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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2006

Arar Case Has Implications for Us All, Panel Says

Paul Cavalluzzo (top), Thomas Walkom & Warren Allmand speak to CAUT Council delegates Nov. 24 in Ottawa.
Paul Cavalluzzo (top), Thomas Walkom & Warren Allmand speak to CAUT Council delegates Nov. 24 in Ottawa.
The Maher Arar case has civil liberties implications for all Canadians, according to a panel of experts who spoke at CAUT’s November Council meeting in Ottawa.

Speakers included Paul Cavalluzzo, who served as chief commission counsel to the Arar inquiry, Thomas Walkom, national political columnist for the Toronto Star, and Canada’s former solicitor general, Warren Allmand, who now works with the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

Cavalluzzo pointed out that the Anti-Terrorism Act, rushed through Parliament after 9/11, put the Royal Canadian Mounted Police back into national security work, which many people think was a mistake. He said the RCMP was not adequately trained, and the distinction between the force’s handling of law enforcement and intelligence gathering was blurred. This led, in his view, to many mistakes that contributed to Arar’s rendition and torture in Syria.

Cavalluzzo said Justice Dennis O’Connor, who conducted a public inquiry into the affair, recommended that the RCMP should stay within its mandate as a police force in preventing and prosecuting crime, leaving the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to collect and analyze intelligence about national security.

He noted that O’Connor concluded the Americans “very likely” acted on the basis of erroneous information provided by the Mounties, when they arrested and deported Arar.

RCMP information characterized Arar and his wife as “Islamic extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist movement,” — a description that O’Connor found had no basis. Cavalluzzo noted that the Arar case demonstrates that once this type of false information is part of the record it is legitimized and almost impossible to correct.

Thomas Walkom maintained that the federal government was ultimately responsible for what happened to Arar, because the government gave the RCMP an expanded role in the protection of national security following 9/11, motivated in part by a “hysterical fear” of the economic fallout should another attack on the U.S. be traced to Canada.

He also argued that the Canadian public shares some responsibility, saying the pervasive climate of fear following 9/11 left much of the public ambivalent about the civil liberties implications of anti-terrorism initiatives.

The O’Connor inquiry found no evidence linking Arar to terrorism, Walkom pointed out, adding that Arar had an unblemished record. He asked whether, if other individuals caught in the crosshairs of national security investigations have blemishes in their histories, it would be seen as justifiable to deny their rights to due process and to be free from torture. He told delegates that rigorous protection of civil liberties and legal rights must not been seen as only suitable for those deemed innocent.

Warren Allmand said that the Arar case has undermined public trust in those responsible for safeguarding our national security, and that only the introduction of effective oversight measures can ensure that the faith placed in them is restored.

He pointed out that many government agencies and departments are engaged in national security work, and any oversight mechanism must have the power to oversee the work in all areas.

Allmand recalled his experience as solicitor general in Trudeau’s cabinet, and about how shocked he was to see CSIS ask permission to spy on people whom, it turned out, it had no justification for surveillance on.

Asked about the implications of the Arar case for academic freedom, the panelists pointed to issues of sharing Canadian information with the U.S under new rules introduced after 9/11 and the risks academics face in traveling to or through the U.S.

Cavalluzzo pointed out that a November 2003 ministerial directive for the RCMP on national security activities defined “sensitive”sectors as constituting academia, politics, religion, the media and trade unions.

In discussions following the panel presentations, several Council delegates raised concern about self-censorship in academe as a result of the post-9/11 political climate.

“In general, academic freedom is built on a foundation of societal respect for civil liberties,” James Turk, executive director of CAUT, told delegates. “If we allow security fears to undermine our civil liberties and democratic traditions, we have little hope that academic freedom will survive.”