OTTAWA - Police raided the home and office of an
Ottawa journalist on Wednesday to investigate possible leaks of
classified information about a Syrian-born Canadian who was
deported to Syria by the United States, suspected of ties to al
The police action, which the Ottawa Citizen's publisher
said "smacks of a police state mentality," came on the day that
Maher Arar's lawyers said their client planned to launch a
lawsuit against the United States in New York on Thursday over
Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill (R) waits to enter her Royal Canadian Mounted Police guarded office, in Ottawa, January 21, 2004. RCMP searched O'Neill's office and home to investigate alleged information leaks into the case of Maher Arar. Arar was deported by United States authorities to Syria where he says he was tortured and questioned about links to al Qaeda. Photo by Jim Young
Arar had been changing planes in New York on his way back
to Canada in 2002 when he was arrested and sent to Syria, where
he says he was tortured before being sent back to Canada last
year. He denies any involvement with terrorist groups.
The United States has said it was tipped off to Arar by
Canadian security officials, prompting demands for inquiries
into whether Canada had helped send one of its citizens off to
a Middle Eastern torture chamber.
Two investigations are already under way into whether the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Canada's spy agency had given
information to Washington about Arar.
Wednesday's raids by 10 Mounties on the home and office of
Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill added another layer to
The police search warrant alleges O'Neill violated
provisions of the Security of Information Act, which makes it a
crime to communicate, receive or possess leaked secret
It refers to a Nov. 8 Citizen article in which she reported
on documents she said had been leaked by Canadian security
officials on whether Arar had engaged in terrorist activities.
The article said a security official had voiced concern
about a possible link between Arar and a suspected Ottawa-based
al Qaeda cell.
Arar's spokeswoman, Kerry Pither, said the RCMP could not
be expected to find a solution.
"The whole affair started with the RCMP. First they
whispered to the Americans that Maher Arar was a terrorist,
which led to his deportation and torture," she said.
"Then the RCMP tried to smear Maher Arar by whispering the
same allegations to journalists. Now it's raiding journalists'
offices as if journalists are the problem."
Police took notebooks and clippings and downloaded the hard
drives from O'Neill's computers. Citizen Editor Scott Anderson
said he expected police would lay charges against her.
"If they decide to charge Julie O'Neill, this will be a
full frontal assault on freedom of the press," Citizen lawyer
Richard Dearden said.
CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the Ottawa
Citizen, said it had won an agreement to seal the material
until it can challenge the action in court. But it said the
police actions were an affront.
"The raid this morning on Juliet O' Neill's home smacks of
a police state mentality that one might equate with the former
Soviet Union rather than a Canadian democracy," CanWest News
President Gordon Fisher said.
"This is truly frightening," said Jack Layton of the
opposition New Democratic Party, which has complained loudest
about the Arar affair.
The case has soured ties with Washington and put pressure
on Prime Minister Paul Martin, who has so far ruled out a
Martin raised the Arar case with President Bush last week
and got an agreement that Washington would consult Ottawa
before deporting Canadians to third countries.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Grant McCool in New York
Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd