RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli is proud of the way Canada’s federal police force handled the inquiry into the deportation and torture of Maher Arar.
He said so in an internal memo, dated September 18. In addition to being proud, Zaccardelli is sorry.
Canada’s top cop told the House National Security Committee that he was “truly sorry” for any part the RCMP “may have played” in the crimes against Arar. What he might have done, but didn’t, was own up to and apologize for the crimes his force did commit, express support for Arar’s bid for financial compensation, and announce an investigation with the likelihood of disciplinary actions and criminal charges.
Having apologized for nothing in particular, the chief responded to questions by ducking, prevaricating, and simply not answering.
Asked by Liberal Irwin Cotler why he’d never gone public to correct the lies against Arar even though he knew they were lies, Zaccardelli gave the curious reply, “the question is correct. I did not make a public statement.”
No one has been charged with the crimes against Maher Arar.
No one has resigned or been fired.
No one has been suspended with or without pay pending investigation, demoted, or even reprimanded for sending “false and misleading” documents about a Canadian citizen to the US during the height of anti-terrorist panic, for failing to correct the misinformation after they knew it was wrong, while Arar was still in a Syrian dungeon, or for trying to damage Arar’s reputation with false information leaked to the media long after his innocence was beyond challenge.
The news has been full of Arar’s exoneration and Zaccardelli’s silence, finally broken last week, so it’s easy to lose sight of the true horror of the crimes under discussion.
Here’s what this column reported in May 2005:
“ (In JFK Airport) Arar was shackled, held without food for a day, threatened, strip searched, forced to sign papers he was not permitted to read, and refused a lawyer on the grounds that he ‘was not an American citizen’. He was held for five days before he was allowed to make a phone call. His captors demanded that he ‘volunteer’ to be deported to Syria. He refused, declaring that he knew he would be tortured there. He was sent anyway.
The Syrians kept Arar in a three-by-six concrete box. The roof of the cell was a grate, through which cats and rats urinated on him. He didn’t see the sun for nearly a year. He was repeatedly taken from the cell and beaten on the back, legs, feet, hands, and arms, with a two-inch-thick electrical cable. This went on for more than 10 months.
Sometimes he was stuffed into a truck tire and left for hours in agony. In between torture sessions he was kept in a waiting room where he could hear the screams of other tortured prisoners. He was kicked, slapped, and threatened with worse if he didn’t sign documents he was never allowed to read. At one point he was put in the same room with fellow Syrian-Canadian Abdullah Almalki, who reported that he had received all the same treatment, and ‘much worse.’”
It’s not only security forces who have to answer for Arar’s plight. Who can forget Bill Graham, then minister of foreign affairs, telling the cameras he had “no reason to believe” Arar was being tortured, since the Syrians had assured him that torture is against the Koran.
But seven months after his arrest, in a move both CSIS and the RCMP opposed, the government did finally begin the diplomatic action that resulted in Arar’s release nearly five months later.
The worst criminals in the Arar case are the Syrian torturers and their bosses.
At one slight remove from these are the Americans who detained Arar and sent him to Syria to be tortured.
Not far behind these stand the Canadian criminals who fingered Arar as an Al Qaeda associate on evidence that was both flimsy and false, who failed to pass along exonerating evidence which could have shortened his ordeal, who accepted “intelligence” extracted from an innocent Canadian civilian under torture, and who mounted a damage-control smear campaign against him after his release.
There was never any excuse for the way Canada, the United States, and Syria treated Maher Arar, and it’s not good enough to say, “Oops, sorry if we might have made a mistake.”
Zaccardelli should be writing parking tickets while a more responsible chief leads a criminal investigation into all aspects of the case.
The whole system the RCMP serves is supposed to be predicated on the notion that when a crime is committed, someone should be punished.
What becomes of the credibility of the force if it treats itself as above the law?
Asked whether he believes he still has the confidence of the government and the police force to continue as Canada’s chief of police, Zaccardelli replied that the minister seems to like him, the force seems to like him, and besides, he’s an immigrant.
“My father said, ‘you’re here now, serve the country,” he told the committee. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
How the country was served by his inaction on Arar’s confinement and torture and on the smear against his reputation, the commissioner didn’t say.