The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

... and welcome to Canada


A man got beaten into a false confession. The internal security agency lied to the government and to the public to cover up their brutality and incompetence. The government lied to the public to cover up their culpability. When the man complained, government officials told lies to the press in an attempt to discredit him.

Sure sounds familiar, but the country could come as a surprise: Canada.

Maher Arar was picked up by US officials acting on intelligence ineptly gathered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (yep, the guys in the little red uniforms) while transiting the US on a Canadian passport and exported to Damascus for interrogation where (surprise!) he was tortured. After he returned to Canada and complained, as yet unnamed “government officials� started a campaign to smear him in the national press.

Here, however, the parallels to countries closer to the home come to an end. See, we know all this because an independent commission was set up under a judge—a judge who was going to get his full salary whether or not he came up with the real facts of the matter—and that commission was able to impel the testimony of a range of key players and make most of its findings known.

It’s unpleasant to be reminded that internal security operatives are a breed that transcends cultural and national identity, but here’s the silver lining: a willful, independent judiciary can be an effective counterweight. Something to remember next time there’s a demo outside the Judges' Club.