We do not target specific communities," said a Canadian intelligence officer, parroting the official line. "We [including Canadian Muslims] are all on the same team in the war on terror."
The agent, who was questioning one of my clients, was attempting to assuage the growing insecurity gripping the Canadian-Muslim community.
Showing up at homes and workplaces unannounced; speaking with employers; offering money and favors for "information"; intimidating and threatening newcomers; questioning about specific institutions and individuals; inquiring about a person's religiosity; and discouraging people from engaging lawyers are some of the recurring themes I have heard from clients. The problem is so severe that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Canada) has distributed almost 30,000 Know Your Rights guides and organized 27 workshops across the country on dealing with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Now, allegations are growing of Canadian intelligence cooperating with foreign governments to detain and question citizens abroad.
Most recently, a 62-year-old academic, Dr. Mahboob Khawaja, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that "the [Saudi] police officer told me they had no reason to arrest me. There were no charges against me here in the kingdom (of Saudi Arabia). They arrested me on a request from Canada."
Dr. Khawaja, a Canadian citizen currently employed at a Saudi government-run college in the port city of Yanbu, was picked up shortly after the arrest in Ottawa of his son, Momin, on terrorism charges. The 24-year-old software programmer's March 29 arrest was the first under Canada's hastily drafted anti-terror laws. Saudi intelligence released the elder Khawaja after two weeks without filing any charges.
Unlike Maher Arar-the Canadian citizen detained by U.S. officials during a September 2002 transit stop in New York and deported to Syria, where he allegedly was tortured-Dr. Khawaja says he was not mistreated by the Saudis. But his claim that he was detained at Canada's request is consistent with Arar's allegation of Canadian complicity. Dr. Khawaja's eldest son, Qasim, got it right when he told the press, "This is a very disturbing fact, that the RCMP would go about...asking a foreign government to apprehend a Canadian on foreign soil."
As if this was not serious enough, Dr. Khawaja dropped another bombshell when he said his interrogators informed him that they were asked by Canadian authorities to ensure that he did not contact consular staff in Riyadh-in clear contravention of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The RCMP denies the allegations, and CSIS refuses to comment.
The denial would be easier to believe if this were an isolated incident and if the government had a better track record. Even former Solicitor General Wayne Easter acknowledged the possibility that "rogue" elements of the RCMP may have played a role in Arar's deportation to Syria-essentially torture by proxy. Indeed, as far back as 2002, U.S. officials incredibly defended the practice as an acceptable weapon in the war on terror to The Washington Post. Human Rights Watch called at the time for an investigation into what it termed a serious violation of international law.
Since his return, Arar has launched separate lawsuits against American and Canadian authorities. The U.S. suit revolves around the practice of his deportation to certain torture, while the Canadian claim alleges, among other things, that Canada was "negligent for passing on erroneous information to the American authorities that led to them believing that Mr. …