1.31.2007

maher arar did not receive an apology

Getting on with a little backlog of topics I wanted to blog about...

I was pleased and relieved that Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Canadian government, finally apologized to Maher Arar. But when I read the actual text of the apology, I was disappointed - and annoyed.
"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you, Monia Mazigh and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003.

Although these events occurred under the last government, please rest assured that this government will do everything in its power to ensure that the issues raised by Commissioner O'Connor are addressed.

I trust, having arrived at a negotiated settlement, we have ensured that fair compensation will be paid to you and your family.

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."
"...for any role Canada may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced..."

That is not actually an apology.

The government says it's an apology, and Arar and his representatives have accepted it as such. But it is not, in fact, an apology.

An apology must include an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an expression of regret. In other words, an apology must say "I (or in this case, we) did this" and it must say "we are sorry".

A true apology would have stated: "...for the role that Canada played in the terrible ordeal..."

Harper's statement is the governmental equivalent of the neutral "I'm sorry you feel that way," or the passive "I'm sorry that harm was done to you". There is no admission that Canada did play a part in the "terrible ordeal". In fact, the statement implies that perhaps it did not. Perhaps there is another valid point of view.

I'm interested in truth-telling, and in forgiveness, and how the two work together. Without truth-telling, true reconciliation cannot take place. And without reconciliation, there will always be a gap - an abscess - in the healing.

Of course I understand that Mr Harper's statement was a legal document, negotiated and crafted in order to settle a lawsuit. I'm also not implying that the Liberal government under whose watch this occurred would have done any differently; I really have no idea about that. And finally, of course I am relieved - and frankly, impressed - with the difference between how Canada has handled this and how the United States has. (The US has treated some of its own citizens even worse.)

Nevertheless, we've seen what truth-telling can accomplish, even on a governmental and national level. South Africa taught us that. I'm disappointed that Stephen Harper's government chose not to take that route.

* * * *

In a related story, I liked this essay about Dr Monia Mazigh, Maher Arar's wife. She is quite possibly the reason Arar is alive today - and the reason we know about "extrordinary rendition" in the first place.
Mazigh's relentless fight to rescue her husband saved not only Arar, but was pivotal in rescuing Canada both from disgrace and succumbing to practices that would transform the relationship between the Canadian citizen and the state from one of relative trust to fear.

In the Arar case, Canada as a country had started down a dark path. We must be vigilant to ensure that justice is quickly restored. We owe it to ourselves to punish the offenders, and to celebrate the heroes.

As long as Canadian citizens refuse to surrender the rule of law in favour of some agenda-laden promise of security, they will be able to restrain these would-be hijackers.

Mazigh understood that, and she understood that the brilliance of the rule of law is that before the law all are considered equal.

Ultimately the state must serve those who act within the law and prosecute those who violate it, even if they hold government offices and wear the state's uniform.

Too few Canadians appreciate just how powerful the rule of law makes them, and so too often allow themselves to be trodden upon.

Those who would abuse the power of the state, as CSIS and the RCMP did, count upon such meekness.

To their chagrin, Mazigh was neither ignorant nor meek.
The writer compares Mazigh to Laura Secord, about whom I know very little. But I know that Monia Mazigh is a hero.

13 comments:

loneprimate said...

I wouldn't get too hung up on the exact phrasing. The court case is already settled; it's not being done to cheat Arar. When I read it, I took "may" to be inclusive, meant to imply both those things known to the public and also those as yet unrevealed, if any... covering the scope of events. I didn't really see it the way you do. After all, no one in the government is, or possibly could be at this point, denying the things that happened. We know what the Mounties did, and we know the federal government is responsible for it. The man is back, safe at last, exonerated (at least on this side of the Lakes), and the courts have vindicated him in a big way. It would be far better if it had never happened, but having happened, this is about as good an outcome as anyone could hope for. I think we have to focus on what's been accomplished... this all saw the light of day. The public knows, and the government knows we know. Senior people have been dismissed in humiliation, a warning to their successors.

The thing that most disturbs me is how these historic wrongs always seem to get righted on the Tories' watch. The Liberals are in power most of the time, but when the ball's in their court, they bloody sit on it. That frustrates me no end.

loneprimate said...

The second item, with regard to the rule of law, struck home all the more forcefully for me because of an article I read today by Chalmers Johnson. Johnson is a former CIA policy-shaper who, in recent years, has grown dubious of the value of military force as the primary thrust of US diplomacy; he's also the guy who invented (or if not invented, helped popularize) the term "blowback". His article is disheartening, even frightening, to anyone with friends in the US and/or living this close to it. I strongly urge you all to have a look.

L-girl said...

I wouldn't get too hung up on the exact phrasing. The court case is already settled; it's not being done to cheat Arar.

I knew someone would tell me I was nitpicking phrasing, but I didn't think it would be someone as smart as you.

