The name of Ottawa software engineer Maher Arar name was entered on a U.S. border watch list because of intelligence that came originally from Canada, U.S. sources say.
Mr. Arar, who was deported from New York last year to Syria, where he was tortured, was unknown to U.S. law-enforcement agencies until the RCMP passed his name along as a terrorist suspect, the U.S. sources said Friday.
“Arar first came to our attention from information from the Canadian government,” a U.S. official who has been closely involved in the case said.
RCMP co-operation with the United States after Mr. Arar's arrest in September, 2002, has been documented previously. But the U.S. officials' disclosure yesterday is the first time the Americans have said the Arar case had its genesis in Canada.
The U.S. sources would not disclose the nature of the information the Mounties passed along. But they said it was of sufficient interest to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. immigration officials for them to place the Canadian man's name on a computerized watch list known as Viper.
Mr. Arar had travelled freely to the United States many times on business. In fact, he had a U.S. visa that allowed him to work in Boston for a computer firm before his name got on the Viper database.
The RCMP would not comment specifically on the U.S. sources' claim that the Arar case originated with the force. But RCMP spokesman Paul Marsh said the force “routinely and lawfully shares information with foreign law-enforcement agencies.”
Mr. Marsh reiterated the RCMP's position that any decision to deport the Ottawa man was made solely by the United States.
The Arar case has ignited a political firestorm in Ottawa: MPs, many of them Liberal backbenchers, are demanding a public inquiry into the role of Canadian federal agencies in the 33-year-old man's deportation.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has tried to deflect criticism, saying it was a U.S. decision to send Mr. Arar to Syria, a country known to use torture to interrogate prisoners.
The U.S. sources acknowledge that the decision to deport Mr. Arar to Syria instead of to Canada was indeed made in Washington.
But that is only part of the story, they insist.
They say information from the RCMP got the ball rolling. The Mounties continued to work closely with the Americans even after Mr. Arar was arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport 14 months ago.
Mr. Arar was sent to Syria as an al-Qaeda terrorist suspect. He was held in a tiny rat-infested cell for more than 10 months and tortured.
Now home in Canada, he says he has never been involved with the terrorist group. He said this week that he was forced under torture into making a false confession that he had trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The U.S. government sources' claim Friday that Canada first raised suspicion about Mr. Arar is consistent with earlier statements by U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci. He has said that elements of the Canadian government were pleased that Mr. Arar had ended up in Syria instead of in Canada.
Mr. Arar has never been charged with anything in the United States, Canada or Syria.
The Syrian ambassador in Ottawa, Ahmad Arnous, said last month that even a after a yearlong investigation, his government never had enough evidence to link Mr. Arar to al-Qaeda despite U.S. government claims. “We didn't find complete [or] concrete evidence of his link.”
Mr. Arar said he suspected Canadian government complicity in his ordeal right from the start. During his initial questioning in New York, Mr. Arar said, U.S. authorities had private information about him that could have come only from Canada. They even produced a copy of his 1997 apartment-rental agreement to show he knew another Canadian man of Syrian origin, Abdullah Almalki.
Mr. Almalki, who is in Syrian custody, had witnessed Mr. Arar's signature on the lease.
Solicitor-General Wayne Easter, the minister responsible for the RCMP, has resisted demands for a public inquiry. He said the RCMP complaints commission is looking into the matter.
Mr. Easter has said, however, that he is open to the idea of a review of the quality of the intelligence that Canadian agencies share about Canadian citizens with the Americans and other allies.
This is also a question that has troubled officials in the Department of Foriegn Affairs.
“The fundamental issue is the standards that are used here,” said Gar Pardy, former head of consular services at the Department of Foreign Affairs. “Particularly the standards when information is transferred between countries. That's the key issue here.
“Nobody is saying that police shouldn't co-operate with one another, particularly given the issue of the bloody world out there. But there is a requirement for standards to be in place,” he said.
He argued that that Canadian agencies must place clear conditions on how other countries use the information Canada swaps.
“The standards that you use, with respect to the information that is passed, and the hold you put on that information in terms of its use by another country: That's what you have to look for,” he said. “If those two elements are not active in terms of the exchange of information, then you are going to get cases like Arar.
“You do it all the time. These are part of the agreements one works out with foreign governments. And if police are not prepared to place conditions on it, then we've got a problem.
“. . . We don't have a lot to bring to the table in these areas other than information about possible Canadian citizens. We're not active internationally in the way the agency or FBI is.
“All of these issues take place in the shadows. It's not something that government stand up and talk about. And there is no question the American agencies have been given a lot more freedom to act in the nasty areas of this business after Sept. 11,” Mr. Pardy said.