WHAT IS THIS INQUIRY ABOUT?
The Inquiry concerns the detention and torture of three Canadian citizens in Syria and in the case of one of the men, also Egypt.
Abdullah Almalki is a Canadian engineer who was imprisoned in May 2002 when he traveled to Syria to visit his grandmother. He was arrested after Canadian officials sent false information to Syrian authorities alleging that he was a terrorist threat. Mr. Almalki was imprisoned for 22 months and brutally tortured. In July 2004 he was acquitted of all charges and returned to Canada.
Ahmad Abou-Elmaati is a dual Canadian-Egyptian citizen. He was imprisoned in November 2001 when he traveled to Syria to be married. He spent two months in Syrian prison before being transferred to Egypt. In both Syria and Egypt, he was held in inhumane conditions and endured torture and ill treatment during interrogations.
Muayyed Nureddin is a dual Canadian-Iraqi citizen. In December 2003, he travelled to Syria from Iraq on his way home to Toronto. He was arrested at the border, detained in degrading conditions, and tortured over the course of 33 days of imprisonment.
Amnesty International first met individually with each of Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin soon after their return from Syria and Egypt. They spoke in detail about their experiences of torture and the frequent violation of their human rights. They spoke of being held in abysmal conditions while in detention in countries that Amnesty International has recognized as flagrant violators of human rights. They also spoke of their concerns about the role that Canadian officials may have played in their detention and subsequent torture.
On 7 June 2005, Amnesty International wrote to Prime Minister Paul Martin urging that he appoint an Independent Expert to carry out a detailed review of Canadian complicity in the cases of Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, Nureddin. The letter was sent in the context of the Inquiry into the case of Maher Arar, who was renditioned to and tortured in Syria in 2002. Amnesty International had raised the cases of the three men during the Arar Inquiry (to read more about our contributions to the Arar Inquiry, click here). The Arar Inquiry reports released in September and December 2006 revealed that Canadian officials contributed to Mr. Arar’s mistreatment in Syria through irresponsible information sharing practices and by sending questions to Syrian authorities to ask during interrogations using torture. Given the similarities in Messrs’ Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin’s cases to that of Mr. Arar, the Arar Inquiry report called for the three men’s cases to be examined as well.
In light of the revelations in and recommendations of the Arar Inquiry report, on 11 December 2006, the Canadian government called an inquiry into whether Canadian officials directly or indirectly contributed to Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, Nureddin’s detention and torture in Syria (and, in Mr. Nureddin’s case, Egypt as well). Unlike the Arar Inquiry, however, the Inquiry into the cases of Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin was characterized as a “internal” inquiry, where proceedings were to occur in private unless portions in public were “essential to ensure the effective conduct of the inquiry.” The Governor in Council appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci as Commissioner for the Inquiry.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S INTERVENTION
As an intervener, Amnesty International provided recommendations on the procedures applied in the Iacobucci Inquiry, comprehensive submissions on international human rights standards applicable to the cases of Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin, and how those standards should inform the Commissioner’s recommendations.
Throughout the Inquiry, Amnesty International pushed for the Commission to put in place a process to assess the allegations of torture made by the three men in a manner sensitive to their trauma, fair, comprehensive, and supported by the assessment of recognized experts on torture. In our final submissions we presented extensive principles and standards that should apply when interviewing survivors of gross human rights violations including torture.
Unlike the Arar Inquiry, the Iacobucci Inquiry process took place almost entirely in secret, excluding not only the public and interveners, but also Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin. Amnesty International argued that this secrecy impaired the interveners’ ability to engage in the Inquiry process in a meaningful manner and eroded public trust in the process. The secrecy of the proceedings suggested a presumption that the Canadian government had reasonable grounds to suspect the men were threats to the security of Canada and/or had been involved in the possible commission of terrorism offences. This secrecy created a very real potential to re-traumatize or otherwise cause psychological distress to the three men, making them feel isolated, marginalized, and defenseless.
In October 2007, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch made a formal request for greater disclosure of information to the three men. Commissioner Iacobucci denied the request.
