Saturday, August 11, 2007


So, finally, Canadians now know what really happened in the Maher Arar case. Getting there wasn't easy. We had to sue our own government to find out. But we did. The Judge found in the people's favour. The system worked.

Now, there is not one, but two components to the Arar case. The first is the matter of his detainment, transportation to Syria, his torture and his release. The second is the cover-up by Canadian polticians and the Harper government.

Remember Watergate? There were two components to Watergate. The first was the break-in at the Democratic Party offices. The second was the cover-up. It was the cover-up that brought Nixon down. The Arar coverup may yet help bring the Harper government down. At the very least, it besmirches his government and confirms his blind and misguided loyalty to the Bushies.

The Arar case has now been in the forefront of the news in this country for four years. It is as instructive as it is horrifying. Maher Arar's nightmarish, Kafkaesque experience as a result of being wrongly accused by government agencies running amok in secrecy, should never have happened to a Canadian citizen and must not happen again.

The whole sordid and shameful affair should be indelibly etched on the mind of every Canadian who places human rights at the forefront of our values. What follows is a brief review of the case and developments to date.

Maher Arar was born in Syria in 1970 and came to Canada in 1988 with his parents. In 1991 he became a Canadian citizen. He attended University and acquired a BSc from McGill in Computer Engineering and a MSc in Telecommunications from the University of Quebec. He married his Tunisia-born wife, who has a PhD in Finance. By 2002 they had two children.

Between 1997 and 2002 he and his family lived variously in Ottawa, Montreal and Boston depending on the locale of his employment. In 2001, he started his own consulting company within which he carried on his business as a telecommunications engineer.

He was placed under surveillance by the RCMP by reason of being seen in the company of a Syrian born young man from Ottawa, Abdullah Almalki. Apparently Almalki had done some high-tech business in Afghanistan which was considered suspicious.

On September 26 2002, while returning home from a visit to Tunisia, Arar was stopped JFK Airport in New York and detained by U.S. Immigration authorities. He was held in solitary confinement for two weeks. On October 7, he was told by a U.S. official that he was considered to be a terrorist and an al-qaeda member because he knew Almaki and another Canadian citizen of Arab origin from Ottawa, truckdriver Ahmed Abou El Maati.

On October 9, Arar was flown out of the U.S. by the U.S. authorities to Jordan and then a few days later to Syria. He thus became a subject of the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition - the policy of transferring a detainee terrorist suspect out of the U.S. to another country which has no qualms about using torture to elicit confessions.

For several weeks, while incarcerated in a cramped, dark, rat-infested cell, the Syrian authorities beat the hell out of this Canadian citizen. They persisted until he confessed that he was trained as a terrorist in Afghanistan. Then they eased up on him. For six months he didn't see daylight.

During a visit by Canadian consular authorities in August, 2003, Arar said that he was tortured. He was released in October after being incarcerated for more than a year. He then returned to Ottawa where, together with his wife, he started a campaign to clear his name and to convince the public that he was not a terrorist or an al-qaeda member.

Shortly after his return, there were reports that he had been detained by U.S. authorities as a result of information supplied to them by the RCMP.

The RCMP, true to their tried and true Canadian cop traditions, decided to investigate itself over the Arar case. This was done by Superintendant Brian Garvie. His heavily censored report was released on September 25, 2004.

Among Garvie's findings were that the RCMP gave the U.S. authorities information on Arar with no strings attached, that an RCMP officer assigned to the Foreign Affairs Department may have known of the plan to ship Arar to Syria but said nothing, and that a Deputy Commissioner had put heat on Prime Minister Chretien not to tell the Syrians that there was no evidence that Arar was a terrorist, because he was still a person of 'great interest.'

On February 5, 2004 the Martin government, much to its credit, set up the "Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar," under Ontario Associate Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor, to find out what really happened. The Americans nixed this idea and didn't cooperate.

O'Connor is a highly respected Judge who has had a brilliant career as both a lawyer and a judge. Given his experience as the Commissioner of the Walkerton Inquiry, he knew how to handle political hot potatos. He was a perfect choice for the job.

It is highly relevant that Stephen Harper took over the reins of government on
February 6th, 2006.

