After earlier allowing spy agencies to use and share information obtained by torture, the Canadian government has now extended the same powers to the national police force (RCMP) and federal border agents.
Without the public noticing, the Conservative government has been quietly changing the rules with respect to information that may have been tainted by torture. The Canadian Press managed to obtain documents from Sept. 9 2011 through the Access to Information Act. The documents are directives to the RCMP and the Border Services Agency. Up until now the documents have remained classified even though this is an important change in policy and one would think should have been discussed in parliament.
CBC asked the officer of the Public Safety Minister's Office about the story from the Canadian Press. CBC asked if the government would use information obtained by torture. A spokesperson for Vic Toews, the minister, said:. "The minister's directive is clear, the primary responsibility of Canadian security agencies is to protect Canadian life and property. At all times we abide by Canadian law." This is typical evasion but to protect Canadian life and property information which could have been obtained by torture could be used.
These new directives are almost identical to directives issued in the summer of 2011 to apply to the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service). At the time those directives were criticized by human rights advocates and also opposition MP's as a violation of Canada's obligation to prevent torture internationally.
The U.S. is well known for its former rendition policy that sent terror suspects to countries such as Syria for interrogation and where they were often tortured. The Maher Arar case is a famous instance although the U.S. claims it was not a rendition but a deportation since Arar was a dual citizen of Syria and Canada. Later when supporters of Arar were trying to have him returned to Canada classified material was leaked to a reporter.
Arar's case reached new heights of controversy after reporter Juliet O'Neill wrote an article in the Ottawa Citizen on November 8, 2003, containing information leaked to her from an unknown security source, possibly within the RCMP. The secret documents provided by her source suggested Arar was a trained member of an al-Qaeda terrorist cell.
Someone obviously knows how to use information obtained by torture. An extensive government inquiry found Arar had no links to terrorism. Arar reached a settlement with the government for over ten million dollars. Arar was deported to Syria partly on the basis of raw intelligence data much of it erroneous which the U.S concluded showed he was probably an Al Qaeda operative. One of the recommendations of the Arar Inquiry was that information never be provided to a foreign country where there is a risk that the person might be tortured. However, the U.S. already shared the same view when it deported Arar to Syria. Alberto Gonzales the U.S. attorney general at the time of the Arar deportation noted that Syria had given assurances that Arar would not be tortured. Assad was in power in Syria at that time.
Some of the information used against Arar had been obtained through torture of another terror suspect again in Syria. Canada used what I call opportunistic rendition. Instead of using the U.S. technique Canada waited until a suspect visited a country such as Syria or Egypt and then the person would be arrested. Three Canadian citizens were subject to this practice and ended up in jails in Syria and Egypt. There was a much less extensive and very restrictive inquiry into these cases by Judge Frank Iacobucci. Much of the inquiry was not open even to the lawyers for the three. The inquiry concluded:
Canadian officials had a hand in the torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin in Syria through the sharing of information with foreign intelligence and police agencies. Canadian officials even helped out by providing questions to Syrian military intelligence. False confessions by El Maati were used to obtain warrants in Canada. This is the way that Canada used information obtained by torture. The three have so far not been able to receive any compensation for their ordeal.
Now the same intelligence agencies and police are given explicit permission to use such information if it is thought necessary for the security of Canadians. The UN Committee on Torture has been critical of the Canadian record. Alex Neve the general secretary of Amnesty International has summed up the main problems as follows:
...Canada risks complicity in torture by allowing deportation to torture, denying fair process in security-certificate cases, giving the nod to prisoner transfers in war zones when there is an obvious risk of torture and, under proposed legislation currently before Parliament, restricting appeal rights for refugee claimants who fear torture in their home countries. There is clearly complicity in the ministerial direction to CSIS allowing intelligence information to be shared with other countries even when that might cause torture, and in authorizing the use of intelligence information that was likely obtained through torture in other countries.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com