadian passport, and did at the time of the incident. Apparently because he had a casual relationship with someone under suspicion of terror links, the RCMP drew the conclusion that Arar also had links to terrorists, and added his name to their lists.
When Arar traveled to the US in 2002, that and some supplemental information given by the RCMP convinced the US to deport him — but to Syria rather than Canada. The incident started the controversy over the practice of “extraordinary rendition”, seen as a means by some for the US to send terror suspects to nations whose interrogation techniques had much less legal oversight than in the West.
The Canadians concluded last year that adding him to their watch lists was a mistake and that Arar had indeed suffered torture, which paved the way for his lawsuit and today’s settlement and apology. The question still remains about whether Arar belongs on the watch list, and this case will remain high up in Google searches until the US either makes a public case for Arar’s inclusion or removes him from their lists. In the meantime, Harper’s apology should allow Arar to return to a more normal life — at least in Canada.