The O'Connor Inquiry concluded its public hearings on September 14, 2005. O'Connor's report was issued on September 2006. As expected, it completely exonerated Arar. He also concluded that it was likely the U.S. put Arar through his ordeal because it relied on false information provided by Canadian officials.

The swift fallout from the O'Connor Report included an immediate public apology from the RCMP to Arar and his family. Shortly after, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli resigned in disgrace because of inconsistencies in his testimony at the Inquiry hearings. The Government also apologized to the Arar family and agreed to pay them a settlement of 11.5 million dollars including legal costs.

It was at the time of the issuance of the O'Connor report that the Arar cover-up took place. Government lawyers insisted that before the report was issued, some 1500 words had to be kept from the public because their release would compromise national security.

The O'Connor Commission disagreed. It sued the government to have the censored 1500 words released. The result was the decision of the Federal Court last week to release about 1000 of those deleted words. And we now know a great deal more about the Arar case. For example, we have learned:

1. CSIS, in the words of its Deputy Director at the time Arar was sent to Syria, thought that Arar would be sent to the Middle East to be questioned in a 'firm manner,' so that the Americans 'can have their way with him.'

2. The RCMP, in applying to a Judge for a warrant to eavesdrop on telephone calls, didn't disclose that they were relying on information from a country with a poor human rights record [Syria] and did not make an assessment of the reliability of that information.

3. In respect to the same application for a telephone warrant, despite that the RCMP knew that a confession was obtained through torture in Syria, it nevertheless insisted to the Judge that the confession was accurate and true.

4. Although the Syrians, as early as one month after they had Arar in custody, told CSIS that Arar was a nuisance rather than a terrorist, Canadian officials refused to help in his release.

5. One of the 'national security' reasons for withholding some information was that the RCMP did not wish to compromise the goodwill of foreign agencies like the CIA with which the RCMP shared intelligence. In other words, the goodwill of the CIA towards the RCMP was paramount to the full disclosure of the facts involving the torture of an innocent Canadian in a foreign, rat-infested prison. As a result all references to the names of the foreign intelligence sources such as the CIA had been censored out along with the other 1500 words.

There is more fallout from the court's decision. The new Conservative RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, who replaced the disgraced Zaccardelli, admitted late last week that when he was Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day's Associate Deputy Minister he was among a secret group of bureaucrats who were involved in a process that led to the government deciding not to allow disclosure of the 1500 words of the O'Connor report. A shaky beginning, to say the least, for a new Commissioner who was selected to improve public accountability of the Mounties.

Day, the Liberals' gift that keeps on giving, tried to deflect responsibility on the bureaucrats. He said of the government attempt at censorship that "senior officials from various departments" decided to block out the passages before the government approved the recommendations. Day, by the way, is an old hand at using the courts at massive taxpayers' expense to avoid coming clean. One recalls the case of Goddard v. Day lawsuit of a few years ago in Alberta. Day had defamed a Red Deer lawyer in a letter Day had written to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate. At the time of the defamation, Day was a minister in the Klein government and so his legal fees were borne by the public purse. He put the lawyer through grinding and protracted litigation before settling the case on the eve of trial for $60,000. The total cost to the taxpayers who were footing the Day bill - close to $800,000.

Harper, for his part, made a public statement in the wake of the Court decision and the new disclosures that avoided any reference to the government cover-up. Instead, as is his wont, he emphasized that the Arar affair took place under the watch of the Liberals and not the Conservatives, and so the Grits were responsible for all of it.

Yet the cover-up took place on Harper's watch. And it is consistent with other examples of the Harper government's excessive secrecy or downright lies and misleading information designed to throw the public off sniffing out the facts. We have seen the Foreign Affairs Department lie and deny the existence of a report on the progress of the war in Afghanistan. When caught in the lie, it issued the report but it was heavily censored based on national security reasons. When the Globe and Mail produced the uncensored report, the national security arguement couldn't possibly stand up because the whole censorship exercise was shown to be merely an attempt to keep news - bad news in this case - from the public (See Darryl Raymaker Blog, Harper and O'Connor: Canada's Bush and Rumsfeld . . March 25, 2007).

Similarly, General Hillier has issued his order that neither will there be any information passing to the public about the fate or whereabouts of detainees captured by Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Without elaboration he argues that the security of the troops is imperiled if that information is publicly available. How this is so, he doesn't say. Security reasons, we suppose.

