9.25.2006

apology

The final chapter in the Maher Arar case provides a stark contrast between Canada and the US. (Some background here.)

Canada acted abominably in this instance, and has now changed its tune. As I'm sure you already know, the House of Commons voted unanimously to formally apologize to Arar after he was cleared of any suspicion of terrorist ties.

Meanwhile, the US government looks for "compromises" that will make it technically legal for them to violate the Geneva Conventions.

Canada hands over one man to torturers and it makes national news - overwhelmingly in support of the victim. The US continues to torture who knows how many victims on several different continents, and hides, justifies and defends its actions.

Arar, however, still waits for an apology from Mr. Stephen Harper.

From Star columnist Thomas Walkom:
In the Arar affair, the worm has truly turned.

When the Canadian computer engineer was arrested by U.S. authorities during a stopover in New York four years ago and deported to Syria to be tortured, he had almost no champions here in Canada. Some MPs demanded to know why this dangerous man hadn't been arrested earlier.

In those days, there was nothing but praise for the RCMP and its efforts to battle terror. Flash forward four years. Today it's hard to find anyone in public life who doesn't laud Arar.

Yesterday, the Commons voted unanimously to apologize to him — although the government warned that this doesn't mean it is admitting any legal liability.

And now conventional wisdom holds that the Mounties acted like a bunch of dopes. There are calls for RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli to be fired. In the Commons, opposition MPs say the government should move quickly to discipline those RCMP officers responsible.

Still others question the idea of allowing the RCMP any role in national security cases. The implication, never explicitly stated, is that the Mounties are just big, dumb cops — too unsophisticated to deal with tricky issues of terrorism and security. But does this focus on the RCMP's role in the Arar affair let everyone else off the hook?
And what happened to accountability, Mr. Harper? Does that only apply to Liberals? We shall see. Another Star columnist asks, Is stealing taxpayers' money more evil than robbing an innocent man of his freedom?
Hanging on Stephen Harper's answer is his election promise to make the federal government accountable.

It's this capital's habit that those in high places are rarely punished for sins spanning the spectrum from negligence and incompetence to greed and malfeasance. If in doubt, consider that gun registry costs spiralled into the stratosphere without much career damage, and multiple Quebec sponsorship investigations only netted bottom-feeders.

Harper's campaign commitment was to replace a culture of entitlement with the discipline of accountability. Voters listened and a Conservative minority government now faces turning easily mouthed words into tough-to-take actions.

In his unusually unambiguous report this week, Justice Dennis O'Connor found one of the country's foundation institutions sadly wanting. Precipitously pressed back into the anti-terrorism business, the RCMP recklessly slipped the U.S. fanciful information about Maher Arar leading to his illegal deportation and then imprisonment in Syria, an authoritarian state notorious for torture.

Along with wrongly connecting Arar and his wife to Al Qaeda, the fabled horsemen sapped efforts to secure his release, smeared his reputation, and then obscured a hapless investigation from their political masters.

O'Connor's damning report was released Monday and by now heads would be rolling in any normal organization. But the federal government and the RCMP are, well, different.

Accepting responsibility is alien to both. Their reflex response is to sniff the political winds and wait until the storm inevitably gives way to the calm of public indifference.

So, Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli hasn't resigned or been fired and Harper's young administration is sounding old, paying the usual lip service to reform.

11 comments:

James said...

the House of Commons voted unanimously to formally apologize to Arar after he was cleared of any suspicion of terrorist ties.

Meanwhile, the US government looks for "compromises" that will make it technically legal for them to violate the Geneva Conventions.


This is actually very ironic.

Back when CSIS (Canada's version of the FBI/CIA/NSA) was created, it got caught in a couple of scandals -- spying on Canadians without warrants & that sort of thing. To deal with the scandals, Parliament looked into revising the laws to loosen the warrant requirements. The "ha-ha-only-serious" joke at the time was that Americans would never stand for such a thing, while Canadians -- being such "be a good citizen and follow authority" types -- put together a committee to legalize it.

Now things really have turned. Bush's admin's stance on warrants, torture, due process, etc, are horrific -- far beyond even the wildest dreams of CSIS.

Arar isn't the only example. Compare the Somalia scandal for another -- one civilian death at the hands of Canadian soldiers led to the disbanding of the military division responsible (though there was a lot of other stuff involved in that as well).

How many civilian deaths are on the hands of US troops in Iraq? Not even counting "collateral damage" -- just people beaten or otherwise tortured to death in US-run prisons & the like. Dozens, at least.

West End Bound said...

I watched Mr. Arar on CTV's Question Period and he projects a very calm demeanor considering what he and his family went through during this period. Just another example of "bush & company"'s misplaced priorities during their whole time in office. Too bad it had to be inflicted on innocents such as Mr. Arar and is continuing in the Middle East today . . .

