Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Canada apologizes for `ordeal'

DAMAGES Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian dual national, received more than C$10 million for Canada's role in his incarceration and alleged torture by Syrian agents

AFP , OTTAWA

Maher Arar bows his head at a news conference discussing the government's apology and compensation package in Ottawa on Friday. Arar was wrongfully deported to, detained, and tortured in Syria.

PHOTO: AP

A Canadian-Syrian national won an official apology and millions in amends on Friday for being wrongly accused of terror links and turned over by US authorities to Syria, where he was jailed and allegedly tortured.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered apologies and C$10.5 million (US$8.9 million) to Maher Arar, settling a civil suit.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I want to extend a full apology to you ... for the role played by Canadian officials in the terrible ordeal that you went through in 2002 and 2003," Harper told him publicly.

In a press conference Harper also expressed "disagreement" with Washington, which refuses to accept Arar's innocence in the botched terror case.

US officials detained Arar in New York while in transit from Tunisia to his home in Canada in September 2002 and then deported to Syria, where he was jailed for nearly a year and allegedly tortured by Syrian intelligence agents.

He was cleared of terror ties by a Canadian public inquiry in September of last year but was left shattered by the experience and struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The probe found US authorities had likely relied on faulty intelligence provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who incorrectly labeled Arar an "Islamist extremist," to be arrested and deported.

But the US still refuses to remove Arar from its suspected terrorist list despite repeated entreaties by Canadian officials on his behalf, making travel difficult for him.

The impasse has outraged human rights groups in both countries, fomented opposition from Canadian and US lawmakers to US treatment of suspected terrorists and led to the resignation of Canada's top cop, Mounties Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, last month.

Harper said: "Canada understands and fully appreciates the United States' concerns with respect to security.

However, the government of Canada has every right to defend its citizens when it believes they have been treated unfairly by another country."

"We cannot correct the injustices done to Mr. Arar in the past. However, we can make changes to our policies in order to reduce the risk of something like this occurring again," he added.

Ottawa has also protested to Damascus, which has denied Arar's torture claims.

In September, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day urged US Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff to remove Arar from his department's no-fly list, as Canada had done after a public inquiry cleared Arar of terror ties.

Day repeated this week that Arar "is not a threat, nor is his family," and dismissed US evidence against him as insufficient.

But US Ambassador David Wilkins responded that Day was being "a little presumptuous" in saying "who the United States can and cannot allow in our country."

Chertoff and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said US authorities remained suspicious of Arar, who refused to travel to Washington in October to claim a human rights prize from the US Institute for Policy Studies, fearing a repeat detention.

"Our departments, in conjunction with the intelligence community, have re-examined the materials in the possession of the United States regarding Mr. Arar. Based on that reexamination, we remain of the view that the continued watch-listing of Mr. Arar is appropriate," they said in a letter on Monday.

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