by Editorial / Toronto Globe and Mail –
TORONTO (November 21, 2003) — Both Canada and the United States have taken startling, disturbing positions on the torture case of Maher Arar of Ottawa.
US Attorney-General John Ashcroft told Canadian Solicitor-General Wayne Easter this week that the United States acted lawfully in apprehending Mr. Arar in New York and sending him to Syria, where he was tortured and held in dehumanizing conditions for nearly a year.
If Mr. Ashcroft is right, anything goes in the war on terrorism.
A Canadian suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda can be deported to the worst torture chamber the world has to offer if the US deems that to be in its national interest. That can happen without a judge reviewing the proposed deportation, and without Canadian consular officials being given a chance to object. In such a world, the very notion of an international rule of law has lost its meaning.
Obey the US or Suffer ‘Economic Consequences’
Equally disturbing, in light of Mr. Ashcroft’s position, was the cowardly stance adopted by Mr. Easter, who admonished Canadians not to “lose focus” on national security, to keep “the incident” involving Mr. Arar in perspective, and to remember that unless Canada co-operates on security with the United States, it will suffer severe economic consequences.
This is not realpolitik but self-abnegation and subservience. There is no question that Canada needs to co-operate with the US on security. Such co-operation is vital to the shared safety and economic interests of both countries. Yet Canada, like every other nation, has not only a right but an obligation to stand up for its citizens — all the more so when its citizens are at risk in a country with which it has a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.
US Action Violated International Law and US Constitution
There is evidence that the United States violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which requires signatories to inform detained foreigners without delay of their right to speak to consular officials, and to permit them to exercise that right. There is evidence that the US violated due-process protections in its Constitution, protections that apply to non-citizens on US soil. There is a seemingly open-and-shut case that the US violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Mr. Arar was travelling on a Canadian passport. At 32, he had lived in Canada since he was 17. If Mr. Easter and others in the Canadian government do not uphold their obligations now, how will they be able to challenge, say, Saudi Arabia if another expatriate like William Sampson should be tortured? How will they challenge Iran, if another photojournalist like Zahra Kazemi should be beaten to death while in custody? Canada will have lost its moral authority to defend its citizens around the globe.
On Monday, a federal US appeals-court judge admonished the Bush administration, saying that “terrible as 9/11 was, it didn’t repeal the Constitution.”
Mr. Ashcroft has told Canada, in effect, that not only the US Constitution but the UN Convention Against Torture is null and void. Canada must not acquiesce to this view of the law.