Another day, another trek to the National Press Theatre – but while yesterday, it was politics – Liberal party politics, to be precise – on the agenda, today it is the conduct of a past Liberal government under scrutiny; specifically, the treatment meted out to three Arab Canadian men by both their own government, and foreign governments, particularly Syria. For the better part of a year, retired justice Frank Iacobucci has been holding in camera hearings into allegations that these men were victims of the same sort of neglect in the name of national security that led to the deportation, imprisonment and torture of Maher Arar.
We’ve already had a chance to flip through the report, I should note – this isn’t one of those situations where we’re desperately trying to speed read while simultaneously listening to the opening statement – and it seems that the most significant finding is that certain Canadian officials may have played an “indirect role” in the chain of events that resulted in all three men receiving treatment consistent with standard definitions of torture.
And here we go.
Wow, a minute early, even. How often does that happen? As I type this, Justice Iacobucci – who looks exactly like every other independent judicial commissioner I’ve ever seen – is giving some background on his report — the mandate, which was to examine the actions of Canadian officials in what happened to the Iacobucci Three (for it is as such as they will likely be known in future) and whether there were “deficiencies” in providing consular services to the trio once they had been taken into custody. What it wasn’t, he stresses, was an investigation into the conduct of the three men at the centre of the inquiry, and nothing in his report should be taken as evidence that the allegations against them are founded in fact.
After reviewing all the evidence, he concluded the following: there is no evidence that these officials were doing anything other than trying to “conscientously” carry out their responsibilities, and he doesn’t plan on singling out individuals for censure.
However – there is always a however, isn’t there? – he did find, it transpires (after more disclaimerizing about direct links) that sharing of information by some Canadian agencies – RCMP and CSIS – may have indirectly resulted in mistreatment that meets the definition of torture.
Countries that failed to provide evidence to the inquiry: Syria, Egypt, Malaysia, the United States.
Not only were the RCMP’s actions deficient; so were the consular services provided, at least in the case of Mr. Nuredden.
He chose to carry out a “private” inquiry out of respect for the recommendations of Justice O’Connor, who investigated the events surrounding the deportation of Maher Arar, and he believes that, by doing so, he was able to conduct a thorough, efficient and fair process.
Did I mention that the two commission counsel are here too? Those are the lawyers brought in by Iabocucci, that is, not for the three men – who will likely be meeting with the press later this afternoon, and who I suspect will be somewhat less than satisfied with the report.
A confusing closing statement – apparently, the entire report won’t be released right away, as some material is confidential, and cannot be made public on national security grounds. Nobody seems to know what to with that.
Questions – first up, a French reporter, who wants to know if the allegations – that the men were, in fact, involved in terrorist activities – have been disproven; Iacobucci notes that the report deals with “labelling” – including inaccurate labels – and suggests that he read the report.
Another reporter wonders whether Iacabucci’s findings have “cleared the names” of the men involved, which was what they had hoped the inquiry would achieve. His investigation, the judge points out, wasn’t about the conduct of the three individuals involved; it was about the actions of Canadian officials, and what effect, if any, they had on subsequent events. “This was not about clearing the names of these three,” he notes. “It was not my role to deal with that question.”
How does he compare the actions of officials in these three cases to those covered by the Arar investigation, wonders another reporter. Clearly uncomfortable, Iacabucci says he “doesn’t want to get into that” – although he acknowledges there was “some overlap” – common issues, if you will – and notes that he relied on some testimony given at the Arar Inquiry, as well as the findings of the O’Connor Report.
“I can’t really give you an answer, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to do that,” Iacobucci eventually concludes his lengthy non-answer on the comparison between these cases and what happened to Maher Arar. I’m starting to wonder why he’s holding this press conference, to be honest. A news release would seem to have sufficed, really, since he’s not all that keen to go outside the parameters of the report as published.
I love how he keeps listing the countries that didn’t respond to his request for information. “Syria, Malaysia, the United States, Egypt.” One of these things just shouldn’t belong here, one of these things just can’t be the same. Oh, and he’s pretty sure that if he *had* gotten the cooperation of those governments, he may have been able to make more definitive findings.
“How serious was this labelling,” a reporter asks, to which Iacobucci reminds him that it’s *always* serious to affix the “terrorist” label to an individual, especially in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. “I called it a deficiency,” he reminds the room.
A good question from Alison Crawford – what recommendations would he have for the government, based on his report? Funny thing about that – he wasn’t actually *asked* to compile a set of recommendations; it wasn’t covered in his mandate. He does hope that the government will take into account the areas where he found “deficiencies”.
As a human being, what would he say to those three men today? Iacobucci seems almost at a loss for a pat answer; he has spent day after day listening to these men discuss the mistreatment they received in Egypt, Syria and Malaysia. “I still believe that a day of liberty lost is a day never recovered,” he notes. Of course he was moved – everyone who heard those interviews was moved. (Wouldn’t that be a good reason to consider lifting the curtains, and letting the rest of us hear – or read, at least – what they had to say?)
Means are “every bit as important as ends”, he says – and the one thing he hopes is that “we in this country can continue to strive for protection of the national security, and the protection of liberty.”
That was bordering on the lyrical. Good job, Alison! Way to trick him into being candid!
Graham Richardson, on the other hand, is cranky. He has to sum this up – oh, TV reporters – and he can’t figure out what the report says. Bad things happened – so who is responsible? “Mistakes were made,” Iacobucci agrees – several times, in fact. “Mistakes were made.” But that doesn’t mean he’s going to name individual officials as being directly responsible for what happened to these men.
What about the Charter, Richardson wonders – did he look into whether Charter rights were violated? Well, not exactly is the upshot – he didn’t have to go there, because the terms of reference were “amenable” to the findings that he would eventually come to.
Should the trio receive compensation? Iacobucci jumps away from that tangent as though an electric current runs through the whole issue – he knows that there are lawsuits, and as a result, he’s not going to comment. “I really can’t.”
Has the report cleared these men, wonders another somewhat frustrated reporter. Does he agree with the assessment that people subject to torture will say “anything”? He agrees that torture is “pernicious” – something that cannot be tolerated by a civil society – but as for guilt or innocence, he’s made it pretty clear that he isn’t going to wade into those still murky waters.
Was this an “appropriate response for a democracy”, asks the Ottawa Citizen’s Andrew Duffy. Iacobucci repeats the question to himself, and reminds him that he didn’t find fault on the part of specific officials. He also doesn’t seem willing to go after the RCMP as an agency.
Last question, from the Globe and Mail’s Colin Freeze, who first raises a technical issue – is the investigation – the anti-terrorism investigation, I guess – stil in progress? He doesn’t know – Iacobucci, that is – and he’s even less willing to get into the specifics of what CSIS is alleged to have done in the Almalki case, which may have involved sending questions to Syrian authorities. Iacobucci points to his findings on labelling – which can be very, very damaging, you’ll recall – but tells Freeze that he was unable to find a link between Almalki’s detention and the actions of Canadian officials, although his treatment once in custody was indirectly related to those actions.
With that, we’re done – oh, one last shouted clarification before the judge disappears behind the row of flags: “You got nothing from the Americans?” That’s right, he confirms.