"My priority right now is to clear my name," said Maher Arar in 2003, at his first public appearance upon his return to Canada after having been imprisoned and tortured in Syria for more than a year. The Arar Commission's findings clearing him, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Jan. 28 apology-issued after months of negotiations-go a long way in helping Arar fulfill his first wish. While some believe Harper's apology "for any role Canadian officials may have played" did not go far enough, the Commission squarely laid the blame on Canadian and American officials.
On Sept. 26, 2002 U.S. authorities detained Syrian-born Arar during a stopover in New York as he was en route from Tunisia to his home in Canada. Even though he repeatedly requested that he be sent to Canada, Arar, a Canadian citizen, instead was sent to Syria for torture under the controversial American practice of "extraordinary rendition." Following Canadian pressure on Syria, he eventually was released and returned to Canada in October 2003.
According to the inquiry convened as a result of public outcry in Canada, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents acted on the basis of false and misleading information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The comprehensive inquiry, headed by Ontario's Associate Chief Justice Dennis R. O'Connor, lasted more than two years and cost more than $16 million. Its findings paved the way for the prime minister's formal apology to Arar on behalf of the Canadian government, and an offer of $10.5 million plus legal fees to settle a lawsuit launched by Arar. Canada's top law enforcement officer, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, resigned as a result of the Arar controversy.
Nevertheless, American authorities continue to reject Canada's request that Arar's name be purged from U.S. watch lists. According to his lawyers, Arar's inclusion on the lists effectively excludes him from at least one-third of the world's countries. U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has threatened to hold extensive hearings into Arar's rendition, lambasting the removal of Arar to Syria as absurd and outrageous. Instead of sending Arar a "couple of hundred miles to Canada and [turning him] over to the Canadian authorities," Leahy noted, "he was sent thousands of miles …