Amnesty International welcomes compensation and apology for Canada’s role in the torture and other human rights violations endured by Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin
Amnesty International welcomes the announcement that settlement has been reached and the federal government will provide Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin with compensation, including an official apology, for Canada’s role in the grave human rights violations, including torture, that the three men experienced in Syria, and also Egypt in Mr. Abou-Elmaati’s case, between 2001 and 2004. The organization pays tribute to the three men and their families for all that they have endured.
“It has been a long and difficult journey to justice for Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. Central and fundamental to the international human rights system is the right to an effective remedy for terrible violations such as torture,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English branch. “These three men and their families were courageous in pursuing their right to redress despite the many obstacles they have faced. They deserve gratitude and respect from all Canadians for their steadfast determination. This compensation and the apology will now help them to recover and rebuild their lives. It will also send a strong message that what was done to them cannot and must not ever be done to others.”
A judicial inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci for close to 18 months in proceedings held almost entirely behind closed doors, examined the question of whether “deficient conduct” by Canadian officials had contributed to the human rights violations experienced by the three men. The Iacobucci Report, released in October 2008, documented numerous such examples of action and inaction by the RCMP, CSIS and diplomatic officials.
Rather than move promptly to provide appropriate redress, including an apology, the former government forced the three men into protracted and contentious litigation that advanced slowly for more than eight years. Following the October 2015 election, serious mediation involving several government departments and the Prime Minister’s Office finally proceeded, picking up pace in recent months.
“It has been between 13 and 15 years since Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin’s nightmares of torture and other human rights abuse in Syria and Egypt began. It has been more than 8 years since former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci’s judicial inquiry into their cases catalogued the litany of Canadian action and inaction that set them up for abuse,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Directrice Générale of Amnistie internationale Canada francophone. “The announcement of an apology and compensation is tremendous news. What they were put through for so many years to reach this point is unconscionable.”
Amnesty International commends the federal government for having reached a fair settlement with these three men. The organization is urging the government to now proceed promptly with settlement in other cases involving national security-related human rights violations, such as Omar Khadr’s, and also to adopt a range of measures that will strengthen Canada’s laws, policies and practices with respect to the absolute ban on torture.
“In providing redress and an apology to these three men, the federal government has recognized it was on the wrong side of the unconditional prohibition on torture. That should be the catalyst for further action that makes it clear Canada will never countenance torture or be complicit in its occurrence,” said Alex Neve. “Similar settlement must now follow in other cases, notably Omar Khadr’s. And a range of reforms are needed in our immigration laws, intelligence sharing practices and review mechanisms for national security agencies, to be sure Canada is never again directly or indirectly involved in or tied to torture. That is particularly urgent now, with concerns about whether a Donald Trump presidency may tolerate or even authorize torture by the national security agencies of our closest ally.”
“This important step forward should also fuel Canada’s effort to work against torture globally. Last May former Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced that Canada would at long last accede to an important torture prevention treaty, the 2002 Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which puts in place a prison inspection regime designed to identify and stamp out the conditions that lead to torture,” noted Béatrice Vaugrante. “Discussions among federal, provincial and territorial governments should now be expedited. The sooner Canada signs on to the Optional Protocol, the sooner we can push other governments, with notorious records of torture, to open their prisons to scrutiny.”
The Iacobucci Inquiry clearly documented extensive complicity on the part of Canadian officials in the arrest and continued imprisonment of these three Canadian citizens, putting them at risk of torture. That included telling U.S., Syrian and Egyptian agencies that they had ties to terrorism, allegations which Justice Iacobucci characterized as "lacking investigative foundation" and being "inaccurate" and "misleading". Both the RCMP and CSIS devised questions to be asked of the men by interrogators in Syria – where all three were initially detained – and also Egypt in Mr. Abou-Elmaati’s case. Some of those questions were handed directly to Syrian military intelligence on behalf of CSIS and the RCMP by Canada’s Ambassador in Syria at the time. Upon receipt of answers to questions, the RCMP and CSIS wrote more questions to be passed on to interrogators. The information obtained from these interrogations under torture was used to justify search warrants here in Canada. RCMP and CSIS officials also thwarted or undermined efforts to win the release and return to Canada of the three men.
The plight of these three men was similar to and, in some aspects, connected to the case of Maher Arar, whose experience of rendition from the United States to unlawful imprisonment and torture in Syria, was the subject of an earlier judicial inquiry held between 2004 and 2006 examining the responsibility of Canadian officials. Justice Dennis O’Connor’s report from the Arar Inquiry noted significant concern about the Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin cases and urged that they be independently reviewed. That led the former government to call the judicial inquiry headed by Justice Iacobucci. Mr. Arar received compensation and an official apology in February 2007.
The cases had also attracted concern at the level of expert United Nations human rights bodies. Notably, in 2012 the UN Committee against Torture called on the federal government to “take immediate steps to ensure that Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin receive redress, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation.”
Amnesty International had campaigned for justice for these three men since first becoming aware of the circumstances of Mr. Almalki’s illegal detention in Syria and Mr. Abou-Elmaati’s in Egypt, while they were still imprisoned in those countries in late 2003; and immediately following Mr. Nureddin’s release and return to Canada in January 2004. The organization actively supported their call for an inquiry into their cases, and was granted intervenor status at the judicial inquiry that was held over the course of 2007 and 2008. Amnesty International made written and oral submissions to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2005 and 2015 and the UN Committee against Torture in 2012 and 2013 about the failure to redress the serious human rights violations they experienced. Mr. Almalki’s case was featured prominently in Canadian materials associated with Amnesty International’s worldwide Stop Torture campaign between 2014 and 2016. Amnesty International commented frequently in national and international media coverage of the cases.
Numerous civil society groups were actively involved in campaigning on these cases over many years. Author and activist Kerry Pither played a central role in leading and coordinating those efforts, and was instrumental in ensuring the cases were taken up in Parliament. Her 2008 book, Dark Days: The story of four Canadians tortured in the name of fighting terror, is an invaluable overview of the three cases and Maher Arar’s.
Over the course of their struggles to be released from prison, to be able to return to Canada, to obtain answers and accountability through the judicial inquiry, and finally to receive redress for what they and their families endured, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin have been represented by numerous lawyers, most of whom have provided pro bono assistance or representation at greatly reduced rates. In their 9-year suit for compensation and an apology, they have been represented by Phil Tunley, Andrea Gonsalves, Paul Le Vay and others at Stockwoods LLP; assisted by Barbara Jackman, Hadayt Nazami, Marlys Edwardh and Shirley Heafey. Other lawyers who played key roles at earlier stages include Paul Copeland, Jasminka Kalajdzic, Breese Davies and John Norris. Amnesty International expresses tremendous appreciation for the determined efforts of all legal counsel who assisted these three men in their long struggle for justice.
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