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Canada’s Involvement in Renditioned Torture

Canada’s Involvement in Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary rendition is the deliberate extrajudicial detainment of suspects deemed threats to national security. The worst offender of the extraordinary rendition has been the CIA, with the highest number of rendition detainees. I’ve previously written an article on exceptional rendition programs in which the US has indulged. This time, we’ll look at how Canada has been directly or indirectly involved in extraordinary renditions. 

Although Canada’s involvement in direct rendition inside its borders has been quite limited, Canada’s participation with rendition overall has most often been in collaboration with the CIA or outsourced to other countries “where the rule of law is weak.” 

According to one US government official’s statement on outsourced rendition with The Washington Post, “We don’t kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them”. As a discussion in this paper, countries involved in outsourced rendition include Syria, Egypt, and Algeria. 

One such victim, 29-year-old Canadian Abderrahmane Ghanem, flew to Algeria in May of 2016, where Algeria’s security agency captured him and subsequently tortured him for more than a year. Ghanem’s lawyer - Gary Caroline - believes that Ghanem was a victim of an extraordinary rendition in collaboration with CSIS and Algeria’s security agency. Caroline writes

“All known facts indicate that Canada has actively outsourced the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of a Canadian citizen for theorized or suspected activities.”

Ghanem is among several Canadians that were captured and tortured extrajudicially. In other words, they were extraordinarily renditioned. 

In September of 2002, Maher Arar was another Canadian captured in an airport in New York and was “subsequently sent to Syria, where he was confined in an underground grave-like cell for nearly a year and tortured.” Arar was released from the torture prison and sued the US government for false allegations of him being connected to Al-Qaeda. Canadian intelligence (CSIS most likely) had provided US officials with “misleading information” and “wrongfully flagged him for suspected terrorist links” that led to Arar’s arrest and torture in Syria (thestar, 2017). Maher Arar’s case resulted from a broader effort per Project A-O, an anti-terrorism collaboration effort between Canadian and American intelligence agencies in 2001 as a defensive response to the post-9/11 world. 

Arar was issued an apology by the Canadian government and was compensated $10 million. Unfortunately, no such apology or compensation has come from the US. 

In both of these cases, information regarding the flight destinations of these victims can only be accessed by government security officials who commonly have operations in airports. In Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) was established after the terrorist of 9/11 for security screening measures for passengers. Although my analysis is merely speculation, integrated work between CATSA and CSIS is likely a high possibility concerning national security screening. 

CSIS deals primarily with foreign migration screening, while CATSA specializes in active passenger security screening. It is not a stretch to believe that these agencies collaborate for broader national security screening operations. This inadvertently led to the rendition of Ghanem and Arar through the transfer of information from government agencies. 

Amnesty International’s Alex Neve states, “What happened to Maher Arar was not an exceptional and isolated case.” Moreover, Neve argues that “a well-placed phone call and a reckless or intentional sharing of intelligence could accomplish the same goal [as traditional rendition].” And that’s precisely what happened here.

Evidence of Transferred Detainees in Newfoundland

Although an old case, in 2011, the British human rights group ‘Reprieve’ claimed it had evidence to suggest that Canada had participated in the transfer of detainees victims to the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

Reprieve claims that Gander Newfoundland, Canada, has been “Long suspected of transferring prisoners repeatedly stopped in Gander, central Newfoundland, on its way to Afghanistan from Guantanamo Bay in 2004.” Logs retrieved by Reprieve showcased a flight path “that began in Washington, D.C., stopped in Guantanamo Bay, then Gander [Newfoundland], then Bagram Airfield and eventually Vilnius Lithuania”. At this time, Lithuania was a chief logistical and overall centerpiece of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition. Guantanamo Bay is the ultimate centerpiece. 

Gander Newfoundland is home to an international airport, “The Crossroads of the World.” Welcoming celebrities and VIPs like the Queen of Iran, Albert Einstein, the famous American singer Frank Sinatra, and Queen Elizabeth II alongside her husband. Gander has thus had its fair share of hosting and protecting VIPs under its reign. It would be logical to trust such an airport for its logistical and historical advantages in carrying sensitive passengers, whether the Queen of the Commonwealth or renditioned detainees. 

