Just When Can We Trust U.S.?
Date: Friday, January 26 2007
January 25, 2007
American Ambassador David Wilkins is right when he says that it's up to Washington – not Ottawa – to decide whether Canadian Maher Arar can enter the United States. He's right but misses the point.
The U.S. is a sovereign nation and can do whatever it wants. As Wilkins said yesterday, it is "presumptuous" for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to tell Americans whom they should let in.
If Americans want to refuse entry to Arar, a Muslim they sent to be tortured in Syria, they have that right. If they want to keep out Lutherans, or blonds, or vegetarians or simply every tenth Canadian attempting to cross the international border, they can do that, too.
Their country, their rules.
But what Wilkins and Day don't seem to understand is that the dispute over Washington's decision to treat Arar as a terror suspect is not just about this particular Canadian computer engineer. It casts into question the entire rationale for sharing intelligence information between Canada and the United States.
If Canada can't trust American judgment in this case, how can it co-operate in others? If U.S. intelligence is as unreliable as Day suggests, why is he moving ahead full-bore to further integrate Canadian and American security systems in areas such as no-fly lists?
Day says he's seen the still-classified U.S. file on Arar, but that the information in it is unconvincing – that it does not alter the Canadian government's view, based on an exhaustive public inquiry, that Arar is absolutely innocent of anything even remotely resembling terrorism.
Yet the federal government seemingly does accept as gospel U.S. intelligence in other areas.
For instance, Ottawa is trying to deport Algerian Mohamed Harkat as a security threat, in large part because of information the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency claims it received from an Al Qaeda suspect it's been interrogating in one of its secret prisons.
Even putting aside the probability that this information was obtained under duress (which, as Harkat's lawyer Paul Copeland says, does cast doubt on its reliability) what if – as in the case of Arar – it's just plain wrong-headed? Indeed, it is sobering to remember that if Arar had not been fully investigated – and vindicated – by a judicial inquiry, the Canadian government almost certainly would have accepted unquestioningly the U.S. claim that he remains a dangerous terror suspect.
That's because we've been taking our cues on these matters from the Americans.
After the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, Ottawa moved quickly to integrate its security and intelligence apparatus more closely with that of the U.S.
In practical terms, as Justice Dennis O'Connor's inquiry into Arar discovered, that meant funnelling more information to the Americans and allowing U.S. agents to sit in on all Canadian security meetings.
Indeed, O'Connor concluded that it was probably the RCMP's promiscuous sharing of rumour, innuendo and misinformation that persuaded the Americans to arrest Arar in 2002 in New York, and ship him to Syria for torture
Under the new regime of co-operation, Canada also allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other U.S. agencies to send more operatives into Canada.