Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, presented on Thursday, June 18, be concurred in.
In the wake of 9/11, Canada and other countries in the west quickly implemented anti-terrorism policies that, in many cases, resulted in the racial profiling of members of the Muslim and Arab communities, as well as violations of civil liberties. The violations of the human rights of three men, three Canadians, Mr. Almalki, Mr. El Maati and Mr. Nureddin, as well as the well-known case of Maher Arar, resulted in disgrace in this country and concern for how Canadians are treated abroad.
Many other Muslim Canadian men, including these, were deported, tortured and otherwise had their civil rights violated by countries with questionable human rights records. This illustrates the need for more careful consideration and review of our national security policies.
Those are not my words. I am reading from the report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. This committee, I am proud to say, looked into these matters. We looked into a review of the inquiries, called by the government, by ex-Supreme Court of Canada Justice Iacobucci. These inquiries found that these Canadian men were victims of inaccurate intelligence-sharing practices by Canadian security agencies, and exposed the glaring lack of civilian oversight of our national security activities.
In the last few weeks, we have heard a lot about how Canada put detainees at risk of torture when it transferred them into Afghan custody. Today I rise on another story of Canadian complicity and torture, this time the torture of our own citizens. Today I rise to urge the government to accept and implement the recommendations contained in the report of the public safety committee on the findings of both the Arar and Iacobucci inquiries.
Let me begin by reviewing just some of the findings of the Iacobucci inquiry, findings that are so disturbing that they are at the very core of why we on the public safety committee insisted that we learn from them and act on them.
Again most Canadians know who Maher Arar is, that because of unjustified, inaccurate and entirely baseless allegations made by Canadian agencies, U.S. agencies acting on Canadian information sent him to be tortured in Syria. Fewer realize that this is not an isolated case. Few realize that like Maher Arar, three more Canadian men, Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin, were detained and tortured in Syrian and Egyptian hellholes, and that this happened to them, as it did to Maher Arar, because of inaccurate, inflammatory and unjustified allegations and information from Canada.
These are the men whose cases were examined at the inquiry by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci. This inquiry was set up by the government to be a very secretive inquiry held behind closed doors. Not even the men were allowed to participate in the very inquiry about why they were tortured, and it is no wonder. Despite all the faults with the process, the Iacobucci inquiry's report revealed a startling and shameful record of Canadian complicity and torture.
For years, these men said they were tortured while they were in Syrian and, in the case of Mr. El Maati, Egyptian detention. They have described in gut-wrenching detail how, among other unspeakable atrocities, they were whipped with cables, and in the case of Mr. El Maati, subjected to electric shock.
Mr. Almalki has told Canadians what it was like to be stuffed into a car tire and whipped. He described what it was like to survive daily life for 17 months in a dark, underground cell the size of a grave.
Mr. El Maati described what it was like to spend most of the two years and two months that he was detained in solitary confinement with inhumane conditions. He recalled how at times, with his hands locked behind his back, he was forced to eat like an animal off the floor.
Mr. Nureddin described how his Syrian interrogators would periodically stop whipping his feet to douse them with cold water, to ensure the blood kept circulating and the pain returned.
Despite the consistencies among their accounts of the physical and psychological torture they endured and the well-documented records of torture in Syria and Egypt, our government, CSIS and the RCMP have repeatedly tried to cast doubt on their claims, but in his report, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci agrees with the men, finding that all three “suffered mistreatment amounting to torture as that term is defined in the United Nations Convention Against Torture--”.
For years, these men have said that the questions they were asked under torture could only have come from Canada. Justice Iacobucci agreed, finding that in all three cases, the information and questions in the hands of their brutal interrogators in fact came from Canadian authorities. It was CSIS that sent the questions to Mr. El Maati's and Mr. Nureddin's interrogators. In Mr. Almalki's case, it was the RCMP that sent the questions.
These men also wanted to know how Canadian agencies used their so-called confessions, the statements they were forced to make under torture back in Canada. Justice Iacobucci's report gives us that answer too. Mr. El Maati's confession, information that agencies knew or should have known was likely the product of torture, was used to justify telephone taps and search warrants back in our country. What is worse is that CSIS then used information obtained in the searches to send more questions to Syrian interrogators. In Justice Iacobucci's words, this could have been seen by Syrian interrogators as a green light to continue their interrogations, not a red light to stop them.
What is revealed in this report is a vicious cycle of Canadian complicity in torture. Why were these men detained in the first place? What of the allegations that were shared with foreign agencies that led to their detention and torture? Why, if the RCMP or CSIS had any evidence to substantiate their allegations of terrorist ties, had they refused to share those publicly or in a court of law?
Justice Iacobucci answers that too. He found that the RCMP was “deficient” when it described Mr. El Maati as someone who posed an “imminent threat” in communications with foreign agencies, as the RCMP did so without bothering to ensure that the claim was accurate.
The same was true of CSIS, which failed to clarify that it was sharing suspicions, not assertions of fact, when it labelled Mr. El Maati an associate of an Osama bin Laden aide. The RCMP told foreign agencies that Mr. Almalki also posed “imminent threat”, a description Justice Iacobucci found to be “inflammatory, inaccurate and without investigatory foundation”.
Justice Iacobucci revealed just how careless these officials were when he found that when the RCMP used information from another source to describe Mr. Almalki as linked to associations to al-Qaeda, the agency did not bother to mention that the description used was actually about someone else completely.
