Maher Arar’s Name is Cleared: Racial Profiling Must Stop

For fellow Canadian Maher Arar, I’m sure he is a bit relieved. Last week the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the case of Maher Arar released its report. It vindicated Arar.  However, I’m also sure his nightmare of being whisked away to Syria by the Americans is a recurring nightmare in this life.  No Canadian deserves such treatment.  The just released report should serve as a benchmark for similar instances in the future.

For me the plight of Maher Arar was always big news.  Having traveled the world on a Canadian passport, I was shocked when Arar, a fellow Canadian was sent away to Syria by the Americans.  I always felt when I traveled this world, that Canadian passport would mean something.  You had to wonder how Arar felt about that sitting in his Syrian hole.

Here are the highlights of the report taken from a summary in the Globe and Mail.  The full report can be accessed by clicking on http://www.ararcommission.ca/eng/AR_English.pdf.

— Inexperienced RCMP investigators wrongly provided Americans with inaccurate, unfair and overstated evidence about Mr. Arar’s alleged terrorist leanings.
— American officials “very likely” relied on erroneous Mountie information in their decision to send Mr. Arar to Syria, but no evidence Canadian officials participated or acquiesced in decision.
— No evidence Mr. Arar has committed any offence or is a threat to Canadian security.
— Canadian agencies erroneously accepted information about Mr. Arar from Syrians without determining whether it was extracted through torture.
— Canadian officials leaked inaccurate details about Mr. Arar to news media to damage his reputation and protect themselves.
— Mounties kept top government officials in the dark about RCMP mistakes by providing sanitized version of Mr. Arar case.
— Twenty-three recommendations, including creating an independent watchdog to monitor how Mounties share information with other countries; calling on CSIS and RCMP never to divulge information abroad if it could result in torture; urging federal government to use report as basis for compensating Mr. Arar. (Globe and Mail)

Mr. Arar now lives in the peaceful and tranquil community of Kamloops B.C.  His wife Dr. Monia Mazigh Ph.D has taken up a teaching position at Thompson Rivers University.  If you have ever been to that beautiful community in the B.C. Interior, you’ll know it’s a great place for Arar.  Hopefully the mountains will help sooth what must be such an onerous burden to live with.

I’ve never been to John F. Kennedy airport in New York City.  So I really can’t put myself in Maher Arar’s place.  However, I’ve been in the Newark airport a couple of times right across from New York, a major player in New York’s airport business.  It’s there where many people from around the world land or take off to far off places.  Proving whom you are and where you are going is one of the basic tenants of any airport visit.

For Arar it was an obvious nightmare.  However for me it wasn’t so bad.  Remember there is a big difference between Maher Arar and me.  He is of Middle Eastern extraction and Muslim.  I’m a big white farm boy from southwestern Ontario.  Did somebody say, “racial profiling?”  You bet.  That had a great amount of influence on why Arar ended up where he did.  If the same file had showed up on me, there surely would have been many other questions.  I don’t think I’d end up in Syria.

There is a lot to this.  It is something many “people of colour” within our Canadian society have learned to live with.  A few years ago I met a Canadian family in Drumheller, Alberta who had traveled to the Dinosaur Museum.  They were Canadian of South Asian extraction.  On meeting them, I asked what route they had taken to get to Drumheller.

The husband in the family told me they had flown to Calgary from Toronto.  I told him we had driven through the United States passing through North Portal Saskatchewan on our way to Drumheller.  I told the man how enjoyable the trip was.  The man paused and told me he’d probably enjoy that route, however he wanted to avoid any problem with “traveling through the United States.”  In an instant I knew what he meant.  It was different for him and me, although we were both Canadian.  His skin colour and his ethnicity in his mind opened up his family for harassment.  He didn’t want to go there.  I thoroughly understood.

Regrettably for Maher Arar, he caught the very worst of this.  We like to think in our Canadian multicultural society we have it all right.  However, as much as we pretend that, “racial profiling” and everything in between are still a part of our greater Canadian society.  Being honest about that would go a long way to changing that forever.