Moreover, further strategic evidence points to the fact that a Canadian Forces Base shares the same airfield as the Gander airport but operates as a separate “entity.” Strategically, a Canadian Forces base operating in an airport that has dealt with sensitive passengers would make for the perfect environment for renditioning detainees on behalf of other government agencies. The base has been in operation since 1936. 

To further support my argument, Reprieve states that:  

"The evidence suggests that Canada, by virtue of its location, was a very vital logistical point for the extraordinary renditions program. That is evidenced more and more clearly as time goes on," 

Interestingly, Reprieve’s wordings suggest that Gander has been “repeatedly” engaged in rendition programs and transfers. Furthermore, the long quotes above also use the plural form of rendition in the use of “renditions.” This suggests that this one log linking a flight path with rendition is likely one of many renditions that Gander Newfoundland has partaken in.

More Collaboration and Rendition 

An internal inquiry regarding the involvement of Canadian officials (mostly CSIS and the RCMP) conducted concerning three tortured victims was published in October of 2008. The three victims in question are Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, and Muayyed Nureddin. All three of these individuals were detained in Syria or Egypt and experienced prolonged torture for months or years at the hands of Syrian or Egyptian security agencies. 

The 2008 inquiry provided details on how and why Canadian officials had singled out these three men. In the case of Elmaati, the inquiry concludes that: 

“I do conclude that the combination of three instances of sharing of information by Canadian officials in the period leading up to Mr. Elmaati’s detention likely contributed to his detention so that the detention in Syria can be said to have resulted indirectly from these actions.” (pg. 36)

In addition, the sharing of information in 3 instances was “deficient in circumstances.” This means that the inquiry had found that Canadian officials did not meet the necessary threshold to provide information on Elmaati in the first place, or at least there wasn’t a good reason. 

In the case of Abdullah Almaki, the inquiry states the following regarding the involvement of Canadian officials: 

“While it is possible that information shared by Canadian officials might have contributed in some way to the decision by the Syrian authorities to detain him, in my judgment, that possibility does not meet the threshold of likelihood required for me to infer an indirect link. However, certain actions of Canadian officials in the period leading up to Mr. Almalki’s detention raised concerns for me.” 

Therefore, it seems to be the case with Almaki that perhaps his detention in Syria may have been “accidental.” However, the possibility of indirect involvement through information sharing may still be the case. 

Nevertheless, Almaki had not received any consular visits from Canadian officials during his 22-month custody. The lack of negotiations from Canadian counsellors regarding Almaki’s detention signifies either non-recognition of his detention, a collaboration of his imprisonment, a lack of awareness of his detention, or simply incompetence. The inquiry concludes that in the case of Almaki, “the actions of Canadian officials to provide consular services… were deficient“ (to see why, go to pg. 38). It is also worth noting that Almaki was investigated as a suspected terrorist threat per Project A-O in 2001, prior to his travel in 2002 (pg. 17/18). 

In the case of Muayyed Nureddin, the commissioner of the inquiry finds that: 

“I do not find that Mr. Nureddin’s detention in Syria resulted directly from any action of Canadian officials. However, I conclude that the following actions of Canadian officials in the period leading up to Mr. Nureddin’s detention likely contributed to his detention, so that the detention can be said to have resulted indirectly from these actions.” 

Regarding the “actions” in question, the inquiry states that CSIS and the RCMP shared information with “several foreign agencies,” including the US, about Nureddin’s suspected involvement with terrorism and shared information with the US regarding Nureddin’s travel plan months before he departed from Canada (pg 39). 

Fortunately, the inquiry states that the Canadian government responded promptly to Nurredin’s detention and provided efforts to “secure consular access” with Nurredin (pg. 39). 

Finally, the torture and mistreatment experienced by all victims by Syrian or Egyptian officials meet the defined term of ‘torture’ in the UN Convention Against Torture (pg 36). 

For more details and information regarding the victims of torture and rendition, including the torture case of a 15-year-old Canadian boy, Omar Khadr, refer to this article, the inquiry, and a backgrounder report.

Aftermath and Compensation

In a landmark legal settlement in 2017, the Canadian government issued an official apology for “any role Canadian officials may have played” and settled on compensating Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Elmaati, and Muayyed Nureddin for $31 million. The men were not charged with any crime.

