Flashback: Head of RCMP unit that framed Arar promoted to Assistant CommissionerÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press
March 24, 2009
OTTAWA – Civil liberties groups say the Conservative government must beef up supervision of security agencies to prevent more innocent Canadians from being tortured in foreign prisons.
Amnesty International, civil rights activists and a lawyer for Arab-Canadian organizations told the House of Commons public safety committee the government should accept a federal inquiry’s blueprint for a new oversight system.
Warren Allmand of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group said the current cluster of review agencies features varying powers and responsibilities.
“This leaves us with an impossible situation where issues can easily fall between the cracks,” said Mr. Allmand, a former Liberal cabinet minister responsible for the RCMP in the 1970s.
More than two years ago the inquiry into the Maher Arar affair called for a stronger, more co-ordinated family of watchdogs to keep an eye on the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and other security agencies.
The inquiry led by Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor also made 23 recommendations on information sharing, training and monitoring of security investigations.
The inquiry found the RCMP passed misleading, inaccurate and unfair information to the Americans that very likely led to Mr. Arar’s arrest and deportation to face torture in Syria.
The government says almost all of the inquiry’s recommendations have been implemented, citing improvements on matters ranging from sharing protocols to torture awareness training.
But witnesses expressed frustration Tuesday at the lack of a detailed public accounting of how the government has responded to the O’Connor recommendations and the findings of a second inquiry into the cases of three other Arab-Canadian men who were imprisoned in Syria.
A commission concluded last October that Canadian officials contributed to the brutalization of Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin and Abdullah Almalki by sharing information – including unsubstantiated accounts – with foreign intelligence and police agencies.
Former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci blamed the RCMP, CSIS and Foreign Affairs for mistakes.
“These commissions dealt with critical issues of human rights and fundamental freedoms of great concern to all Canadians,” Mr. Allmand said. “They should not be put on the back shelf or brushed under the rug.”
People who feel unfairly treated by security officials don’t know where to complain because intelligence work is done in secret, and various agencies trade information, critics say. A more comprehensive watchdog system would have the power to help those with grievances.
Kerry Pither, an activist who wrote a book about the four Canadians tortured in Syria, said if a stronger body had existed shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. El Maati could have more easily complained about being followed and visited by security agents in Toronto.
She said there must be an effective watchdog to ensure the promised reforms are working. “In summary, you can’t just go halfway.”
Mr. Almalki, an Ottawa engineer who attended the committee meeting, said afterwards his name – and those of relatives – are apparently still flagged in intelligence databases. His 14-year-old son Abdul was searched at the Vancouver airport earlier this month during a family trip to Malaysia.
Mr. Almalki’s wife pulled out a copy of Judge Iacobucci’s hefty report to persuade officials they did not pose a security threat. The episode left his son angry and confused.
“He doesn’t want to fly anymore,” Mr. Almalki said.
It underscores the need for a federal apology and corrections to computerized security files, added Mr. Almalki, who – like Mr. El Maati and Mr. Nureddin – is suing the federal government over his ordeal.
Muslim Canadians and intelligence agencies must co-operate to improve national security, said James Kafieh, a lawyer for the Canadian Arab Federation and a Muslim civil liberties group.
“We need to be working together, and it makes it very difficult when we don’t see the accountability, we don’t see any aspect of remorse.”
Shirley Heafey, former chairwoman of the RCMP complaints commission, denounced a “shameless culture of arrogance and superiority” at the national police force.
Bloc QuÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©bÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©cois MP Serge Menard said he feels there will be no significant changes to the security oversight system as long as the Conservatives are in power.
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