One final observation. Recently, the Harper government had occasion to appoint a new Chief Justice of Ontario replacing the departed Roy McMurtry. Its choice was to elevate to the Court of Appeal from the Ontario Superior Court, Warren Winkler. Winkler, by any standard, was a worthy appointment. However, so would have been Dennis O'Connor. O'Connor was already on the Ontario Court of Appeal and was the Associate Chief Justice. As such, he was the strong favorite to replace McMurtry. The Harper government chose Winkler over O'Connor.

That'll teach him, I guess.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I have predicted for some time that the perfect political storm likely to engulf the Harper government is Afghanistan.

Canada began its participation there for the right reasons. We agreed to help rid the world of the terrorists who organized 9/11 and the government that supported them - the Taliban. At the same time, we wanted to help the development of the country, to help children get an education, and assist in bringing about some semblance of the rule of law to the country. Good intentions. But as Samuel Johnson once wisely said 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' Afghanistan is turning out to be indeed a road to hell - for NATO troops there and the politicians of the countries who sent them.

The reasons for this international nightmare are plainly evident. Now that at least some of us have read some history of the region (the Prime Minister excluded, it seems [see, DARRYL RAYMAKER BLOG, July 5, 2007, 'Harper Gets Ready To Cut and Run - Again'] ), we realize that this war is an attempt to bring order to one of the wildest countries on earth. For more than 2000 years Afghanistan has proved itself to be a tough and well-nigh impossible nut to crack by powerful invaders and occupiers. From the era of Alexander the Great to modern times this mostly lawless country has always left their opponents either lifeless on the battlefield or beating a hasty, bloody, and disorderly retreat. Even vast and well-equiped armies from far more sophisticatred empires have failed to subdue the war-like propensities of the Afghan people. Alexander the Great didn't stay long. The British Army at the height of its Empire was routed there. And more recently, the Russians left in failure after racking up 15,000 dead Russian soldiers as part of the lost cause (See DARRYL RAYMAKER BLOGS, July 5, 2007 and March 18, 2007, 'Gordon O'Connor - In Over his Head').

The Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan is particularly difficult. For centuries it has been home turf to Pashtun tribes who roam the mountainous and lawless border region of Pakistan-Afghanistan. To the people who live there, life is cheap. Islamic religious fanatics abound. Added to this holy mess is the timid and weak NATO offering to the project - a scant 35,000 troops scattered throughout the country. Neither is there any great enthusiasm among NATO nations to relieve or help Canadians who, with so far 66 troops killed in action, are taking the worst of it.

But it gets worse. The NATO forces, together with the Karzai government are looking the other way while the poor Afghan farmers cultivate their only significant cash crop - poppies. This year there is a record harvest of poppies in Afghanistan. That harvest will be turned into the production of opium, which will thereupon provide nearly 90% of the world's supply of heroin - heroin that continues to poison the minds and lives of millions of people throughout the world. Most of the heroin users reside in western member nations of NATO - rich nations - whose citizens are rich enough to support a heroin habit. So Canada and other NATO nations involved in Afghanistan are not only pursuing a lost cause with little support. They are tacitly supporting the production of heroin which fries the brains and ruins the lives of millions of people - mostly westerners, and many Canadians.

And according to all credible reports, the whole situation there is getting worse by the day.

Once again Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and the Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier are tripping over each other as to where Canada goes from here. Two weeks ago, O'Connor gave the sunny prediction - contrary to everybody else who knows something about what is happening in Afghanistan - that over the next four or five months Canada would take on a reserve role. He said that when Quebec's Royal 22nd Regiment - the Vandoos - had completed their rotation in Afghanistan, there would be 3000 Afghan Army personnel operating in Kandahar and that "we will continue to withdraw" as more Afghan army personnel are trained. He said that it would mean a reduction in Canadian combat duties.

A few days later, Hillier contradicted O'Connor, saying that the training process had just started and it would be a long time before the Afghans could do the job themselves. O'Connor tried to recover this past weekend at the Conservative caucus meeting in Charlottetown, by saying he and Hillier were on the same page and that he did not know how long it would be before the Afghans were capable of taking the pressure off of the Canadian troops.

