Canada Apologizes For U.S. Deportation

Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar, right, speaks to the media in Ottawa Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004 following a telephone news conference with New York. AP

The prime minister apologized Friday to a Syrian-born Canadian and said he would be compensated $8.9 million for Ottawa's role in his deportation by U.S. authorities to Damascus, where he was tortured and imprisoned for nearly a year.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper again called on Washington to remove Maher Arar from its no-fly and terrorist watchlists. He reiterated that Canada would keep pressing the United States to clear Arar's name.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I want to extend a full apology to you and Monia as well as your family for the role played by Canadian officials in the terrible ordeal that you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper told reporters in Ottawa, referring to Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, and their two children, who now live in British Columbia.

"I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives," Harper said, adding the compensation package would also pay Arar's estimated $1 million in legal fees.

Arar later thanked the Canadian government and his fellow citizens.

"The struggle to clear my name has been long and hard; my kids have suffered silently and I feel that I owe them a lot," he said. "Without the support of the Canadian people, I may never have come home and I would not have been able to stay strong and push for the truth."

Visit Maher Arar's Web site
Arar's case was an example of rendition, a practice in which the U.S. government sends foreign terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.

He was exonerated in September after a two-year public inquiry led by Associate Chief Justice of Ontario Dennis O'Connor. It found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wrongly labeled Arar as an Islamic fundamentalist and passed misleading and inaccurate information to U.S. authorities, which very likely led to Arar's arrest and deportation.

The report said the 37-year-old wireless technology consultant's inability to find work since his return from Syria has had a devastating economic and psychological impact on him and his family.

O'Connor urged the RCMP to make policy changes on information sharing, training and monitoring of security probes. In the aftermath, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli resigned.

Arar 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 by U.S. authorities 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 Arar was indeed tortured, and it 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 Arar's name from watchlists. "We think the evidence is absolutely clear and that the United States should in good faith remove Mr. Arar from the list," Harper said.

  • Lloyd Vries

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