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`I wish I could buy my life back'

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    Long-awaited apology from PM `most important part of settlement, computer software engineer insists `I wish I could buy my life back Tonda MacCharles OTTAWA
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2007
      Long-awaited apology from PM `most important' part of settlement,
      computer software engineer insists

      `I wish I could buy my life back'
      Tonda MacCharles

      Maher Arar has a long-awaited formal apology finally in hand, $10.5
      million and official recognition at last of his innocence.

      But there is one thing he lacks.

      "I wish, if there is a way, if I could buy my life back. That's my
      biggest wish," said the 36-year-old computer software engineer and
      father of two.

      A deal to settle Arar's lawsuit was reached Jan. 19 between lawyers
      for Arar and the Conservative government, approved mid-week by the
      federal cabinet, and announced yesterday at a news conference by Prime
      Minister Stephen Harper. The payment, believed the highest in a human
      rights lawsuit, is formal redress for Canada's role – the sloppy
      policing, bureaucratic foot-dragging, and malicious media leaks – in
      Arar's nightmare deportation by the United States in 2002 to a year of
      torture and imprisonment in Syria.

      "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 them terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and
      2003," Harper said, reading from the text of a written apology that
      Arar's wife had insisted upon.

      "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

      Arar's deportation called a halt to a promising career. Since his
      nightmare began, he hasn't been able to get a job in his field.

      And he still remains under an American cloud, with the refusal of the
      U.S. government to remove his name from its no-fly list. But for Arar,
      the apology and compensation mean a fresh start, official confirmation
      at last of his innocence.

      Visibly relieved, Arar spoke of lost time with his wife and children,
      a lost career, and his lost peace of mind.

      "Is there really a price on this? I don't think so. But in a way for
      me, really the compensation is a way of acknowledging my innocence and
      a message the government is sending me: `Here's a way to help rebuild
      your life.'"

      But he added, "there's no amount of money that would compensate me for
      what myself and my family have gone through. ... The most important
      thing for me is the apology."

      "It's an historic settlement for an exceptional case," said Arar's
      lawyer Julian Falconer.

      Paul Cavalluzzo, commission counsel to Justice Dennis O'Connor's
      two-year inquiry, agreed, saying there is no other comparable case in
      Canada. He noted an Oregon lawyer, also a Muslim, who was wrongly
      jailed on suspicions of terrorist links for just two weeks in an
      American prison was recently awarded $2 million (U.S.) in
      compensation, and he had not been deported to torture.

      "Mr. Arar suffered a great deal more than this gentleman," said
      Cavalluzzo. "He suffered psychological injury. He suffers from
      post-traumatic stress. He cannot get a job. And it goes on. If you
      take all of those circumstances into account, I think the government
      came to a very fair resolution."

      Harper said some Canadians might view the payment as high. "That
      figure is within this government's realistic assessment of what Mr.
      Arar would have won in a lawsuit. And that is the basis on which we
      concluded this settlement," he told reporters.

      The Conservative government, which again yesterday made a point of
      noting the events "occurred under the last government," will also
      cover Arar's legal fees in the lawsuit launched in March 2004. The
      deal allows for $1 million in legal costs, said Falconer.

      Initially, Arar claimed $400 million in damages. That amount was later
      amended to $37 million after O'Connor reported he found no evidence
      Canadian officials deliberately participated in or willingly allowed
      Arar's deportation, but had wrongly tagged Arar as a terror suspect
      and "very likely" led the U.S. to deport him.

      Falconer would not break down the $10.5 million in damages for
      physical suffering and lost reputation, citing confidentiality. But he
      said it was more than justified, pointing to the physical and
      psychological torture Arar endured in Syria.

      Falconer, an experienced civil litigator, became choked up, and Arar
      also appeared moved, when Falconer told of how Arar's wife insisted on
      an apology in writing from the Prime Minister from the beginning, "so
      that when her children are old enough they have written proof from the
      Prime Minister of Maher's innocence."

      "No one should have to prove their good name to their children. That
      is simply abominable. The Prime Minister and his government deserve
      credit for helping to restore these people's lives," Falconer said.

      But the Arar family's troubles have not ended. The U.S. government
      insists Arar will stay on its border watch list and be refused entry
      to that country, despite the findings of the O'Connor inquiry, which
      cleared Arar last fall of any suggested links to terrorism.

      Yesterday, a U.S. State Department official told Canadian Press Arar's
      personal associations and travel history are enough to keep him on a
      U.S. watch list, even if they may not warrant Arar's presence on a
      Canadian security roster.

      But Harper said bluntly yesterday the U.S. is wrong.

      "We believe the evidence is clear that Mr. Arar has been treated
      unjustly. He should not be on a watch list. I personally believe that
      if there was evidence suggesting that any of these suspicions against
      Mr. Arar were justified that case would have been made a long time
      before today. In our judgment, it has not been made."

      Harper said his government will continue to press the U.S. to reverse
      its decision, and took a swipe at U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins who
      earlier this week called Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day
      "presumptuous" in his expectations.

      "Canada fully understands, appreciates and shares the United States'
      concerns about security," said Harper. "However, this government – the
      government of Canada – has every right to go to bat for one of its
      citizens when the government believes a Canadian is being unfairly
      treated by another country."

      Wilkins said while the U.S. appreciated Harper's "clear" expression of
      his government's view, it will not change its decision on Arar.

      "We are standing by that decision," said the statement.

      Syria's ambassador to Canada, Jamil Sakr, refused to comment.

      Whether the Arar compensation package sets a precedent for how three
      other Muslim Canadians (whose cases were similar to Arar's) will be
      treated is not clear. Those cases are set for a year-long review by
      former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci.

      Lawyer Barbara Jackman, who represents two of the three, says the
      unprecedented settlement is good news for Arar, but it is too early to
      say how it affects her clients, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.

      The settlement of Arar's lawsuit is unlikely to affect a similar
      lawsuit he is attempting to pursue against the U.S. government, said
      his American lawyer Maria LaHood.

      LaHood said by telephone from New York she hoped the Canadian
      settlement will put more pressure on the U.S. executive "to do the
      right thing here."

      The Conservatives' political opponents, the Liberal and New Democratic
      parties, applauded the apology and compensation deal. But both vowed
      to continue to press the Harper government to implement all the
      recommendations of the O'Connor inquiry.

      In fact, the government claims to have responded to all 23
      recommendations of the first report, but has not yet responded to the
      call for a new oversight body for the RCMP. The other recommendations
      included ones for better control over information shared with foreign



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