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Canada apologizes, compensates torture victim Arar $10.5 million

Canada apologizes, compensates torture victim Arar $10.5 million

Canada's prime minister apologized to Maher Arar on Friday and announced the government would compensate him C$10.5 million (US$8.9 million, or euro6.86 million) for its role in his deportation from the U.S. to Syria, where he was tortured while held in prison for nearly a year.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper again called on the U.S. government to remove the Ottawa telecommunications engineer from any of its no-fly or terrorist watchlists and reiterated that Ottawa would keep pressing Washington to clear Arar's name.
"We think the evidence is absolutely clear and that the United States should in good faith remove Mr. Arar from the list," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa. "We don't intend to either change or drop our position."
The U.S. government has repeatedly insisted it has reasons to leave the 37-year-old wireless technology consultant on its watchlists. The issue has grown into an unpleasant diplomatic row between the world's largest trading partners and closest allies.
The Syrian-born Arar, who came to Canada with his family when he was 17, is the best-known case of rendition, a practice in which the U.S. government sends foreign terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.
Arar was detained at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 during a stopover on his way home to Canada from a vacation with his family in Tunisia. He said he was chained and shackled by U.S. authorities for 11 days during interrogation and then flown to Syria, where he was tortured and forced to make false confessions. He was released 10 months later, with Syrian officials saying they had no reason to hold him further.
"On behalf of the government of Canada, I want to extend a full apology to you and Monia as well as your family for the role played by Canadian officials in the terrible ordeal that you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, and their young son and daughter now live in Kamloops, British Columbia.
"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," Harper said, adding the compensation package would also pay for his estimated $1 million (euro780,000) in legal fees.
Arar later thanked the Canadian government at a news conference.
"The struggle to clear my name has been long and hard; my kids have suffered silently and I feel that I owe them a lot," said Arar, who also thanked Canadians for standing by him.
"Without the support of the Canadian people, I may never have come home and I would not have been able to stay strong and push for the truth," he said.
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.
Arar was exonerated last September after a two-year public inquiry led by Associate Chief Justice of Ontario Dennis O'Connor. It found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wrongly labeled Arar as an Islamic fundamentalist and passed misleading and inaccurate information to U.S. authorities, which very likely led to Arar's arrest and deportation.
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.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals last February dismissed Arar's lawsuit against U.S. government officials, ruling the deportation of the dual Syrian-Canadian citizen was protected on national security grounds. His attorneys with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed an appeal in December.
"We are grateful that the Canadian government has had the humanity to try to right the terrible wrong that was done to Maher," CCR Attorney Maria LaHood said in a statement Friday. "We still hope the U.S. government will follow Canada's lead."
The new Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, earlier this month publicly scolded U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for refusing to explain why the United States had sent a Canadian citizen to Syria.
"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 in a statement 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."
He said the U.S. Justice Department intended to respond to his demands next week.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, on Wednesday chastized Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day for continuing to press Washington on the Arar matter.
"It's a little presumptuous of him to say who the United States can and cannot allow into our country," Wilkins said.
In a recent letter to Day, U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and Gonzales said U.S. files on Arar indicate the decision to keep Arar on watchlists is "appropriate."
"Our conclusion in this regard is supported by information developed by U.S. law enforcement agencies that is independent of that provided to us by Canada with regard to Mr. Arar," the letter said, adding that they wished to thank Canada for its cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Arar said his case has forced some Canadians to question their relationship to the United States, noting U.S. authorities declined to participate in Canada's federal inquiry.
"It's a question that touches all Canadians," Arar said. "Can we really trust the Americans to be our partners in the fight against terrorism?"
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On the Net:
http://www.maherarar.ca
http://www.ararcommission.ca