In our formal submissions to the Inquiry, Amnesty International argued that actions of the Canadian government should at all times be in accordance with Canada’s obligations under international human rights law, including the obligation to uphold the absolute prohibition of the use of torture and ill treatment. Under Canadian and international human rights law, Canada can under no circumstances be complicit, or otherwise participate, instigate, consent to, or acquiesce in the use of torture. Further, Canadian officials – including consular officials – operating in the name of the Canadian government, have positive obligation to prevent torture from occurring, to protect the rights of Canadian citizens detained abroad, and to redress acts of torture by providing effective remedies to victims.
In our submissions, Amnesty International argued that Canadian officials ought to have known that their actions would directly or indirectly result in Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin being detained and mistreated given that extensive reports were readily available at the time outlining human rights violations occurring in Syria and Egypt. Officials should have been aware that in cases involving threats to national security in Syria and Egypt, arbitrary detention was commonplace and torture of detainees was routine. The Inquiry proceedings revealed that Canadian officials repeatedly sought out opportunities to share information gathered in their investigations into possible Canadian terrorists with governments that flagrantly violate human rights, including Syria, Egypt, and the United States.
Amnesty International highlighted a long list of actions of Canadian officials that were deficient and incompatible with international human rights norms. The deficiencies demonstrated that Canadian officials showed a reckless and, at times, intentional disregard for international human rights legal obligations that most certainly contributed to the detention and torture and ill treatment experienced by the three men.
Amnesty International argued that Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin have a well-established right to an effective remedy and reparations under international human rights law. We strongly urged the Commissioner to make a clear statement in his final report highlighting that the men were never criminally charged in Syria, Egypt, or in Canada; to state that they were erroneously labeled as terrorists and security threats; and that those labels and the actions of Canadian officials contributed to their detention and mistreatment in Syria and Egypt. If the Commissioner was not prepared to make such statements, Amnesty International argued that he should recommend that a fair process be adopted under which the men would be informed of the evidence and allegations against them and be provided with a meaningful opportunity to respond.
Our submissions also emphasized that an effective remedy requires that the Canadian government implement the recommendations from the Arar Inquiry, and take measures to ensure that it complies fully with international human rights law and implements rigorous internal policies to prevent torture.
STATUS OF THE INQUIRY
Commissioner Iacobucci released his report in October 2008. He unequivocally found that the three men were tortured in Syria (and in Mr. Nureddin’s case, Egypt as well), and documented the many ways that “deficient” conduct by Canadian officials contributed to the grave human rights violations the men experienced.
Two years later, Commissioner Iacobucci also released a Supplement to the Public Report, which contained information that he could not disclose at the time the public report was released because of government claims of national security confidentiality. After subsequent consultations and discussions, Commissioner Iacobucci was able to release additional information regarding the actions of Canadian officials in the cases of the three men.
Following the release of Commissioner Iacobucci’s report, Amnesty International wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging the Canadian government to:
- Apologize and provide appropriate compensation to Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nurredin and their families;
- Ensure appropriate disciplinary, criminal, or other action to ensure accountability of Canadian officials responsible for human rights violations of Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, Nureddin, and Arar;
- Implement and report on progress in implementing the Arar Inquiry recommendations;
- Establish a new model for review of the activities of Canada’s national security agencies;
- Lodge an official complaint with the Syrian and Egyptian governments regarding the human rights abuses they inflicted on Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, Nureddin, and Arar;
- Actively consider laying criminal charges against appropriate Syrian and Egyptian officials under the Canadian Criminal Code;
- Ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture; and
- Work with affected individuals and concerned organizations to develop a bold, comprehensive, Canadian-led “Agenda to End Torture” which contains both domestic and international initiatives.
On 25 November 2008, Amnesty International wrote to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to take up as an urgent priority the Arar and Iacobucci Inquiry reports.
On 10 February 2010, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, concerned about the “serious deficiencies uncovered by [the Arar and Iacobucci Inquiries] and the risks of not addressing them by fully implementing all the resulting recommendations”, decided to review the government’s progress in responding to the two Inquiry reports. Amnesty International provided oral submissions to the Committee during its review, stressing the need for improved oversight and review of national security activities, implementing the findings of the two Inquiry reports, and ensuring accountability for the human rights violations that occurred, including providing redress to the men affected.