I know this wasn't done to cheat Arar, I wasn't implying that. It simply was not an apology. I've worked with lawyers for 15 years - I know a legal pseudo-apology when I hear one. What the government issued is a classic "by settling this lawsuit we admit no wrongdoing" statement.

It would be far better if it had never happened, but having happened, this is about as good an outcome as anyone could hope for.

I agree. But on a human level, it falls just that bit short.

* * * *

I blogged about Chalmers Johnson a while back, by the way. He was featured in "Why We Fight".

I'll check out the story, thanks. I haven't looked at Tomdispatch in a while, so that's a good excuse, too.

Scott M. said...

My take on the phrasing is that he is assuring Arar that he apologizes for any part Canada played, whether it is currently known or not (hence the "may have").

In fact, by saying "any role ... may have" it appears he is specifically precluding any requirement for a subsequent apology should new evidence come to light. Not a bad idea.

loneprimate said...

In fact, by saying "any role ... may have" it appears he is specifically precluding any requirement for a subsequent apology should new evidence come to light. Not a bad idea.

That's essentially my reading of it, more finely put. I was slightly perplexed at the suggestion this was a soft-peddled denial of events... I have a hard time imagining anyone reading it that way. It's rather late for "nolo contendere". Everyone knows what happened and the government doesn't deny it at all, as far as I can see; I don't recall them ever trying to sweep it under the rug. Let's give them some credit, in fact... it didn't happen on their watch but, sadly, the Liberals'... and in spite of that, they've been the ones wielding the broom and pan and, what's more, putting us publicly at odds with the United States once again over the matter -- something that goes against the grain for the Tories, or at least this lot of them. I'm beginning to see glimpses of the party of Stanfield, Clark, and Dief coming out from all that "hang 'em high" cowboy boot gleam.

Maybe there's more than one way to be "smart". :)

L-girl said...

I'm glad to know you guys read it that way, I really am.

I don't agree - and I'm not alone - but you raise the possibility that that's what Harper et al meant.

redsock said...

I'll pipe in with my agreement with Laura.

Obviously, Harper's apology was well-crafted and went through many drafts before being finalized. Harper did not "wing it".

Since it was written with extreme care to say exactly what it was meant to say, we should examine it carefully.

And Harper has offered the equivalent of "I'm sorry you were offended" -- which includes an implication (however slight you may think it is) that the fault lies with the offendee.

Harper should have said -- plainly with no wiggle words -- that Canada was at fault and apologized for the harm it caused.

What he actually say was bullshit.
(And Arar pretty much had to accept it, or (rightly or wrongly) he'd look like a unappreciative nitpicker.)

Scott M. said...

I agree with LP... if we set aside the apology for a minute, there is absolutely nothing in the government's response -- in their concrete actions -- that indicate that they do not accept the blame.

I'm all in favour of cynacism where justified, but I think there's no cause for it here.

Scott M. said...

On Dr. Monia Mazigh's campaign I agree... she is to be lauded for her amazing acheivements. I don't think the comparison with Laura Secord in the most apt one, but I understand why they chose her -- it's hard to find a universally known Canadian female hero. She's really the only one we have (there are lots of other heroes, but she's the only one universally known).

redsock said...

I have a nagging suspicion that if Bush had said these exact words to Arar, a few more Canadians would be critical of their meaning.

Scott M. said...

I have a nagging suspicion that if Bush had said these exact words to Arar, a few more Canadians would be critical of their meaning.

Quite possibly. There is absolutely no reason to believe the sincerity of the US... they have taken no action to rectify the situation.

Anyway, it would never happen as George Bush pretty much never admits that the US makes mistakes unless he absolutely has to.

loneprimate said...

I have a nagging suspicion that if Bush had said these exact words to Arar, a few more Canadians would be critical of their meaning.

You know what? I think if Bush had uttered these words, he almost certainly would have meant something different. If Arar had been a US citizen instead of a Canadian, I honestly think he'd be lucky to be in Gitmo now, never mind walking around free back home. Really, I think this is the point -- and the reason I hear something different in the word "may" coming from the mouth of a Canadian prime minister as opposed to an American president. You can call it naive, but face facts... deeds speak, and they speak volumes in this case.

L-girl said...

If Arar had been a US citizen instead of a Canadian, I honestly think he'd be lucky to be in Gitmo now, never mind walking around free back home.

Absolutely.

and the reason I hear something different in the word "may" coming from the mouth of a Canadian prime minister as opposed to an American president.

I agree. Your experience as a Canadian and ours as Americans definitely brings us to different conclusions about governmental announcements, trust, honesty, etc. No doubt.

Which intepretation is correct, we can't know. Clearly we're not the only people in Canada who read the "may have played" this way. A quick blog search turns up many similar posts, and I've seen quite a few letters to the editor in various papers.

Of course, this is a Prime Minister who many Canadians see as far too American for their comfort. So perhaps it's not surprising that some people feel his words fall short.