Zaccardelli plays down inquiry's criticisms

In memo, RCMP chief stresses the positive in Arar report, says he's 'proud' of the force

Affaire ARAR - terrorisme, sécurité et droits de l'homme


CALGARY, OTTAWA -- RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli is playing down the Arar commission's criticisms of the federal police force, and instead is telling his officers that he is "proud" of the way they conducted themselves throughout the inquiry.
Although Mr. Zaccardelli has not spoken publicly about the commission's finding, he privately assures rank-and-file members that the Mounties are already working on recommended reforms.
In an internal note circulated to all Mounties and civilian employees, and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Zaccardelli said the force could expect criticism, but the report also made some positive findings, including a determination that the force "did not participate or acquiesce" in the U.S. decision to deport Maher Arar to Syria.
The memo, issued Sept. 18, soon after the report's release, does not address some critical findings of the inquiry, including that the RCMP sent "unfair" and "inaccurate" intelligence reports about Mr. Arar to U.S. authorities.
He offers no apology to Mr. Arar.
Nor does the brief document hint that the commissioner accepts any personal responsibility for what Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor, the head of the inquiry, said was a systemic problem of inadequate training of counterterrorism investigators.
It also fails to address Judge O'Connor's findings that the Mounties failed to properly inform the government of the RCMP's early involvement in the Arar case.
The memo provides a preview of the commissioner's testimony tomorrow before a parliamentary committee, an appearance that could determine his future. The hearing will be Mr. Zaccardelli's first public comment on the substance of the report.
Members of the public safety committee are arranging to meet in a larger hearing room equipped with TV cameras in anticipation of public interest in the proceeding. Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day will testify after Mr. Zaccardelli.
Mr. Day, who has declined to answer directly in the House whether he has confidence in the commissioner, walked away from a scrum with reporters yesterday without replying when he was asked to pinpoint the last time he had spoken with the commissioner.
In his memo, Mr. Zaccardelli said the RCMP has "co-operated fully" with the commission "just as we will continue to co-operate fully as the post-inquiry process unfolds.
"We have provided access to documents and officials covering all aspects of our actions in relation to Maher Arar. I am proud of the professional manner in which RCMP personnel responded throughout the course of this complex and exhaustive process," he wrote.
He tells his troops that he defended the force's honour before Judge O'Connor.
"I told him since 1873, we've faced many challenges, protecting Canadians, their communities, their institutions and way of life. Today's report does not affect our core values."
He took comfort in the commission's finding that Mr. Arar was properly a "person of interest" to RCMP anti-terrorism investigators.
Mounties testified Mr. Arar was not a suspect, but the acquaintance of a suspect. Nevertheless, they told the Americans that Mr. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, were dangerous al-Qaeda associates.
Mr. Zaccardelli's memo says a number of changes are already under way to improve anti-terrorist operations. These include stronger central co-ordination of investigations, better training "that more accurately reflects the current threat environment," and clearer instructions on how Mounties share information with other governments and within Canada.
The commissioner also said the RCMP is trying to improve relations with various ethnic groups through outreach programs. "Our history is one of making things right. That will continue this week and in the weeks to come."
Ordinarily, parliamentary committees schedule an hour to hear from each government witness. Mr. Zaccardelli is slotted in for two hours because MPs said they have many questions for him.
It is important to televise the hearings for the public interest, NDP MP Joe Comartin, a committee member, said yesterday at the panel's first fall organizing meeting.
Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, another committee member, said he does not want the committee to lose sight of Judge O'Connor's recommendation for a government review of three other Canadian Muslim men, who were held in the same Syrian prison as Mr. Arar and tortured.
A UN human-rights panel also called on Canada to investigate the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin.
Committee chairman Garry Breitkreuz said MPs could discuss whether to take up these cases after hearing from Mr. Day and Mr. Zaccardelli this week.

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