By Campbell Clark
OTTAWA — The three men who were imprisoned in the Middle East in circumstances
similar to Maher Arar say they cannot get assurances that key witnesses such as former
RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli will be questioned at an inquiry into their
Lawyers for the three, who say they were tortured, have gone to the Federal Court of
Canada seeking an order to open up the secretive process set by retired Supreme Court
judge Frank Iacobucci. They say they are concerned that the inquiry will not be credible.
Although Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor’s inquiry into Mr. Arar’s case found last year that
Canadian officials fed misleading information to the United States that probably led to his
deportation and torture in Syria, it had no mandate to investigate the three other cases.
Mr. Iacobucci was appointed in December to conduct an “internal” inquiry into the
actions of Canadian officials in the cases of Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and
Ahmad Abou El Maati – a probe that is proceeding almost entirely behind closed doors.
Questions have lingered over whether Canadian officials provided information to officials
in Syria and received information obtained from their interrogations there.
Yesterday, censored portions of Mr. O’Connor’s report, released under a Federal Court
order, showed that the RCMP applied for search warrants in 2002 using information that
the Syrians obtained by interrogating Mr. El Maati, who was being detained there.
But his lawyers have been unable to obtain assurances that the RCMP officer who
applied for the warrants, Sergeant RandyWalsh, will be questioned by the Iacobucci
“If Justice Iacobucci wasn’t aware of this issue before, then there’s problems going on
with the Iacobucci inquiry,” said Barbara Jackman, a lawyer for Mr. El Maati.
In the first phase of the inquiry, commission lawyers are interviewing officials and others
in private, and Mr. Iacobucci may adopt their findings as his own.
Commission counsel John Laskin said in a recent interview that he cannot say whether
Mr. Zaccardelli will be questioned.
“That hasn’t been finally determined yet, but a number of the others on their proposed
list, we are indeed interviewing,” Mr. Laskin told The Globe and Mail. “I’m not going to
say that we’re necessarily going to interview everybody they say we should interview,
because at the end of the day, it’s our judgment.”
In correspondence filed with the Federal Court, Jasminka Kalajdzic, a lawyer for Mr.
Almalki, asked why lists of interviewees did not include Mr. Zaccardelli, MP Dan
McTeague, who was parliamentary secretary for consular cases when Paul Martin was
prime minister, and RCMP counterterrorism officers Sgt.Walsh and Michel Cabana.
The commission’s lawyers wrote back to say the lists were not necessarily complete,
and that Mr. Cabana would be interviewed – but made no mention of the others.
Mr. Zaccardelli resigned his post as RCMP commissioner in December under fire for
conflicting testimony about the force’s actions in Mr. Arar’s case.
“It’s the chain-of-command issues. Zaccardelli was the head of the RCMP. If he wasn’t
aware of what was going on, why wasn’t he? And if he was aware, what did he do about
it?” said Ms. Jackman, who represents both Mr. Nureddin and Mr. El Maati.
“We don’t even know who all the people are that they’re interviewing.We know some of
them. And in terms of whether or not they’re getting at all the issues, it’s blind faith.”
Ms. Jackman said they are concerned that the government imposed a restrictive
mandate on the inquiry because it fears the three cases would demonstrate a pattern of
Canadian complicity in having third countries that use torture interrogate suspects to
“I have no confidence, to be honest with you. Because I don’t know what’s going on,” Mr.
Nureddin, 40, a geologist who was imprisoned in Syria for a month in 2003, said in a
Mr. Laskin noted that the government called for a private inquiry when it set the terms of
reference, and selected sections can be held in public only when Mr. Iacobucci deems it
Mr. Iacobucci issued rules of procedure for the inquiry in a May 31 decision, indicating
that in general, lawyers for the three men would not be present at interviews and
hearings. Instead, they can suggest “questions and lines of inquiry” to the commission
counsel, he ruled.
That ruling is now being challenged by the three men and several groups, including the
Canadian Arab Federation and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which argue Mr.
Iacobucci was too restrictive in interpreting his mandate and is not making the inquiry
public enough to instill confidence.