If Stevens is correct that William Elliot the new RCMP commissioner was involved in blacking out the documents this is indeed an unhappy bit of data. Perhaps this action is what endeared him to Harper. This is the first I have seen a word about this. Anyway blocking documents that may be the least bit embarassing is standard for governments of any stripe. I did not get the impression the documents showed that the CSIS RCMP were in league with the CIA as far as agreeing to send him to Syria only that they were happy enough that he did end up there and took advantage of the situation to have Syrians ask him questions. They did nothing to help get Arar released or even inform the government that this was probably a rendering. Was the government too innocent to know this in the first place!
Blocking public documents has become a pattern
Harper cannot blame previous government for undermining his own inquiry.
by Geoffrey Stevens, originally published in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record
There's a rule of thumb that says an incoming government may blame its predecessor for anything that goes wrong in the new administration's first year. The statute of limitations on the transference of blame expires around the 12-month mark, however, and thereafter the new gang is expected to accept responsibility for gaffes and shortcomings.
In Ontario, Dalton McGuinty went through that process following his election in 2003. In Ottawa, however, Stephen Harper does not acknowledge that his grace period ran out six months ago. He still sounds more like an opposition leader than a prime minister as he lays the blame for everything bad on the ancien regime (while taking full credit, of course, for everything good that has happened since January 2006). He was at his sanctimonious best - which is very good indeed - the other day when the censored documents in the Maher Arar case were finally made public. Harper made a point of blaming the whole Arar mess, again, on previous Liberal administrations.
He would have us believe that the Conservatives are devoutly committed to openness and accountability, compared to the secrecy and suppression of legal rights that supposedly characterized the Chrétien and Martin regimes. And if you believe that, you will believe that the Rhinoceros party will win the next federal election.
Yes, Arar occurred on the Liberals' watch. It was under the Liberals that Canadian security officials conspired (the word is not too strong) with the CIA to have Arar shipped to Syria where they all knew he would be tortured. And it was the Liberals who, under pressure, appointed Justice Dennis O'Connor to conduct a public inquiry into the affair.
But the Conservatives were in power when Justice O'Connor brought down his report. It was the Conservatives who fought like tigers to exclude some key material from his report. The commission had to drag the Conservatives to the Federal Court for an order compelling the release of the censored portions. Rejecting the government's argument that the security of the nation would be imperilled if the deleted 1,500-odd words ever saw the light of day, the court granted the order, and most of the previously blacked-out words were released last week.
I am happy to report that the Peace Tower did not implode. In a nutshell, the missing passages showed how the RCMP and CSIS had danced to the tune of the CIA - scarcely a startling revelation. It may be embarrassing to the Canadian government (Liberal or Conservative) to be exposed as Washington's lackey, but the national-security argument was a red herring, a phoney.
(I am less happy, however, to report that one of the bureaucrats who secretly blacked out those documents was William Elliott, the new commissioner of the RCMP.)
There are disturbing signs that the Tories are even more deeply in the thrall of the security establishment than the Liberals were. Last December, the Conservatives appointed a commission to look into the cases of three other men - Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmad Abou El Maati - who were also imprisoned in the Middle East. One of the issues is the RCMP's use of information, apparently obtained through torture of one of the men in a Syrian prison, to support their application for search warrants in Canada.
The Tories set the rules for this inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci. It is a private inquiry. Most of the proceedings are in secret and lawyers for the three men are not generally permitted to attend. They can't even find out whether former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli or the RCMP sergeant who obtained the search warrants will be called as witnesses.
Can the public expect a full, uncensored report? Don't count on it.
Next, there is the strange tale of the Air India inquiry. In May 2006, Harper appointed another retired Supreme Court justice, John Major, to conduct "a full public inquiry" into the botched police investigation of the 1985 crash that killed 329 people. The inquiry had barely gotten underway before the government started to block access to documents. There are thousands of documents involved and at last count the Harper government was fighting to withhold no fewer than 800 of them. Judge Major has had to postpone some hearings, and at one point last February he became so frustrated that he threatened to shut the inquiry down unless the government cooperated.
Surely Harper can't blame anyone but himself for the inanity of trying to undermine his own inquiry.
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.