Maher Arar, born 1970 in Syria, is a Canadian software engineer. On September 26, 2002, during a stopover in New York en route from Tunis to Montreal, Arar was detained by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service who may have been acting upon false and misleading information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Despite carrying a Canadian passport, he was deported to Syria in accordance with a U.S. policy known as “extraordinary rendition.” Arar was held in solitary confinement in a Syrian prison where he was regularly tortured for almost a year, until his eventual release and return to Canada in October 2003.
Maher Arar’s case reached new heights of controversy after Juliet O’Neill wrote an article in the Ottawa Citizen on November 08, 2003, containing information leaked to her from an unknown security source, possibily within the RCMP. The secret documents provided by her source suggested Arar was a trained member of an al-Qaida terrorist cell. The RCMP later raided O’Neill’s house pursuant to search warrants it had obtained to investigate the leak. The raid was widely denounced and led to the initiation of a public inquiry to investigate Arar’s case.
The episode strained Canada-U.S. relations and eventually resulted in the creation of a public inquiry in Canada “into the actions of Canadian officials dealing with the deportation and detention” of Arar. The commission’s final report cleared Arar’s name and was sharply critical of the RCMP, other Canadian government departments and the United States’ treatment of Arar. The United States did not participate in the inquiry. The Bush Administration also maintains that Arar’s removal to Syria was legal and was not a case of extraordinary rendition. Human rights groups dispute this. Despite the inquiry’s exoneration of Mr. Arar, the United States has so far refused to remove Mr. Arar from its watch list but has agreed to review the case.
Maher Arar’s ordeal has remained a very controversial issue and its fallout continues to have repercussions in Canadian politics. It has particularly raised numerous questions yet to be answered concerning the role of various Government ministers and officials in this case. As of December 2006, the latest casualty from the case is RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, who has resigned over contradictions in his testimony to the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security with respect to what he knew at the time and what he told government ministers.
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