Wednesday, December 12, 2007

BC Human Rights Group withdraws from Iacobucci Inquiry

Probably this is a good idea. The groups involved have little involvement after the first phase. There are to be some public hearings later but the main work was done behind closed doors and even the lawyers for the parties in whose name the inquiry was called have had very little role. Some may yet withdraw as well. Complaints about the process have gone nowhere. However, the process is precisely what the government wants. Iacobucci is earning his fees.

Human-rights group withdraws from closed-door torture inquiry
December 11, 2007 - 1:05 pm

By: Murray Brewster, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA - A leading human-rights group has withdrawn from the secretive inquiry into claims by three men that Canadian authorities had a hand in their overseas torture.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an intervener in the case, says Justice Frank Iacobucci has refused to hold any "meaningful" proceedings in public.

"As an experienced advocate for civil liberties and public accountability, the BCCLA is deeply worried this commission will establish a dangerous precedent for closed-door, secret inquiries," said a letter sent Tuesday to the commission's lawyer, John Laskin.

"Indeed if the potential complicity of Canadian officials in torture does not justify a public inquiry, then few ever qualify."

Iacobucci is looking into the conduct of Canadian officials in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahman Abou-Elmaati from 2001 to 2004.

The lawyer for the inquiry, John Laskin, was not immediately available to comment on the association's withdrawal.

Unlike the inquiry into Maher Arar's torture in Syria, this latest inquiry is being held almost entirely behind closed doors.

Lawyers for the three men have noted that the government's own terms of reference for the commission direct Iacobucci to take "all steps necessary to ensure the inquiry is conducted in private."

Paul Copeland, the lawyer for Almaki, says he shares the frustration of the civil liberties association and there have been preliminary discussions about his client withdrawing from the proceedings.

"It has been very difficult for us," he said.

The three men and their lawyers have been asking for documents, the names of witnesses, and assurances that testimony concerning Canadian government policy on torture and other crucial matters be given in public.

The civil liberties association says a Nov. 6, 2007, ruling issued by Iacobucci behind closed doors to participants effectively ruled out public hearings, despite a promise by the Conservative government to hold at least some proceedings in the open.

The government insists the commission has made a lot of progress, interviewing as many as 40 witnesses under oath and reviewing over 35,000 documents.

Government lawyers have been vetting documents to screen out national security material.

The former Supreme Court justice recently asked the Conservative government for an extension beyond his Jan. 31 deadline to complete his investigation.

Elmaati says he was tortured in Egypt and Syria, while Almalki and Nureddin say they were tortured in Syria.

Almalki, an Ottawa electronics engineer, was detained in Syria in 2002 and held for 22 months.

Elmaati, a Toronto truck driver, was arrested in Syria on a visit in 2001, then sent to Egypt in early 2002. He was imprisoned there for almost two years.

Toronto geologist Nureddin was held for 34 days in Syria in late 2003 and early 2004.

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