Saturday, February 24, 2007

UN wants guarantee that Canada won't repeat Arar errors

Associated Press

GENEVA - A United Nations anti-racism panel wants to know whether Canada can ensure that it will avoid repeating the kind of mistakes that led the United States to deport Maher Arar to Damascus, where he was tortured for nearly a year.

The committee -- a panel of 18 independent experts overseeing compliance with the UN's 38-year-old anti-racism treaty -- will hear from Canadian officials as part of its quadrennial review tomorrow.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized last month for Ottawa's role in the Syrian-born Canadian's ordeal -- perhaps the best-known case of so-called "extraordinary rendition," in which the United States transfers foreign terrorism suspects without court approval to third countries for interrogation.

But the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has asked what steps Canada has taken since toward new guidelines for information-sharing and monitoring of security probes so that forces "have clear policies and more training on issues of racial, religious and ethnic profiling."

Canada, in a 79-page submission to the committee, said it has undertaken several initiatives in recent years to combat racial profiling by police and security forces. It said its anti-terrorism measures are not directed against people of any particular religion or ethnic background.

The submission was filed with the Geneva-based committee before Mr. Harper's announcement last month that Mr. Arar would be compensated $10.5-million for his deportation and torture, which was due in part to intelligence from Ottawa that Canada acknowledges was inaccurate.

It also predates the release of a two-year public inquiry into the Arar case led by Dennis O'Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, which came up with 23 recommendations for policy changes.

Mr. Arar, a software engineer, was detained at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2002 during a stopover on his way home to Canada from a vacation with his family in Tunisia.

He said he was chained and shackled for 11 days for interrogation and then flown to Syria, where he was tortured and forced to make false confessions. He was released 10 months later, with Syrian officials saying they had no reason to hold him further.

A Canadian inquiry determined that Mr. Arar was indeed tortured, and cleared him of any terrorist links or suspicions. Since then, Ottawa has been demanding a formal apology from Washington, as well as the removal of Mr. Arar's name from no-fly and terrorist watch lists, which the U.S. government insists it has reasons to keep him on.

The UN panel also questioned Canada's aboriginal policies and asked that it explain how it guarantees aboriginal groups' rights to land and resources.