Crackdown on RCMP urged
Justice O'Connor calls for independent review of intelligence activities
Dec. 12, 2006
OTTAWA - The Arar inquiry says the RCMP watchdog should be restructured with new powers to keep an eye on the Mounties’ intelligence activities.
Justice Dennis O’Connor also recommends stricter review of five other agencies involved in national security. He suggests the moves could prevent the sort of miscues that marked the Maher Arar affair.
“The case for giving an independent review body the mandate to conduct self-initiated reviews of the RCMP’s national security activities is now overwhelming,” says O’Connor’s second report on the Arar file, released Tuesday.
The proposed new agency, building upon the existing Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, would have stronger powers and review all of the Mounties’ activities, including those related to national security.
O’Connor suggests the revamped watchdog be named the Independent Complaints and National Security Review Agency for the RCMP, or ICRA.
He also recommends:
The ICRA review the national security activities of the Canada Border Services Agency.
The Security Intelligence Review Committee, the current watchdog over CSIS, also monitor the security activities of Citizenship and Immigration, Transport Canada, Foreign Affairs, and Fintrac, the national anti-money laundering body.
Changes to the law to allow national security watchdogs to exchange information and conduct joint investigations.
Creation of a co-ordinating committee that includes various security watchdog chairs to ensure smooth handling of complaints and probes.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the government will review the report and respond soon.
The NDP welcomed O’Connor’s report, but said it doesn’t go far enough.
MP Joe Comartin said there needs to be a parliamentary oversight committee in addition to beefing up review mechanisms.
“The problem . . . with simply doing review is that you accept that there are going to be ongoing problems and you’re going to deal with them after the fact as opposed to setting up an oversight committee that may be able to head off a number of those problems,” Comartin said.
“If you combine the review process, enhanced as is recommended, and an oversight committee, it seems to be we end up with the best of both worlds.”
He said other jurisdictions — notably the U.S. and Britain — have both review and oversight mechanisms in place.
The former Liberal government announced in December 2003 it would set up an independent review mechanism to monitor the RCMP’s intelligence branches.
The move came amid growing reservations about the behind-the-scenes role the Mounties play in the fight against terrorism.
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained in New York in September 2002 and soon after deported by U.S. authorities — winding up in a Damascus prison cell.
Under torture, Arar gave false confessions to Syrian military intelligence officers about involvement with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
In his first report, issued in September, O’Connor concluded that faulty information the RCMP passed to the United States very likely led to the Arar’s year-long ordeal.
As part of his inquiry into Arar’s case, O’Connor was asked to recommend the best model for keeping closer tabs on the RCMP. The Ontario judge consulted members of the intelligence community, academics, civil libertarians and international experts.
Shirley Heafey, the now retired head of the existing RCMP complaints commission, lamented that her office lacked the necessary powers and tools to probe the RCMP’s national security activities.
Currently, the complaints commission has subpoena powers only when it launches full hearings, such as the investigation of RCMP actions against protesters at the 1997 APEC summit in British Columbia.
Heafey’s successor, Paul Kennedy, has echoed her call for more authority to monitor RCMP intelligence investigations.
The Arar affair has already shaken up the Canadian security community.
The resignation of RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, announced last week, takes effect Thursday.
Arar, 36, recently said accountability for the wrongs he suffered ``goes far beyond the resignation of one person.”
In his first report, O’Connor also found Canadian officials leaked inaccurate details about Arar to news media to damage his reputation and protect themselves.
Before and after Arar’s October 2003 release from prison, anonymous sources quoted in media reports claimed the Ottawa telecommunications engineer was an Islamic extremist.
Arar filed a lawsuit against federal agencies and police in February 2004, at first seeking $400 million, now whittled down to $37 million. He plans to attend mediation talks Thursday and Friday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has acknowledged a “tremendous injustice” was done to Arar, but has not apologized, citing the continuing legal proceedings.