Vive Le Canada

U.S. security trumps freedom
Date: Sunday, January 28 2007

U.S. security trumps freedom
Canadians still in need of better government protection, writes Thomas Walkom

January 27, 2007

Ottawa's decision to compensate Canadian Maher Arar for its role in his unlawful imprisonment and torture contains a warning and a lesson.

The warning is that Canada and the U.S. are on fundamentally different paths when it comes to matters of terrorism and human rights. The lesson is that until Ottawa gets more aggressive with our friends in the war on terror, a Canadian passport won't mean much.

First the warning. The U.S. has chosen to subordinate the principles of individual freedom to what it sees as its security needs. It jails people indefinitely without charge, utilizes interrogation methods that the United Nations describes as torture, wages illegal wars and commits the very crimes against humanity it once helped to prosecute.

For America's friends, this is heartbreaking to watch.

At first, the Canadian government tried to skate by this new troubling reality. It refused to give unqualified support to the U.S. war on Iraq, but participated eagerly in its invasion of Afghanistan.

It passed draconian anti-terror laws but was loath to use them, preferring to hand over Canadian suspects (St. Catharines resident Mohamed Mansour Jabarah being the most notable example) to U.S. authorities to do with as they saw fit.

It didn't raise a peep when the U.S. imprisoned Canadian teenager Omar Khadr in its notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Finally, as Justice Dennis O'Connor's judicial inquiry concluded, while Canadian authorities didn't have any reason to arrest computer engineer Arar, they happily gave the U.S. information (much of it wrong) that helped convince the Americans to do just that.

The U.S. then promptly sent him to Syria to be tortured.

If it had not been for the chain of events that this unleashed, Canada might still be happily muddling along its inconsistent path.

But the Arar case made the contradictions of post-9/11 Canada-U.S. relations so clear that even Americanophile Stephen Harper has to acknowledge them.

"It has raised concerns," the Prime Minister said yesterday when asked at a news conference if, in light of the Arar matter, his government will be able to trust Washington.

That puts it mildly. Thanks to Arar, the two governments are fundamentally at loggerheads over how to handle security issues.

The U.S. administration insists it was right to send Arar to Syria to be tortured.
Ottawa, on the other hand, has concluded that what Canada and the U.S. did to Arar was unjustified to such an extent that it's willing to compensate him at a cost of more than $10.5 million.

But if we are so far apart on this case, what does this say about Canada-U.S. co-operation in other areas of the so-called war on terror?

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[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on January 29, 2007]

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