Former detainees pry open torture inquiry
- Former detainees launch legal gambit to pry open torture inquiry
CanWest News Service
Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmed El Maati were on
Parliament Hill to comment on the internal inquiry into their
imprisonment and torture.
OTTAWA - A federal inquiry into the overseas detention and alleged
torture of three Arab-Canadian men has collected more than 26,000
documents - none of which have been made public.
A new legal application to make more of the inquiry's work public
reveals that it now holds considerably more documents than the Arar
But unlike the Arar commission, which reviewed 21,500 documents for
national security concerns and then released heavily censored
versions, the inquiry headed by retired Supreme Court justice Frank
Iacobucci has not made public a single page.
"It is obviously troubling," said Jasminka Kalajdzic, lawyer for
Ottawa engineer Abdullah Almalki. "Our interpretation of the rules of
the inquiry speak to a need for ensuring information that is essential
to national security be kept private, but it cannot be that 26,000
documents are all subject to a national security claim."
The Iacobucci inquiry is examining the role of Canadian police, spies
and diplomats in the detention, interrogation and alleged mistreatment
of Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.
The men allege that, much like Maher Arar, they were tortured in Syria
for answers to questions that could only have originated from Canadian
In Almalki's case it has already been established by the Arar
commission that the RCMP passed questions for him to Syrian Military
Intelligence through Canadian diplomats. Last week, the men appealed
to the prime minister to open the inquiry to public scrutiny, but
Stephen Harper said Iacobucci already has a mandate broad enough to do
Lawyers for the men and other intervenors have now launched a legal
gambit to pry open the inquiry.
They have have filed an application that seeks the names of all
witnesses interviewed, the production of thousands of documents and an
order for public hearings on issues that do not involve national security.
Specifically, the men want public hearings on the conduct of embassy
officials; the government's policy on torture; its information sharing
practices with other countries; and any requests by Canadian officials
for information from the three men while in detention overseas.
In a joint legal submission, lawyers for the three men argue the
commission has reached a "critical juncture."
"The fact-finding work of the commission appears to be nearing its
conclusion," the lawyers write, "and the applicants have yet to
meaningfully participate in or contribute to the work of this commission."
The secrecy that surrounds the commission, they contend, threatens to
destroy public confidence in its work: "Secrecy fosters a belief that
there is a cover-up."
Commission counsel John Laskin, however, said the application seeks
disclosure levels that exceed those of the Arar inquiry. The names of
all witnesses who testified in-camera were never released in that
inquiry, he said, nor were all documents disclosed.
The Iacobucci inquiry has so far interviewed about 40 witnesses in-camera.
Laskin said Wednesday no documents have been released because the
commissioner is determined to avoid the time-consuming process of
reviewing them for national security concerns. A "large proportion" of
the documents, he said, fall into that category.
Iacobucci was appointed by the federal government to lead an "internal
inquiry" into the three cases in response to a recommendation by the
Arar commission. He ruled in late May that the inquiry will be held
largely in secret in keeping with his mandate.
Legal documents filed with the Iacobucci inquiry also show concerns
have been raised about the thoroughness of the commission's
fact-finding. The inquiry initially did not include former RCMP
commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and Insp. Michel Cabana on its
interview list. Cabana was the leader of Project A-O Canada, an RCMP
special investigative unit created one month after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks. Almalki was the principal subject of the A-O Canada
Laskin said on Wednesday that both Zaccardelli and Cabana will be
interviewed - in part, because of the concerns expressed in
off-the-record discussions and correspondence.
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