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Canadian mounties seize reporters files { January 22 2004 }

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   http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/22/international/americas/22CANA.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/22/international/americas/22CANA.html

January 22, 2004
Canadian Mounties Seize Reporter's Files in Terrorist Case
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS

TORONTO, Jan. 21 Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided the home and newspaper office of a reporter for The Ottawa Citizen on Wednesday in an effort to learn how she obtained secret documents concerning a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was arrested in the United States as a suspected Qaeda terrorist.

The incident immediately became the biggest constitutional challenge to freedom of the press in Canada in decades, with the reporter, Juliet O'Neill, facing possible criminal charges for violating Section 4 of the Security of Information Act, one of several sweeping measures passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The act strengthens previous prohibitions against possession or communication of many sorts of secret security information.

Ten officers with a search warrant knocked on the door of Ms. O'Neill's home at 8 a.m. and in a daylong search took her notepads, downloaded her computer files and confiscated her address books and Rolodex.

Other records were confiscated from Ms. O'Neill's desk at The Ottawa Citizen's city hall bureau, said Scott Anderson, the paper's editor in chief. He said the entire bureau was converted into a crime scene, with yellow police tape draped across the front door of the office.

"I cannot remember a blacker day for freedom of the press in this country," Mr. Anderson said. "This sort of star chamber, police state attitude that has crept into government and law enforcement post 9/11 is jeopardizing some of the basic rights we take for granted."

The raids came in response to a front-page article by Ms. O'Neill published on Nov. 8, which outlined a detailed Canadian intelligence dossier on Maher Arar, an Ottawa computer technician who was seized in New York during a brief stopover in 2002 on his way home from a vacation in Tunisia. Mr. Arar, 33, was deported to Syria for detention, questioning and, he said, torture.

Mr. Arar was freed by Syria and returned in October to Canada, where his case has touched the national conscience. The fact that he was sent by American officials to Syria for interrogation without Ottawa's explicit permission has become a sore point in United States-Canadian relations, although officials from both countries have said that he was seized based on information gathered and supplied by Canadian security officials.

In a recent meeting in Mexico, Prime Minister Paul Martin said he was given assurances by President Bush that in the future Washington would consult with Ottawa first before deporting Canadian citizens to third countries.

Ms. O'Neill's article claimed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had identified Mr. Arar as a possible member of a now disbanded Qaeda support group operating in Ottawa. Her article laid out a case put forth in Canadian security documents that Mr. Arar had told Syrian military intelligence officials during his incarceration in Damascus that he had trained at the Khalden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and named specific instructors who taught him tactics and how to use small firearms.

Ms. O'Neill did not disclose the sources of her information in the article.

Mr. Arar has denied ever being in Afghanistan and characterized himself as a nonviolent moderate. He has never been charged. He announced Wednesday that he plans to file suit in federal court in Brooklyn against the United States for wrongfully expelling him to Syria.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police refused to discuss the case.

"The R.C.M.P. is presently conducting searches at two locations in the Ottawa region in relation to this criminal investigation, and because that investigation is ongoing no further comment can be made at this time," Sgt. Paul Marsh, a police spokesman, told reporters.

While freedom of the press is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's equivalent of the Bill of Rights, the news media do not have unlimited rights to gather information under Canadian law. Reporters enjoy no special protections beyond those granted to other citizens, which makes them subject to search warrants.

The O'Neill case could become the most important of its kind since the late 1970's, when a Toronto Sun editor and its publisher were prosecuted for violating the 1939 Official Secrets Act for publishing information from a secret report on Soviet espionage. That case was thrown out of court.

There was no comment from senior officials in the government, and it was not immediately clear whether the raids had been cleared by Mr. Martin or anyone in his cabinet.

Mr. Anderson said the newspaper's lawyers reached an agreement with prosecutors to have all the confiscated materials remain sealed in exhibit bags for the time being. He said officers had apparently not closely examined the data and will wait until the newspaper and its owner, CanWest Global Communications Corporation, can appeal the search warrants.

Richard G. Dearden, the lawyer for The Citizen and for Ms. O'Neill, said she would not speak about the case. But he said Ms. O'Neill, 50, has had 30 years of journalism experience and has been at the paper since 1996. She "was quite shaken by this experience," he said, adding that the raid was "pretty ironic" given that "the purpose of the story was to defend the R.C.M.P.'s investigative work."



Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


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