Thanks for the history timeline, BTW - That was a great way to get up to speed for those of us in the States that had little or no media coverage of the situation - No big surprise there, eh?

L-girl said...

Dozens, at least.

I fear you are optimistic. Although you did say not counting "collateral damage" deaths, which number in the thousands. Tens of thousands?

Thanks for the history timeline, BTW

Oh, glad you found it useful! I've been following this story in real time via CBC online. As bad as the incident was, the outcome makes me proud of Canada.

M@ said...

While I don't deny Canada's responsibility and culpability in any of this, it's worth considering what was actually done: information was provided to the USA about suspected terrorists.

It wasn't like Arar was singled out as Canada's Most Wanted. His was another name on a list of people who may have been connected with possibly known Al Qaeda people.

And why was this kind of information being passed around? Because the USA demanded it.

I'm proud that we, as a country, didn't get sucked into the Iraq vortex. But we could have used a little more backbone in those months after 9/11, and looked into exactly how our information would be used before we provided it (or tried to attach conditions to the information, though I think that would have been futile).

And, incidentally, the Somalia affair was not handled as well as the Arar affair, in my view. The people who took it on the chin were the people lowest on the totem pole, while that ass of a minister of defence we had at the time was allowed to sail through it all without even losing his cabinet position. I get quite angry just thinking about it.

L-girl said...

M@, you're right, of course. But even I find it hard to figure how Canada could have denied the US anything immediately following 9/11. Canada, I think, was assuming the US was acting in good faith. Could they have predicted all that would follow?

while that ass of a minister of defence we had at the time

Who was that...?

M@ said...

The Minister of Defence was David Collenette, a Chretien toady who was rewarded for his idiocy with a new and equally prestigious cabinet post.

The thing was, the Somalia problem all happened under the previous government -- while their defence minister was running for the party leadership! -- and the Chretien government could have just pointed the finger and sidestepped it. Instead they tried to cover it up and completely blew it.

Collenette's handling of the affair was to blame the people below him, and to sweep everything under the rug. I was actually in the military while the inquiry was going on, and to watch him (as well as General John Boyle, the top-ranking officer in the military) stand in front of the inquiry committee and blame their inferiors for the problem was nauseating.

So a couple of privates were sent to jail, a unit with a stellar history of fighting for Canada was disbanded, and the real, systemic problems of leadership in the Canadian Armed Forces remained. Nice job, Dave.

Scott M. said...

Back when CSIS (Canada's version of the FBI/CIA/NSA) was created, it got caught in a couple of scandals -- spying on Canadians without warrants & that sort of thing.

Wasn't that *before* CSIS was created, when the RCMP was responsible for intelligence gathering? I believe it was known as the RCMP dirty tricks affair (where the anti-terrorism unit discredited Quebec Seperatists by burning down barns, stealing, etc).

CSIS was born out of the results of the Royal Commission concerning Certain Activities of the RCMP (aka the MacDonald commission). SIRC was set up as well as a watchdog.

Or were there subsequent scandals? Just curious myself...

James said...

And, incidentally, the Somalia affair was not handled as well as the Arar affair, in my view.

Not handled well, no, but it was forced into the open, which is more than you can say about a lot of the US cases.

Wasn't that *before* CSIS was created, when the RCMP was responsible for intelligence gathering?

Could be -- it was a while ago, after all! :)

M@ said...

James -- I agree. That's one thing I'm proud of, as a Canadian: we air our dirty laundry, for better or worse.

For example, the Dubbin inquiry (which resulted from Ben Johnson) made it clear that there was a doping problem in Canadian sports. While I'm not naive to think there's no doping going on with Canadian athletes, at least we can say that the Ben Johnson fiasco was dealt with and that the people responsible for it are no longer with the olympic program.

So I wouldn't even compare the USA's way of dealing with these things with ours -- Somalia was a travesty by our standards, but perhaps not by other countries'.

Not to overgeneralize [he said, overgeneralizing], but I think there's a national humility that enables us to face our problems head on, take responsibility for them as a nation, and move forward. I don't know if many other countries do that but I don't really see it in the USA. Is my impression wrong?

L-girl said...

(where the anti-terrorism unit discredited Quebec Seperatists by burning down barns, stealing, etc)

Must be their British roots. Sounds very much like how the Brits dealt with the Irish.

L-girl said...

I think there's a national humility that enables us to face our problems head on, take responsibility for them as a nation, and move forward. I don't know if many other countries do that but I don't really see it in the USA. Is my impression wrong?

No.

Of all the words you would associate with the mainstream US, humility would not be tops on the list. It wouldn't be on the list at all. We're talking about a country where you get verbally attacked and abused for even suggesting that some other place might do something better. You know, where a girl with a blog about moving to another country draws rabid hatred, is called a traitor and a Nazi...

But I digress.

Humility, US, no.

Canada, yes. It's one of the things that make Canada so endearing.