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Prime minister announces $10.5-million compensation for Maher Arar
January 26, 2007

OTTAWA (CP) - Four years after he was tortured in a Syrian prison, Maher Arar has finally received an official apology - and $10.5 million in compensation - from the Canadian government for its role in the affair.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the money Friday, saying Arar, his wife and children deserve to be compensated. "On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you . . . and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said.

"I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives."

Harper also called on United States to remove Arar from its security watch list, which prevents him from travelling to the U.S.

In addition to the $10.5 million, the government is paying Arar's legal fees, reported to be $2 million.

"I know to some Canadians that will sound like an awful lot of money," Harper said.

"But I can tell you that the reality is, given the findings of the O'Connor commission and the unjust treatment that Mr. Arar received, that figure is within this government's realistics assessemnt of what Mr. Arar would have won in a lawsuit and that is the basis on which we concluded this settlement."

Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who worked in Ottawa as a computer specialist, was detained by U.S. authorities in New York in 2002 and deported to Syria on the basis of unsubstantiated RCMP suspicions.

An independent fact-finder concluded Arar was tortured by Syrian officials before being released from a Damascus prison in late 2003. While behind bars, he was forced to make false confessions about involvement with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

He had sought $37 million in compensation after filing an initial suit for $400 million. Mediation sessions began late last year, opening the door to a settlement.

In September, Arar was exonerated after a two-year public inquiry led by Justice Dennis O'Connor.

The inquiry report found the RCMP passed misleading, inaccurate and unfair information to U.S. authorities that very likely led to Arar's arrest and deportation to face torture in Syria.

O'Connor suggested Ottawa "recognize the suffering that Mr. Arar has experienced" and consider options more creative than a mere financial damage award.

The report pointed out that Arar's inability to find work since his return from Syria has had a devastating economic and psychological impact on him and his family.

The telecommunications engineer came under RCMP scrutiny in Ottawa in October 2001 through his contact with Abdullah Almalki, the target of an anti-terrorism investigation known as Project A-O Canada.

O'Connor urged the RCMP to usher in a raft of policy changes on information sharing, training and monitoring of security probes.

In the aftermath, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli resigned over his handling of the file.

Arar, who now lives in Kamloops, B.C., continues to have troubles. American authorities continue to keep his name on a security watch list.

That led to a clash this week between Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins. Day chided the Americans for continuing to harbour suspicions about Arar.

Wilkins said it was presumptuous of Day to tell the United States who they can allow into their country.

Day insisted that there is nothing to suggest Arar is a security risk.

Democratic politicians have raised Arar's case in Washington, demanding the administration officials explain their handling of the case.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said he'll release more information on Arar to a Senate committee in private.

The NDP applauded Friday's settlement, calling it long overdue.

"From the beginning, New Democrats, along with countless Canadians from every corner of this country, stood side by side with Ms. Mazigh in her battle to bring her husband home to justice and to his family," said New Democrat MP Alexa McDonough.

© The Canadian Press 2007

Original Text