This latest O'Connor/Hillier difference of opinion, when added to their misleading and contradictory statements on other embarassing issues surrounding the Afghan adventure, seems to have been the last straw for Harper. There is now strong speculation that O'Connor is on his way out in a very merciful and immediate shuffle to Veterans Affairs. Deputy PM Jim Prentice is widely predicted to replace the hapless O'Connor.

Chalk one up for Hillier. However the General, who has never met a microphone he doesn't love, may be next on the list for the secrecy obsessed Harper.

And if Harper doesn't wake up to the futility of it all soon, he too will be a victim.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Surely Special Ed deserved a rest. What with his battles with Mayor Bronco over money, homelessness, greedy landlords, the tree-huggers giving him grief over greenhouse gas emissions, the infection ravaged St. Joe's Hospital in his own riding victimized by the Tory government's utter failure in heath care restructuring, the rapid evaporation of Tory support in Calgary, and the loss of the Klein riding of Calgary Elbow to the Liberals, surely it was time to lay back and rest for awhile and enjoy the summer. Hopefully, to be reenergized and rejuvenated to join the battle for his political survival in the fall. By God, he deserved it.

Ah, sorry Premier, no such luck. The return of ex-Premier Ralph to the political limelight were to disrupt his plans. Klein had caused Stelmach some grief once before. It was when Klein announced within days after pocketing his legislature retirement allowance of 600 grand that he was taking a lobbyist job with a major blue-chip law firm. This no doubt caused Klein's protege, the current Premier, some embarassment. The haste in Klein's announcing his new post seemed to be in the minds of many, somewhat unseemly and mercenary (See DARRYL RAYMAKER BLOG, 'MORE PUNGENT ODORS FROM TORYDOM,' January 19, 2007).

And now Klein had done it again. On Wednesday it was reported that the ex-Premier was giving two speeches - one in Calgary on August 7th, and one in Edmonton on August 9th - in an effort to find Alberta investors who were prepared to kick in with 150 grand each to get a piece of a 30 million dollar resort development in Cheongsong county in South Korea.

The resort, to contain the usual garish combination of golf courses, hotels, condos and the rest of it, was to be developed by Spring Fresh Investment and Development Inc. It was ballyhooed in the promo literature as 'the Banff of Korea.' And Ralph was to be the developer's shill - the keynote speaker at the meetings.

The Company's VP Carson Cole said that Klein was being paid for the speeches and if he stuck with the company, he would receive some options. The smooth talking Cole said, "Well, quite frankly, we need a front guy . . . we needed a front guy that could attract people to show, you know . . This is high risk. Ralph Klein's perfect. Everyone knows he's a gambler." Indeed, we do. One recalls Klein, during his last term in office, leaving a First Minister's Conference in Ottawa on Health Care while it was still in session, in order to get in on the slot action at the casino in Hull before returning to back to the old grind in Edmonton.

It must have been particularly jarring for the current Premier to have heard this 'Banff in Korea' news. After all, his government wants the 'cooling off' period for lobbyists who have worked for the government to be 1 year after leaving government service. Although Klein is within the present rules, he has only been away from the Premier's office for 7 months.

However, there was more for the Premier to be concerned about with this 'Banff in Korea' stuff than merely the Ralph Klein shill. In addition to Klein being the keynote speaker, Tories Doug Griffiths, MLA for Battle River-Wainwright, and Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs were listed as 'guest speakers.' And so, from the advertisements, it was easy for a reader to conclude that the MLA's along with Klein were helping to promote the project. The developer went even further in implicating the two MLA's by sending out an Email that said that they would be providing a 'blessing' for the project.

The MLA's, upon discovering the slimey inferences that were being drawn about their involvement as promoters of the project, were quick to deny that was the case and advised the developers of such. They said that they thought they were attending the meetings to talk about international trade and Alberta's role in the world economy, and in no sense were they promoters of the project. By Thursday, both Griffiths and Lukaszuk withdrew from the event stating that they did not want to appear as promoting the project.

Also on Thursday, Klein himself withdrew from the meetings citing 'legal reasons' for his withdrawal. There was no elaboration on the 'legal reasons.'

There the matter rests. But does the Premier? Not yet.