The Federal Court has ordered the federal government to reveal most of what it didn’t want Canadians to know about the Mahar Arar Scandal.
Newly declassified information shows that that Canadian agencies worked directly with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and also received information known to be likely derived from Syrian torture during a post-9/11 investigation that culminated in the Maher Arar debacle.
The disclosure follows a pitched legal battle by Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor, who fought to make public 1,500 words that the Canadian federal government had excised from his four-volume report released last year.
The Conservative government came under fire yesterday for its decision to censor passages of the Arar commission report that many believe were merely embarrassing to the U.S. and Canadian security officials, and not vital to national security.
Ottawa officials fought to keep the information secret, frequently arguing that it did not want to compromise the goodwill of foreign allies who sent in intelligence from abroad.
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TORIES RENEGED ON PROMISED ACCESS TO INFORMATION REFORMS
Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper has delighted in laying blame on the previous Liberal government for the Arar affair, he is now facing criticism for trying to keep facts uncovered by Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor out of the public eye.
The decision to cite national-security grounds to censor about 1,500 words of Judge O’Connor’s report was made by Conservative cabinet ministers, and it was they who ordered federal government lawyers to fight their release in court.
“This failure to inform Canadians truthfully about key mistakes of government serves to highlight Tory hypocrisy over our right of access to information,” said FIPA executive director Darrell Evans. “We were deeply disappointed in the Conservative government’s failure to deliver on their election promises to increase federal government transparency.”
The Conservative platform contained eight firm commitments to “Strengthen Access to Information legislation” as part of the Federal Accountability Act. Only one of their promises was implemented, and even that one was watered down.
FIPA is calling once again for the Conservatives to deliver on their promises to:
> Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.
> Give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of
> Expand the coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, Officers of
Parliament, foundations and organizations that spend taxpayers’ money
or perform public functions.
> Subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner.
> Oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions.
> Provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of the government.
> Ensure that all exemptions from the disclosure of government information are justified only on the basis of the harm or injury that would result from disclosure, not blanket exemption rules.
> Ensure that the disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act cannot be circumvented by secrecy provisions in other federal acts.
CONTACT: Darrell Evans, 604-739-9788