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."...for any role Canada may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced..."
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."
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.
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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.The writer compares Mazigh to Laura Secord, about whom I know very little. But I know that Monia Mazigh is a hero.
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.