Disturbing Complicity on Torture

Published on
by
The Toronto Star

Disturbing Complicity on Torture

by
Haroon Siddiqui

The headlines didn't match the stories on the report of the Frank Iacobucci inquiry into the alleged torture of three Arab Canadians abroad.

The former judge of the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that Canadian officials and institutions were complicit in the detention of at least two of them and perhaps of the third as well.

They were certainly complicit in the torture of all three.

He said Canadian diplomats failed to provide proper consular services to two of them, failed to detect torture and failed to inform Ottawa of allegations of torture.

Yet the main message of the media coverage is that Canadian officials only "likely contributed to" or "indirectly" contributed to the unlawful arrest, arbitrary detention and torture of the three men.

Iacobucci said so only for reasons of legal specificity, as explained on page 336 of his 544-page report.

He had no co-operation from Syria, Egypt or the U.S. so he does not know what role they played.

He also refused to "apply a `but for' test," meaning the men would not have suffered but for the actions of Canadian officials.

"Doing so would bring me dangerously close to making an explicit finding of legal liability" against officials and institutions - something that was "not the purpose or jurisdiction of this inquiry."

At least not in the narrow way he interpreted his terms of reference, say such intervenors as the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (headed by Warren Allmand, a former justice minister) and Amnesty International.

Iacobucci, a distinguished jurist, has been a strong defender of civil rights, even in tackling terrorism.

He repeats that belief in his report, saying a democracy must "ensure that in protecting the security of our country, we respect the human rights and freedoms that so many have fought to achieve."

Also: "No Canadian officials should consider themselves exempt" from the responsibility of upholding human rights.

But, as far as the officials in the three cases are concerned, there's no individual culpability, only institutional deficiency. Iacobucci says there is no evidence that the officials acted maliciously.

Of course not. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

No sooner had the Iacobucci report been released than Stockwell Day dismissed the repeated torture episodes as nothing more than instances of "good people acting with deficient procedures." The heads of the RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Foreign Affairs had already assured him that "those deficiencies have been addressed." Case closed.

Except that it isn't. That's not the thrust of what Iacobucci says.

His report is, in some ways, more damning than that of Dennis O'Connor on the Maher Arar tragedy.

Consider first the similarities in the case of Arar and the cases of the three other Muslim Canadians.

Syria had no reason of its own that we know of to detain any of them. All four were held in the same prison; tortured by the same team; asked questions that could only have originated in Canada; and forced to sign confessions they were not allowed to read.

All were released. None was found to have any connection with terrorism, just as they have always maintained.

Now look at the cases of the three.

In one, CSIS sent questions directly to Syria, as opposed to those questions landing in Damascus via the U.S. The Syrians took that as "a green light to continue their interrogation and detention, rather than a red light to stop," Iacobucci said.

In one case, Ottawa asked Egypt not to release the detainee (who had been sent there from Syria). Canadian diplomats used their consular visits to urge him to co-operate with the RCMP and CSIS.

All this complicity was pretty direct, says Kerry Pither, author of the recently released Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror. It is a compelling - and, as it turns out, accurate - account of the horrors they endured.

(The Ottawa author is donating proceeds to such agencies as Amnesty International.)

The way forward is clear:

An apology and compensation to all three, along the same lines as extended to Arar; the establishment of a civilian oversight agency over all security agencies, as called for by Justice O'Connor but ignored by the Stephen Harper government; and a wide public discussion of Iacobucci's disturbing findings.

--Haroon Siddiqui

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