Abdullah Almalki will join panel discussion tonight at W2 via Skype to discuss lessons from 9/11
An Ottawa man who was jailed and tortured in Syria says that Canada's security services and police agencies haven't learned much over the past decade.
This is despite two commissions of inquiry highlighting the role they played in Muslim men ending up being brutally mistreated in a Syrian prison by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
"The RCMP and CSIS and other government agencies knew decades ago what the Assad regime does to people," Syrian-born Canadian Abdullah Almalki told the Georgia Straight by phone. "Yet they had absolutely no problem having them as their partners, subcontracting torture and interrogation to them—having them detain me and detain others as well."
He claimed that agencies continue to rely on evidence obtained through torture.
Almalki, an engineer held for 22 months in Syria between 2002 and 2004, will participate via Skype in a panel discusison this evening called "What has changed since September 11, 2001" at 7 p.m. at W2 Community Media Arts (111 West Hastings Street).
Other speakers include the editor of Islam in the Hinterlands: Muslim Cultural Politics in Canada, Jasmin Zine, PhD student and broadcaster Alnoor Gova, broadcaster and queer-rights and environmental advocate Imtiaz Popat, and First Nations activist Kat Norris.
In 2008, a closed-door inquiry headed by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci concluded that Canadian officials indirectly contributed to the Syrian government incarcerating Almalki and fellow Canadians Ahded El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. According to Iacobucci's report, the treatment met the United Nations definition of torture.
One document released by the inquiry stated that a task force was "presently finding it difficult to establish anything on him other than the fact that he is an arab [sic] running around".
Almalki characterized the document as "racist".
"I filed a lawsuit since 2006," Almalki said. "By the way, that lawsuit was put on hold when the Iacobucci inquiry was established on the government's request on the agreement—the written agreement—that they would be negotiating a settlement after the Iacobucci report was released. And the government did not honour that."
The trio were kept in the same Syrian prison as Canadian Maher Arar, who was awarded $10 million after a commission of inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O'Connor determined that Canadian investigators had no evidence Arar was connected to terrorism.
Almalki couldn't explain why Arar received compensation, but the three others were left high and dry.
"The answer lies with the government," Almalki said. "What we know for a fact is that the RCMP, CSIS, and external affairs and other departments were way more complicit in my case and Ahmed's case, for example, than in Maher's case."
He added that Arar received consular visits while in prison, whereas he wasn't afforded this opportunity. "But why did they treat the cases differently?" Almalki asked. "I don't know. That's a question that they should be answering."
Almalki formerly worked for Human Concern International, which is a registered charity that once employed the father of Omar Khadr, Ahmad Said Khadr. Almalki quit in 1994, telling CSIS later that this was as a result of disagreements, and that they hadn't been in contact since.
When asked if this might explain what happened to him, he replied that it looked to him as though "pure racism" was at the root of the issue. He noted that he was cleared in two investigations prior to 9/11, including one that included Canada Revenue Agency poking through his business.
"They concluded the investigation and they found that there was nothing," Almalki said. "They knew there was nothing. That investigation was concluded, I think, September 4, 2001, just a week before 9/11."
Later, he declared, Canadian authorities' documents informed the Syrians that he was "an imminent threat to the public safety and security of Canada".
"Their secret document says one thing and what they shared with international agencies in other countries was totally another thing," he maintained. "That's something they have to answer. They haven't answered it yet."
After the Libyan revolution, damning documents were released showing how Moammar Gadhafi had been working with western governments. However, Almalki doesn't expect this to occur if the Syrian regime falls.
"They learned from Libya that these documents came out," he commented. "There is still a Canadian detained in Syria as we speak now. He has been there for five years. They learn how to hide these things."