Thursday, 28 September 2006

RCMP apologizes to Arar [Updated]

The head of the RCMP has stayed mum on the Arar affair, promising to speak to the matter today before a House of Commons committee. He came through.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli apologized on Thursday to Maher Arar, and said he accepts all the recommendations of a report criticizing the Mounties for their role in the Canadian's deportation to Syria, where he was tortured.

"Mr. Arar, I wish to take this opportunity to express publicly to you and to your wife and to your children how truly sorry I am for whatever part the actions of the RCMP may have contributed to the terrible injustices that you experienced and the pain that you and your family endured," Zaccardelli said.

The RCMP commissioner made the statement at the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security, which is looking at Justice Dennis O'Connor's report on the Arar case.

This is his first public statement about the report, which was released on Sept. 18.

"I accept the recommendations of the report without exception," Zaccardelli told the committee.

But he said he personally wasn't aware of Arar's case until after Arar was already in jail in Syria.

The agency has learned "valuable lessons" since Arar's ordeal and "some of them we learned painfully," the commissioner added.

Good for Zaccardelli. Since the O'Connor report, the RCMP has been consistently pleading inexperience in their handling of the Arar case. Zaccardelli is now pleading personal ignorance as well, which could very well be true.

I get a few things out of this, mostly in the RCMP's favour. Seeing as they were abruptly thrown back into the national security business after 9/11 and had lost all savvy in the field after 20 years' absence, their plea of inexperience is more than plausible. They messed up, big time. At least they are willing to admit it. No weaseling out, no finger-pointing at others, no lame justifications.

This is where the Canadian police force is outshining the authorities on the American side of the border, who have issued no apologies, allowed no investigations or court challenges, and who still have not removed Arar and his wife from their no-fly list.

I also like that they aren't arguing with the report recommendations, following in the footsteps of the government. It's a great start. Following through with actual implementation will be more impressive.

Now if Zaccardelli would do something about the RCMP's consistent and chronic stonewalling of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission, the national police force could again become a source of national pride, instead of fueling our cynicism. It is one thing to make an apology before a House committee, quite another to bring about a sea change in the culture of the RCMP, which has been to stall, deny and stonewall whenever there are allegations of wrong-doing. If Zaccardelli could effect this kind of change, he would deserve a place in history as one of the all-time great commissioners. Unfortunately, he's had several years to start work on it and to date has done nothing. Today's apology might be nothing more than political smarts and unfortunately, the bulk of the evidence is in favour of this conclusion.


Other major points from Zaccardelli's testimony:

He has no intention of offering his resignation over the Arar affair.
There is no ongoing investigation into Arar or his wife.
He also flatly denies that the Conservative government has muzzled him in any way.

Maclean's characterizes him as "fighting to keep his job", which I think is yet another example of journalists taking themselves way too seriously. Just because the occasional journalist or back bench politician might have uttered the opinion that Zack should step down, the man isn't fighting to keep his job until the people who can fire him are starting to emit opinions like that. Get over yourselves, people. You don't run the country.

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