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BCCLA demands public disclosure in Arar inquiry

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is demanding that the federal government agree to release a summary of secret evidence that has been heard in camera by the Arar Inquiry. The Commissioner of Inquiry, Justice Dennis O’Connor, has ruled that the summary would appropriately balance claims of national security by the government with the public’s need to know what happened to Mr. Arar. The government has refused to release the summary.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen who was returning to Canada via New York, was deported by the United States in 2002 to Syria where he underwent torture as an alleged terrorist. The Syrian government released him in 2003. Due to concerns that security agencies in Canada may have been complicit in Mr. Arar’s unjustified deportation, Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Justice O’Connor to head an inquiry to determine what happened. The BCCLA is an intervenor in the Inquiry.

John Russell, BCCLA President: “The federal government is failing miserably in its first real test as to whether it wishes to have a fair and public inquiry into what caused Mr. Arar’s deportation by the U.S. Justice O’Connor is a respected jurist who understands the competing interests in this case. We know that he must have bent over backwards already to accommodate the government’s concerns about security. We are now seriously worried about whether the Inquiry will be able complete its task with a federal government so clearly interested in blocking public disclosure of information.”

The BCCLA and other intervenors are now calling on the Ministers who are responsible for instructing the government’s legal team – Solicitor General Anne McLellan and acting Attorney General and Minister of Justice Geoff Regan – to direct their legal counsel to agree to the release as proposed by Commissioner O’Connor. If they are unwilling to do so, the BCCLA will be calling on Prime Minister Martin to step in.

President Russell: “Prime Minister Martin promised Canadians that the Arar Inquiry would get to the bottom of what happened to Mr. Arar. The current actions by the federal government in invoking their national security prerogative over this summary of evidence speak louder than any prior promise. It is not enough for the government to operate behind a veil of secrecy. It is time for the Ministers responsible to direct their lawyers appropriately and if they are unwilling to do so, Mr. Martin must rectify the situation. Otherwise, the Inquiry loses its effectiveness and credibility.”