When's the next flight to Syria?
and Canadian Press
OTTAWA - Maher Arar has received a formal apology and $10.5 million from the federal government in compensation for the ordeal he suffered in a Syrian prison after the RCMP incorrectly labelled him an Islamic extremist and security threat.
"The government of Canada and the Prime Minister have acknowledged my innocence," Arar said this afternoon after Stephen Harper announced the settlement and apology. "This means the world to me."
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained on Sept. 26, 2002, during a stopover in New York en route home to Ottawa. American authorities deported him to Syria, where he was questioned, tortured and jailed for nearly a year without charge.
Justice Dennis O'Connor concluded after an investigation last year that mistaken information passed to U.S. authorities by the RCMP "very likely" led to the U.S. deportation decision.
Arar has been seeking an apology and $37 million, down from his initial demand for $400 million.
"My suffering and the suffering of my family did not end when I was released. The struggle to clear my name has been long and hard," Arar said at a press conference after Harper's announcement. Arar said the government's action will allow him and his family to begin putting this episode behind them.
In a letter to Arar, Harper said, "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."
Arar is also expected to receive $1 million to cover legal costs arising from his ordeal.
Harper said Ottawa will continue to press the United States to remove Arar from its border security watch list.
"We think the evidence is clear that Mr. Arar has been treated unjustly," the Prime Minister said. "He should not be on a watch list." Harper said the U.S. has not presented evidence to Canadian authorities to justify keeping Arar on the watch list.
Arar also thanked the Canadian people for their support in his legal case and in helping to get him out of jail in Syria. "Without the support of the Canadian people, I may never have come home."
Arar’s lawyer, Julian Falconer, said the apology and compensation represent a “triumph of innocence.
“To those few who may regard the compensation directed to Mr. Arar as some kind of windfall I ask you to consider this: no amount of money would cause a rational person to choose what Maher Arar and his family have been through.”
Falconer noted that Arar was confined to a cell just a metre wide for 10 months, never knowing from one day to the next when he would be dragged out and tortured.
Harper said the $10.5 million “is within this government’s realistic assessment of what Mr. Arar would have won in a lawsuit and that is the basis on which we concluded this settlement.”
Arar had sought $37 million in compensation after filing an initial suit for $400 million. Mediation sessions began late last year, opening the door to a settlement.
In September, Arar was exonerated after a two-year public inquiry led by Justice Dennis O’Connor.
The inquiry report found the RCMP passed misleading, inaccurate and unfair information to U.S. authorities that very likely led to Arar’s arrest and deportation to face torture in Syria.
The report pointed out that Arar’s inability to find work since his return from Syria has had a devastating economic and psychological impact on him and his family.
The telecommunications engineer came under RCMP scrutiny in Ottawa in October 2001 through his contact with Abdullah Almalki, the target of an anti-terrorism investigation.
O’Connor urged the RCMP to usher in a raft of policy changes on information sharing, training and monitoring of security probes. In the aftermath, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli resigned over his handling of the file.
Arar, who now lives in Kamloops, B.C., continues to have troubles as American authorities keep his name on a no-fly list.
That led to a clash this week between Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins.
Day chided the Americans for continuing to harbour suspicions about Arar. But Wilkins said it was presumptuous of Day to tell the Americans who they can allow into their country.
Harper repeated the call Friday for the U.S. to reconsider Arar’s status, prompting Wilkins to issue a statement saying the two countries must agree to disagree.
“Based upon requests from Canada, the information in this case has been re-examined by the appropriate U.S. agencies,” Wilkins wrote.
“After that thorough review, the United States government informed Canada of its decision to keep Mr. Arar on a U.S. watch list. We are standing by that decision.
Democratic politicians have raised Arar’s case in Washington, demanding the administration officials explain their handling of the case.
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said he’ll release more information on Arar to a Senate committee in private.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he is anxious to see the file.
“The Canadian government now has taken several steps to accept responsibility for its role in sending Mr. Arar to Syria, where he was tortured,” Leahy said Friday.
“The question remains why, even if there were reasons to consider him suspicious, the U.S. government shipped him to Syria where he was tortured, instead of to Canada for investigation or prosecution. I look forward to hearing the Justice Department’s answer to that question next week.”
The NDP applauded Friday’s settlement, calling it long overdue.
“From the beginning, New Democrats, along with countless Canadians from every corner of this country, stood side by side with Ms. Mazigh in her battle to bring her husband home to justice and to his family,” said New Democrat MP Alexa McDonough