OTTAWA, June 30 -- Attorneys for Maher Arar said Thursday that Canadian criminal
charges should be brought against U.S. agents responsible for spiriting the Canadian
man in 2002 to Syria, where he was imprisoned and allegedly tortured for almost
Drawing parallels to the charges brought against CIA operatives by a Milan
magistrate last week, attorney Marlys Edwardh said Canadian law defined torture
as illegal wherever it occurs. Arar, 34, was seized by U.S. agents while he
was changing planes in New York, questioned for 12 days and then transported
in shackles to Syria.
"Torture is a crime that is triable by Canadian courts if the victim is
a Canadian citizen. The Americans definitely aided and abetted this crime,"
Edwardh said, standing outside the site of a judicial inquiry into Arar's treatment.
Arar's attorneys said they would call for a criminal investigation of Canadian
authorities for their role in Arar's transfer to Syria and his interrogation
there, which Arar said included beatings and more than 10 months of confinement
in a coffin-size dungeon.
Testimony given during the inquiry this week described extensive and highly
organized involvement with Syria by both Canadian and U.S. officials, which
was ongoing by 2002. According to the testimony, those involved included Canadian
legal advisers, diplomats and members of the CIA and FBI, all of whom regularly
approved giving the Syrians intelligence and other information to be used in
"I was very surprised that what seems to be in place is a mechanism for
fairly routine sharing of important information" with Syria, Edwardh said
after the testimony ended. "We are exposing people to the risk of torture
while offering to work with those regimes. It's shocking. It shouldn't happen."
The judicial inquiry was convened after Arar was released without charges by
Syria and returned to his wife and children in Canada in October 2003. The computer
engineer has denied any involvement in radical politics and called for Canadian
officials to be held accountable for his treatment.
A key witness at the inquiry, Michel Cabana, the superintendent of the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police, denied in testimony Wednesday and Thursday that Canadian
authorities knew the Americans had decided to send Arar to Syria instead of
back to Canada. Arar, who came to Canada at age 17, holds dual citizenship.
"This is not something I even considered as something the Americans could
even do," Cabana testified Thursday. "I did not believe their laws
would allow them to do that."
But Cabana acknowledged sending a list of questions to U.S. agents to pose
to Arar. He repeatedly said Arar was not a target of investigation but knew
some men who were.
Cabana also described frequent formal meetings he had with many different U.S.
and Canadian agencies to coordinate their work after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
and the lifting of restrictions on trading investigative information. One meeting
in 2002 included a PowerPoint presentation on suspects to U.S. law enforcement
Arar and his supporters have said that information was often flawed and included
fabrications derived from torture sessions. Three Arab Canadian men have been
interrogated in Syria and released without charges. By mid-August 2002, a month
before Arar was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the
other Canadians, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, had complained to consular officials of
Minutes of a meeting of Cabana's anti-terrorism unit in Ottawa in August 2002
indicated the participants' wariness about the potential public reaction.
The meeting discussed "media lines to be used when an individual's allegations
about torture in Syrian authorities" were made public, the memo introduced
to the inquiry read. "The attending agencies all are agreed that minimal
information will be put out due to the ongoing police investigations."
Arar watched the proceedings Thursday with his 8-year-old daughter. He said
what happened to him should be chilling to all Canadian citizens.
"This can affect every Canadian traveling, especially Muslim men,"
he said. "You are stopped, and they can't charge you with anything, but
they send you off to another country to be tortured."
"Are there any controls on these people?" he asked, referring to
authorities. "Is this the way to fight terrorism -- by abolishing due process,
by abolishing justice?"
The judicial inquiry is scheduled to conclude with separate public and classified
reports by year's end. The testimony and documents in evidence are full of blacked-out
redactions of information that the government claims would jeopardize national