Almaki says, “We were falsely targeted based on racism and bigotry,” referring to Canadian and Syrian/Egyptian officials. 

CSIS and Government Response

So what does CSIS have to say about this?

The infamous ex-CSIS analyst - Phil Gurski - says that he disagrees with the term “rendition” regarding what CSIS has done. He argues, "What rendition suggests is that CSIS had an active role in directing somebody or sending somebody to a different country – and that is categorically false.” Although what Gurski says is consistent with the inquiry’s conclusions regarding Canada’s lack of direct involvement. Gurski falls short of criticizing or suggesting that indirect or accidental involvement in rendition occurred. 

Gurski also argues that the CSIS and the RCMP's role in these cases was “consistent with their mandate” as defined in the CSIS Act. 

However, Gurski strongly states, "I’m not a believer in abuse, I’m not a believer in the use of torture, I’m not a believer in the use of force to gather information. But I think the service and the RCMP acted consistently within their mandates”. 

The extent to which Gurski’s statements are true to his heart or whether they are clouded with the necessity to act as an accomplice with CSIS is impossible to determine. Nevertheless, Gurski doesn’t criticize CSIS, the RCMP, or Canadian officials in any capacity whatsoever regarding any form of direct or indirect contributions that led to the detentions of these victims. 

As for CSIS’ response, a senior official and lawyer working for CSIS - Geoffrey O’Brian, stated that:

"The simple truth is if we get information which can prevent something like the Air India bombing, the Twin Towers -- whatever, frankly -- that is the time when we will use it [torture] despite the provenance of that information,"

This lawyer’s statement was quickly corrected by the head of CSIS at the time, Jim Judd, and the public safety minister, Peter Van Loan. Both contradicted what the senior lawyer said by citing “confusion” and that the lawyer “engaged in some kind of hypothetical discussion.” Moreover, the Safety Minister at the time said that any information received as a result of torture is “discounted.” How true either party’s statements are is difficult to conclude. 

CSIS states their position is clear, “They do not practise torture. They do not condone the use of torture. They do not promote the use of torture". The National Observer, a spokesperson for the RCMP and Public Safety Canada, says the government “opposes the use of torture” and “has taken steps to ensure this will not happen in the future.” 

As for how truthful each of these statements is? There’s no way to know. From all of these cases, it is worth noting that, either directly or indirectly, renditioned tortured victims from Canada seem to be an effort made in the post-9/11 world. But from Ghanem’s case, we can see complicity in a rendition by CSIS still exists even in the late 2010s. As a result, there’s no way to know how many CSIS is wrongfully investigating more Canadians. And although anti-terrorism efforts are necessary to preserve national security, Canada needs to ensure that we are following the equal necessity of preserving human rights. 

The Future of Accountability

Regarding accountability, the Canadian government has also taken steps to “avoid complicity in Mistreatment by Foreign Entities” through Ministerial Directions given to CSIS in 2017. The direction prohibits “mistreatment of individuals by a foreign entity” by either “disclosure of information,” “making requests for information,” or “usage of information.”

In 2019, the Canadian government also created the NSIRA (National Security and Intelligence Review Agency), a new independent federal agency specifically designated to review “all Government of Canada national security and intelligence activities to ensure they are lawful, reasonable and necessary.” The agency was created in response to the recommendations made by the 2006 inquiry on Maher Arar. The NSIRA also files complaints against the RCMP, CSIS, and CSE from the public. The creation of NSIRA, according to expert recommendations, is an excellent step in the right direction for keeping intelligence agencies accountable in Canada. 

All in all, it seems to be the case that Canada’s efforts in direct or indirect collaboration or participation in rendition seem to be noticeable. Therefore, there must be caution by Canadian officials, CSIS, and the RCMP to make sure human beings are being valued above all else over information extraction or investigative efforts on potential terrorist activities. As demonstrated by new government initiatives, there must also be steps to ensure that CSIS and the RCMP are held accountable for any actions not defined within their mandate. And finally, CSIS and the RCMP must continue to take collaborative efforts to keep Canada and Canadians safe from internal and external terrorism.

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