ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Jeremy Kinsman was Canada's ambassador to the European Union from 2002 until his retirement earlier this year. Before that he was high commissioner to London as well as ambassador to Russia and Italy. He joined Canada's foreign service in 1966 and currently resides on Vancouver Island.
Another surprisingly tart response to David Wilkins remarks about Day asking for Arar to be taken off the no-fly list. The large award given to Arar contrasts with the treatment Arar continues to suffer at the hands of the US.
I sometimes wonder if all this is not a plot to boost the popularity of Harper and Day both right wing reactionaries and pro-US and in favor of friendlier relations and closer links to US foreign policy--for the most part. Harper has spoken out on the northwest passage as being Canadian waters rather than international.
From one ambassador to another: Mr. Wilkins, cut the bull
Jan. 26, 2007
Cut the bull, Mr. Ambassador. That's how my mother's family in South Texas would react to pompous indignation like that of U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins.
Once again he slammed Canadian efforts to have Maher Arar taken off the U.S. watch list as a suspected terrorist, observing it was "a little presumptuous" of Canada to try to tell the U.S. who it could let into its country.
Wilkins' remarks are especially galling now that the O'Connor inquiry has revealed that "Canadian investigators made extensive efforts to find any information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities" and "… found none."
Wilkins impresses no one with his loaded statement that "three U.S. agencies" did a full review of the Arar file and found "their own reasons" to keep the Canadian software engineer on America's watch list.
"Their own reasons," eh? One wonders what those reasons might be.
Scent of McCarthyism
Of course, Wilkins' public statements continue to victimize Arar. But his pain at being on a no-fly list is nothing compared to the pain of being tortured in a Syrian jail for almost a year after U.S. authorities sent him there on October 8, 2002 on a chartered flight paid for by the U.S. Department of Justice.
We all accept that Canadians were in part responsible for that horrible event. The RCMP, sadly, has a long history of making uneducated guesses on international and counter-intelligence files, which is why CSIS was created in 1984.
Still smarting over their lost mandate, it seems, the Mounties again jumped to unwarranted conclusions on Arar, which were conveyed to the U.S.
Though Canadian authorities tried to self-correct, there would be no relenting from a U.S. security machine eager to chalk up political wins, and it would require Canada to negotiate directly with Syria in order to gain Arar's eventual release in 2003.
Ambassador Wilkins suggests that Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and, by extension, Canadians generally are "presumptuous" to question what the U.S. has on Arar.
To some Canadians, this reeks of McCarthyism. Heck, we don't have to go that far back to question the merits of intelligence claims from an outfit that started and entirely screwed up a war on the basis of information from the likes of Ahmad Chalabi, a wealthy Iraqi ex-pat with overblown ambitions. Remember the junk the honourable Colin Powell was made to present the world on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction at the UN Security Council?
Presuming what exactly
In the innocent days prior to 9/11, one of Paul Martin's memorable lines as finance minister was his sceptical reaction to an appropriations request for a big increase in the Canadian intelligence budget.
At the time, Martin noted that the U.S. spends billions on intelligence and still hasn't a clue, whereas Canada gets the same result for nothing.
Obviously, today we take terrorism more seriously and respect the burden and responsibility of the U.S. But Ambassador Wilkins and his righteous indignation are not helping the cause.
Well, I do dare to presume that the damning innuendo on Maher Arar coming from the U.S. ambassador as well as the U.S. attorney general has little to do with intelligence and a lot to do with the fact that Arar has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government.
While Arar is suing for real money — and getting nowhere (the U.S. has invoked the rarely used "states secret" law) — Washington has generously settled some egregious cases of mistaken identity involving U.S. citizens who had been placed on watch lists without justification.
The problem with the Arar suit, however, is that its judicial disposition could constitute a nightmarish precedent of liability for Washington from who knows how many other foreign citizens who have been seized, rendered and imprisoned, including the hundreds held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
A precedent here
The whole episode recalls the ferocious defence that the CIA and U.S. department of justice lawyers mounted in the early 1980s to block a lawsuit on behalf of those elderly Canadians who had suffered from clandestine CIA financing of brainwashing experiments in the 1950's and 60's at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal.
Then, the U.S. would not settle any claim higher than a minimal "nuisance" level because of the implications such acceptance of responsibility would have for any other claims from foreigners who could demonstrate harm at the hands of the CIA, from the widow of Chile's Salvador Allende on down.
Then, too, the U.S. claimed there was a counterpart Canadian responsibility, as is the case now with Arar. The Canadian department of justice took a long time to admit responsibility. But eventually there was a deal and a limited form of justice — the Canadian side made an ex gratia payment (without obligation) and the American government followed suit.
Twenty years later, Justice Dennis O'Connor has recommended a similar Canadian payment to Arar. The Canadian government is this time out front in acknowledging what went wrong on our part.
The U.S. admits nothing. For it, the stakes are too high.
It may be reprehensible, but it's an understandable legal defence strategy. Sooner or later, the truth will come out because a Democratic-controlled Congress is going to bring it out and Maher Arar will be compensated.
What isn't acceptable is to be lectured to about "presumption."
So, as one (former) ambassador to another, Mr. Wilkins, give us a break. Cut the bull.