In Mr. Nureddin's case CSIS shared information with several foreign agencies, describing him as a courier for Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq, without first ensuring the allegation was either accurate or reliable.
Mr. El Maati, the first to be detained, spent two years, two months and two days in Syrian and Egyptian detention. Mr. Almalki spent 22 months in Syrian detention. When he was released, his youngest son did not know who he was. Mr. Nureddin would spend 36 days of torture in a Syrian detention centre.
In our report, endorsed by the majority of the members of the committee, all of the opposition parties, we urge the government to recognize the harm that has been done, not just to these men and their families, but to all Canadians, and to Canada's reputation, democracy, and to the ability for the public to have confidence in the agencies charged with the crucial task of safeguarding our national security.
We urge the government to act on the policy review recommendations made in late 2006 by the inquiry that looked into Maher Arar's case, a recommendation for a new system of checks and balances that would help ensure that what happened to him and to these other men cannot happen again.
The investigation that targeted all of these men involved CSIS, the RCMP, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canadian Border Services Agency and multiple other agencies. The government had no choice but to call a public inquiry into Maher Arar's case and an inquiry into the other cases because no other mechanism existed then, or today, that can investigate or review an investigation involving multiple agencies. None can investigate more than one agency.
Justice O'Connor, at the Arar inquiry, recognized this and called for a whole new system of checks and balances, a system that would enable integrated review of what are necessarily integrated national security investigations and matters.
Our committee report calls on the government to implement the mechanism recommended by Justice O'Connor three years ago, on December 12, 2006.
The government's response to date, however, has been to stall and stall again. As a result, we have the same ineffective system of checks and balances in place today as that which existed when these cases unfolded. As such, we have no way of verifying independently that the other recommendations made by the Arar inquiry have been, or continue to be, effectively implemented.
Our committee also calls on the government to correct the record with respect to the inaccurate, inflammatory and unjustified allegations, and information shared with foreign agencies about these Canadians.
Of course, another way for the government to demonstrate that it truly understands the horror of torture and that it understands and accepts Justice Iacobucci's findings that Canadian agencies were indeed at least partly responsible for what happened to these men is to move now to apologize to them.
As the committee indicates in its report, we heard from a number of witnesses, including representatives of Amnesty International and civil liberties organizations and a number of organizations representing the diverse Muslim and Arab communities in Canada, that a crucial component of recognizing and acknowledging the harm that has been done is for the government to publicly and officially apologize to these men and also to move quickly to compensate them financially.
The government did so with Maher Arar. There is no reason that it cannot do the same with these three men, who have suffered the identical treatment and situation. These men deserve that apology and compensation without delay. Their careers have been destroyed. Their lives and the lives of their families are in tatters. Abdullah Almalki's children have been traumatized by what happened to their father. Ahmad El Maati's marriage was destroyed. Muayyed Nureddin may never be able to travel home to see his family again because of the false allegations carelessly sent to other governments.
All of them are suffering chronic health consequences, both physical and mental, as a result of the unbearable suffering they were subjected to. It is time for the government to stop making excuses and to act now to implement our recommendations.
I will make it simple: Canadian citizens have a right not to have their government give information to other governments in this world that will use it to torture them. Canadian citizens have a right that their government ensures that no other country will lock them in cells the size of graves, attach electrodes to their bodies, whip them with cables, starve them, torture them or threaten them in any way whatsoever. That is what this case is about. We have three Canadian citizens in this country who have suffered those exact consequences.
What is the government doing? It is fighting them in court after a report by a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice. What is the purpose of having such an inquiry by one of the most eminent jurists in our country if the government is not going to follow the findings and recommendations of that inquiry? How much more time and taxpayer money have to be wasted fighting a useless case in court to avoid the inevitable, the acknowledgement of one thing, that what happened to these three men is unjustified and intolerable in a free and democratic society?
I see the government get up every day and say there is no evidence of torture in Afghanistan. We have evidence of torture of three Canadian citizens found by a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice. We have that evidence. It does not lie in the mouth of the government to say that no such evidence exists. Furthermore, former Justice Iacobucci found that Canadian authorities were at least indirectly responsible. That is a clear finding.
The terms of the inquiry set up were to find out whether or not Canadian agencies were directly or indirectly responsible for what happened to these three men. What was his finding? In all three cases, he found that Canadian agencies were indirectly responsible for what happened to these three individuals.
In the face of those findings, I call on the government to do the only decent, dignified, democratic and responsible thing and sit down with these three men and negotiate in good faith a respectable resolution that compensates them for the damages. Everybody in the House is a father or a mother, a sister or a brother, a son or a daughter. Can we imagine being locked in a plane and sent to Syria or Egypt and kept in a coffin-like space for two years?
Can we imagine being tortured and then coming back to this country and having politicians stand up and say that we have to prove that in court, that they are not going to do anything about it? That is the position of the government. Ex-justice Iacobucci of the Supreme Court of Canada has found this. A majority of members of Parliament on the public safety committee have found this. This has been vetted and studied.
We know, not think, that what happened to these men was indirectly the consequence of Canadian agencies. Therefore, they deserve an apology and compensation.
I call on the government to do exactly that and to put this sad chapter of Canadian history behind us so that we can move forward and ensure that what happened to these three men does not happen to another Canadian citizen ever again.