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Canadian Suing Government for Overseas Torture Says C-51 Another 'Injustice'

Abdullah Almalki is suing the government for $100-million after the RCMP called him a terrorist and he was detained and tortured in Syria.

Abdullah Almalki, is fighting in Federal Court to access secret national security documents relating to his 2002 rendition and torture in Syria. Photo via Abdullah Almalki

As a debate over anti-terror bill C-51 rages on in Ottawa, across the province another battle is taking place; this one in Toronto over access to secret RCMP and CSIS records about the overseas detainment and torture of a Canadian citizen.


Syrian-Canadian engineer, Abdullah Almalki, is fighting in Federal Court to access secret national security documents relating to his 2002 rendition and torture in Syria while the government is trying to protect its reputation both at home and abroad.

In a court hearing on Friday, council for the Attorney General of Canada, Lorne Ptack, said Almalki and his lawyers have gathered an "unprecedented" 23,000 memos, emails, reports and records from the RCMP and CSIS, of which approximately 6,000 are partially or wholly redacted.

Almalki wants to lift the black in order to get a more fulsome idea of Canada's role in his ordeal and try to hold the government accountable for what happened 13 years ago.

"When I came back [to Canada] one activist, who was very active on Maher Arar's case, told me 'When I heard your story the first time I thought you were bluffing…we can't be that bad," says Almalki, who lives in Ottawa with his family and did not attend the hearing.

The second lawyer for the Attorney General, Derek Rasmussen, argued that Canada relies on sharing intelligence and completely disclosing the documents could be "injurious" to that process. Publicly releasing national security documents in order to seek justice for what was done in the past was not worth jeopardizing Canada's interests in the future, he said.

The Federal Court in Toronto. Photo via Emma Jarratt

The presiding judge for the case, Justice Mosley, challenged that view saying, "It's not about a civil action where the plaintiffs are just seeking damages. They are seeking to hold accountable Canadian agents who…arguably operated outside international law."


In 2001 Almalki was labeled a terrorist during an RCMP investigation called Project "A" O Canada.

Despite some inspectors reporting on more than one occasion they could not tie him to any terrorist activity, the RCMP shared information about Almalki with international police bodies calling him "an imminent threat" and linking him to Osama Bin Laden.

In 2002, Almalki was detained while visiting family in Damascus. He spent two years in Syrian military prisons enduring brutal interrogations about his suspected terror links in Canada. He vowed to seek justice when he got out.

Part of that justice process is Almalki's civil suit against the government. He is suing for $100 million in damages and a formal apology.

The government has avoided granting either even though the Iacobucci Inquiry, released in 2008, cleared Almalki—and two other men also detained in Syria—of any terror involvement. The inquiry pointed to the RCMP's behaviour as something that may have indirectly impacted Almalki's treatment overseas.

"When [the Syrians] were asking me questions one time they said 'We got these questions from the Canadians. We need your answers for them,'" says Almalki. "And they tortured me for the answers."

Almalki's team believes there is still more to be known about the RCMP's suspected complicity in the torture of Canadian detainees.

The Attorney General says the documents should remain secret for "national security."


But Friday's hearing was the last time Almalki's team will have a direct say in the legal proceedings about the redacted records.

Because of the sensitive nature of the documents the debate is now being moved, in camera.

Only Justice Richard Mosley, the presiding judge on the case, the lawyers for the government and a court appointed advocate for Almalki—who is not allowed to share information from the closed sessions—are allowed to hear the remaining arguments.

After this final phase will Justice Mosley make his decision on whether or not to uphold or remove the redactions.

Some of the information to be disclosed in camera are facts Almalki and his lawyers aren't allowed to know—possibly ever. They could include details about CSIS or RCMP sources, investigative techniques or disclosures about what the redacted documents say, but no one knows for sure.

The RMCP declined an interview request, but agreed to provide a written comment to VICE's questions about the balance between security operations and Canadian's rights.

"The RCMP uses a number of investigative techniques, all of which are compliant with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Greg Cox wrote in an email.

"The investigations and techniques used by the RCMP are lawful and balance public safety with Canadians' individual rights and freedoms. Our investigative techniques, depending on the level of intrusiveness, are only implemented after seeking judicial approval."


It's that last practice some legal experts are concerned will only become more prevalent if C-51 is passed because its wording invites judges to allow the RCMP to infringe on people's rights, rather than keep them in check.

"It's drawing judges into the wrong side of government," says Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International and a human rights lawyer who has spoken out against the bill's legal implications for Canadians' rights.

"I am stunned. And it's not easy to stun me. I can't think of anything else in Canadian law ever that is as ominous and troubling."

For Almalki though C-51 is just another disappointment in over 12 years of being stonewalled and denied justice in Canada.

"It's one oppression after another. One injustice after another," he says.

"it's not easy to say that you are not treated as an equal citizen."