Friday, 29 September 2006

The RCMP and the government have to do more

The injustices against Maher Arar did not stop with the faulty intelligence delivered to the Americans. When Arar's media-savvy wife refused to let his case die and kept it in the public's eye, someone in the RCMP or the government undertook to smear his reputation through unnamed leaks.
In his inquiry into the Arar affair, Justice Dennis O'Connor found that one or more government officials had leaked false and damaging statements about Arar to a number media outlets around the time of Arar's return from Syria to Canada in the fall of 2003.

Among other things, the leaks alleged Arar had trained with al-Qaida, and that he was ''not a virgin'' to terrorist activity.

''This case is an example of how some government officials, over an extended period of time, used the media to put a spin on an affair and unfairly damage a person's reputation,'' O'Connor stated in his report.

The only investigation that is currently open is a criminal probe by the RCMP into a November 2003 article by Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill.

The Canwest report contradicts itself a few paragraphs later when it states:
The leaks, which may have come from within the RCMP's A-division in Ottawa, or from within Canadian Security Intelligence Service or the Foreign Affairs Department, are being investigated by RCMP officers from New Brunswick. In response to questions from MPs, Zaccardelli said he never considered calling in another police force to conduct the probe.

Be that as it may, full light has got to be shone on this shameful incident. Somebody has got to be held accountable for spreading malicious rumours about Arar. Talk about kicking a man when he is down!

Journalists too have got to step up and take some responsibility. If unnamed sources must be used, the information should be corroborated if possible. When it can't be, it shouldn't be used without full and explicit disclaimers.

My normal cynicism would cause me to throw up my hands in despair at this point and say, "As if," but events over the last year lead me to some optimism. The blogosphere, though still maligned and ridiculed and still having all too many elements worthy of it, has flexed its muscles over the last year, discovering a vocation for fact-checking mainstream journalists. From doctored photos of the Lebanese conflict to skewed reports on the CBC, bloggers have been playing detective, and smoking out examples of dishonest or sloppy journalism. I hope the trend continues, and that governments and journalists alike will find it harder and harder to spin and mislead.

The government should obviously be offering Arar both an apology and compensation. Negotiations are underway for the latter, so I'll withhold commentary for the time being. An apology should be forthcoming though, and the sooner the better. By and large, I think Harper has been doing a good job, but he has dropped the ball on this one. I have difficulty buying the "legal ramifications" explanation, which he hasn't really given anyway. There hasn't been an explanation of any kind really. While I'm still prepared to believe it isn't malicious, it still looks bad, even to the people who are not trying to interpret everything he does as evil or misguided. Step up to the plate, Stephen, it's time.

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