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Ottawa under heavy fire over man deported syria

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Ottawa under heavy fire over man deported to Syria

By Patrick White

MONTREAL, Oct. 6 Legislators from Canada's ruling Liberal Party savaged one of their own government ministers on Tuesday for refusing to say whether Ottawa gave Washington sensitive information about a Canadian man who was subsequently deported to Syria by U.S. agents.

Maher Arar -- who also holds a Syrian passport -- was arrested in September 2002 while changing planes in New York. He finally returned to Canada on Monday after spending a year in a Damascus jail.
U.S. officials, who allege Arar belonged to al Qaeda, say privately they acted on data supplied by Canadian police. But Solicitor-General Wayne Easter -- in overall charge of law enforcement in Canada -- declined to say what information Ottawa might have passed on.
The case is sensitive for the Liberals, who have strong voter support in Canada's large immigrant community. The next federal election is widely expected next May.
Easter -- summoned by Parliament's foreign affairs committee to explain the role played by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Arar case -- gave away nothing.
''The RCMP routinely shares information with its domestic and its international partners ... confirming that the RCMP has provided specific information to another agency in a specific investigation could compromise the integrity of that investigation and perhaps others,'' he said.
This was not enough for Liberal legislator John Harvard, who asked Easter whether he was not ''as mad as a wet hen'' about the U.S. decision to deport Arar.
''They took a Canadian citizen, Wayne, and they sent him to a Syrian gulag ... as a human being, Wayne Easter, does that not depress you? Can you look me in the eye and say 'the system works'?'' he said.
Liberal legislator Diane Marleau added: ''Normally, when something looks bad and smells bad, it is bad. This case smells bad.''
Adding to Easter's discomfort were comments by the former senior foreign ministry official who handled Arar's case. Gar Pardy, who retired last month, said he was sure the Mounties had indeed passed on information about Arar.
''Certainly, in terms of our discussions with the Americans at the highest levels ... (we were) told they acted upon information from the RCMP,'' he told CBC radio, saying he had been ''flabbergasted'' to hear of the deportation.
''What bewilders all of us is that under American law, membership of al Qaeda is a criminal offense ... and certainly the practice in the United States is that if there was such a person they would be prosecuted under American law,'' he said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa said U.S. officials at John F. Kennedy Airport had acted according to U.S. law.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

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