Canada to settle longstanding torture case: report

“Canada is expected to settle a $100-million lawsuit launched by three Canadians who were tortured in Syria in the early 2000s.

Canada is expected to settle a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought by three Canadian men who were tortured in Syria as the indirect result of Canadian intelligence and police agency actions.

Ottawa is expected to make a formal apology to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin as early as next week, the Toronto Star reported exclusively Friday morning.

The men will have their names removed from Canada’s no-fly list, and they will receive a multi-million dollar compensation package, the newspaper reported.

The news comes more than a decade after the men first filed their civil claim against the government in Canadian court, and even longer after they each were subjected to torture and other inhumane treatment in detention in the Middle East.

In the early 2000s, Canadian officials within the department of foreign affairs, the Canadian spy agency, CSIS, and the federal police, the RCMP, believed that Almalki, an engineer from Ottawa, and El Maati and Nureddin, of Toronto, had ties to al-Qaeda.

It’s a charge the men have consistently and vehemently denied.

But after their names were flagged for alleged ties to terrorism, the men were each arrested upon travelling to Syria between 2001 and 2003, at the height of a post-9/11 atmosphere of national security hysteria.

They were each subjected to torture and other degrading and inhumane treatment during extended periods of detention and interrogation abroad.

Almalki, a dual Syrian-Canadian citizen, was arrested at the airport in Damascus in 2002 and detained for 22 months after travelling to Syria to visit his ailing grandmother.

“After the men eventually returned to Canada, a 2006 inquiry led by a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge found that Canadian officials had contributed indirectly to their mistreatment”

El Maati, a dual Egyptian-Canadian citizen, was detained in Syria in 2001, where he had travelled to get married. He was held at the Palestine Branch detention centre in Damascus for more than two months, before being transferred to Egypt, where he was held for more than two years.

A geologist and dual Iraqi-Canadian citizen, El Maati was arrested in Syria in 2003, as he was on his way back to Toronto from a two-month trip to Iraq. He was detained in Syria for 33 days.

After the men eventually returned to Canada, a 2006 inquiry led by a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge found that Canadian officials had contributed indirectly to their mistreatment.

Canadian officials had described the men separately as an “imminent threat” to the safety and security of Canada and shared that information with their international partners, Justice Frank Iacobucci wrote in his report, which was released in 2008.

Those labels were “inflammatory, inaccurate, and lacking investigative foundation,” Iacobucci stated, and sharing them, despite a lack of independent evidence, raised troubling questions about Canada’s role in what occurred.

In the case of Almalki, Iacobucci found that the RCMP, after discussions with Canada’s ministry of foreign affairs, even submitted questions through the Canadian ambassador to Syria at the time, for Syrian interrogators to ask him while in detention.

“Several of the Canadian officials involved in the decision to send questions for Mr. Almalki were aware that doing so created a serious risk that Mr. Almalki would be tortured,” Iacobucci wrote.

“The men’s lawsuit requested $100-million in damages, but the Toronto Star reported that no government agency would comment on the exact terms of the expected settlement”

Amnesty International has pointed out that “none [of the men] were ever charged with any crime” and “upon their return to Canada all three said their interrogations were based on information that they believe could only have originated with Canadian investigators”.

In 2009, a parliamentary motion was passed calling on Canada’s then-Conservative government to apologize to the men, allow compensation to be paid, and correct any misinformation about the men that lingered in national security agency databases.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then a member of the opposition Liberal party, supported that motion, as did several members of his government cabinet today.

But despite coming to power more than a year ago, lawyers for today’s Liberal government in Ottawa had up until now said they would respond to the Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin case at trial. Hearings were expected to begin later this month.

“That is an agonising prospect, as it would drag out the suffering that three survivors of torture continue to go through for years to come,” Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada, wrote in an article last September.

“It contravenes all of our international obligations to ensure that people who experience human rights violations should have access to an effective and adequate remedy for what they have endured. And it is, quite simply, outright cruel.”

The men’s lawsuit requested $100-million in damages, but the Toronto Star reported that no government agency would comment on the exact terms of the expected settlement.

jillian kestler-damours

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