Canada denies role in torture of Almalki – Government refuses to pay for imprisonment in Syria
By Andrew Duffy, The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — The Canadian government says it bears no legal responsibility for the detention and torture in Syria of Ottawa’s Abdullah Almalki and will not compensate him for his ordeal.
Almalki, a Carleton University engineering graduate and father of six, is suing the federal government for $60 million. His family is seeking an additional $40 million in damages.
Almalki claims Canadian officials contributed to his ordeal by sending false, inflammatory information about him to foreign security services. Two federal inquiries have established that the RCMP also sent questions for Almalki directly to the Syrians while he was in custody, even though warned about the possibility of torture.
In its statement of defence recently filed in Ontario Superior Court, the federal government denies any wrongdoing.
It acknowledges the RCMP sent letters to foreign agencies in October, 2001, requesting information about Almalki. The letters described him as “linked through association to al-Qaeda” and an “imminent threat” — descriptions believed to be accurate and reliable at the time, the government claims.
“Canadian officials played no role in Almalki’s detention in Syria,” the court document says. “They did not request that he be detained nor did they support his detention when they became aware of it.”
Government lawyers say they don’t know whether Almalki was tortured, and, to the extent he was mistreated, Syrian authorities are responsible.
The defence stands at odds with the conclusions of two judicial inquiries, Almalki charged in an interview Tuesday.
“After all these inquiries, reports and hearings, they still deny any wrongdoing: it’s appalling,” said Almalki, who spent 22-months in prison until being cleared and released by the Syrians in March, 2004.
He has never been charged with a crime in Canada.
“What will it take for the government to acknowledge the harm it has inflicted on myself and my family?” he asked.
When he first filed his lawsuit in 2006, Almalki sought $15 million in damages. He has since refiled the claim for $100 million to highlight the “atrociousness” of torture, he said.
“What I would like to get at the end is an apology and a fair compensation.”
Three years ago, the government apologized to Ottawa communications engineer Maher Arar for his torture ordeal and paid him $10.5 million. Arar was deported from the U.S. to Syria partly on the strength of faulty Canadian intelligence, according to a federal inquiry.
A second inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, examined Canada’s role in the cases of three other Arab-Canadians detained and tortured in Syria: Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.
In his report, issued one year ago, Iacobucci found that Canadian officials repeatedly failed to accurately label the men in shared intelligence reports.
He concluded Canadian officials conscientiously carried out their duties under intense pressure post-9/11, but made mistakes that likely contributed to mistreatment suffered by the men.
Iacobucci affirmed through interviews and medical records that the three men had been tortured overseas.
The federal government has denied legal responsibility and rejected compensation claims in civil suits filed by all three of the Canadian torture victims.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, called the defence in the Almalki case “absurd.”
“We would have expected a response from the government that recognizes how important it is to bring this longstanding human rights tragedy to an end,” he said.
The government’s legal stand, Neve said, makes it unclear whether it accepts the findings and recommendations of its own judicial inquiries.
“We should have some action by now,” he said. “We should be able to confidently point to the ways in which reforms and implementation are going ahead, but we can’t.”
Human rights activist Kerry Pither said the government is compounding Almalki’s pain by casting doubt on his torture.
“What’s the point of spending money on these inquiries if the government is going to ignore or contradict their findings?” asked Pither, author of Dark Days, which tells the story of the four Canadians tortured after 9/11.
The actions of Canadian officials in the Almalki case are similar to those in Arar, and in some ways worse, she noted.
“I can only guess the government is betting on fewer Canadians understanding what happened to these men, and hoping they can get away with treating them differently than Maher Arar,” Pither said.
Two inquiry reports have confirmed the RCMP sent Syrian authorities questions for Almalki while he was custody, even though Ahmad El-Maati had already warned federal officials that he had been tortured in the same prison. At least one foreign affairs official also raised the possibility with the RCMP that Almalki would be tortured for his answers.
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