In its report, the Committee urged the government to immediately implement the recommendations of the Arar Inquiry report; to immediately issue regular public reports on the progress made in implementing the findings and recommendations of the two Inquiry reports; to provide an official apology and compensation to Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin; to issue a clear ministerial directive against torture and the use of information obtained from torture; and to introduce a mechanism for review and oversight of the actions of national security agencies. Amnesty International sent a letter to Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan urging him to comply with the Committee’s recommendations.
In 2009, a House of Commons motion called on the government to apologize and provide compensation to Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin. In 2012, the UN Committee against Torture called on Canada to apologize and provide compensation to the three men as well. Despite these calls, government lawyers continued to oppose and obstruct the men’s bid for justice in court, forcing them into protracted litigation for more than eight years. During those years, Amnesty International continued to call on the Canadian government to apologize for and redress what was done to Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin through letters to the government, media, and before UN Committees. For example, we profiled their cases in our 2012 submissions to the UN Committee against Torture, which called on Canada to provide Messrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin with an affective remedy. We also highlighted their case in Amnesty International’s 2015 submissions to the UN Human Rights Committee during Canada’s sixth periodic review of its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Following the October 2015 election, serious mediation involving several government departments and the Prime Minister’s Office finally proceeded. In March 2017, a settlement was reached between the federal government and Mssrs. Almalki, Elmaati, and Nureddin, which included compensation and an official apology for Canada’s role in the grave human rights violations the three men endured.
Amnesty International continues to advocate for the full implementation of the Arar Inquiry recommendations. In January 2015, the government tabled Bill C-51, a drastic and very troubling overhaul to Canada’s national security laws. Contrary to the recommendations of the Arar Inquiry report, changes introduced in Bill C-51 drastically expanded the powers of Canada’s national security agencies to collect, share, and act on national security intelligence without providing for an acceptable increase in oversight and review of their actions. To learn more about Amnesty International’s work related to Bill C-51, click here.
Amnesty International’s motion to participate in the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Elmaati, and Mr. Nureddin (14 March 2007)
Amnesty International submissions in support of our application for participation in the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Elmaati, and Mr. Nureddin (21 March 2007)
Affidavit of Alex Neve in support of Amnesty International’s application for participation in the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Elmaati, and Mr. Nureddin
Commissioner Iacobucci’s Ruling on Participation and Funding granting Amnesty International intervenor status (2 April 2007)
Letter from the Intervenors to the Commissioner highlighting concerns about the secrecy of the process and the importance of public hearings; including intervenor contributions “on the record”; making suggestions for expanding the list of relevant individuals to be interviewed; stressing the importance of examining whether there was any evidentiary basis for labelling the three men as security threats; and raising concerns about government involvement in the process of interviewing the three men about their torture (22 August 2007)
Letter from the Intervenors to the Commissioner highlighting ongoing concerns about being kept “off the record” in the proceedings; alarm over the secrecy of the process and stressing the importance of public hearings; and concerns about government involvement in the process of interviewing the three me about their torture (17 September 2007)
Amnesty International Submissions to the Iacobucci Inquiry: Avoid Complicity, Provide Protection: International Human Rights Standards Applicable to the Review of the Conduct of Canadian Officials in the Cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin (25 January 2008)
Justice Must be Served: Final Submission of Amnesty International to the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Amhad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nurredin (21 June 2008)
Further Submissions of Amnesty International (3 October 2008)
Appendices to the Iacobucci Inquiry Report (October 2008)
Amnesty International’s Letter to Members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security and Members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (25 November 2008)
Amnesty International’s letter to Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews (31 October 2011)
“Canada must do more to stop torture” (17 May 2012)
“Canada – Time to match international commitments with national action” (19 December 2012)
“Time for Consistent Action – Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for Canada” (18 December 2013)
“Security reform should protect our freedom” (3 November 2014)
“National Security Reform: Time to embrace human rights” (10 March 2015)
“C-51 Hearings: Government isn’t listening, we need to speak louder” (13 March 2015)
“Maher Arar: A timeline of Amnesty International’s campaigning” (2 September 2015)
“It’s time for a human rights based approach to national security” (19 October 2016)
“Canada: National Security and Human Rights Report Released” (29 October 2015)
“12 ways to rebuild Canada’s human rights record in 2016” (4 January 2016)
“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” (17 March 2017)