Canada Reporter’s Home Raided Over Al Qaeda Story
by Randall Palmer, Reuters, January 21, 2004
OTTAWA – Police raided the home and office of an Ottawa journalist on Wednesday to investigate possible leaks of classified information about a Syrian-born Canadian who was deported to Syria by the United States, suspected of ties to al Qaeda.
The police action, which the Ottawa Citizen’s publisher said “smacks of a police state mentality,” came on the day that Maher Arar’s lawyers said their client planned to launch a lawsuit against the United States in New York on Thursday over his deportation.
Arar had been changing planes in New York on his way back to Canada in 2002 when he was arrested and sent to Syria, where he says he was tortured before being sent back to Canada last year. He denies any involvement with terrorist groups.
The United States has said it was tipped off to Arar by Canadian security officials, prompting demands for inquiries into whether Canada had helped send one of its citizens off to a Middle Eastern torture chamber.
Two investigations are already under way into whether the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Canada’s spy agency had given information to Washington about Arar.
Wednesday’s raids by 10 Mounties on the home and office of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O’Neill added another layer to the investigations.
The police search warrant alleges O’Neill violated provisions of the Security of Information Act, which makes it a crime to communicate, receive or possess leaked secret government documents.
It refers to a Nov. 8 Citizen article in which she reported on documents she said had been leaked by Canadian security officials on whether Arar had engaged in terrorist activities.ween Arar and a suspected Ottawa-based al Qaeda cell.
Arar’s spokeswoman, Kerry Pither, said the RCMP could not be expected to find a solution.
“The whole affair started with the RCMP. First they whispered to the Americans that Maher Arar was a terrorist, which led to his deportation and torture,” she said.
“Then the RCMP tried to smear Maher Arar by whispering the same allegations to journalists. Now it’s raiding journalists’ offices as if journalists are the problem.”
Police took notebooks and clippings and downloaded the hard drives from O’Neill’s computers. Citizen Editor Scott Anderson said he expected police would lay charges against her.
“If they decide to charge Julie O’Neill, this will be a full frontal assault on freedom of the press,” Citizen lawyer Richard Dearden said.
CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the Ottawa Citizen, said it had won an agreement to seal the material until it can challenge the action in court. But it said the police actions were an affront.
“The raid this morning on Juliet O’ Neill’s home smacks of a police state mentality that one might equate with the former Soviet Union rather than a Canadian democracy,” CanWest News President Gordon Fisher said.
“This is truly frightening,” said Jack Layton of the opposition New Democratic Party, which has complained loudest about the Arar affair.
The case has soured ties with Washington and put pressure on Prime Minister Paul Martin, who has so far ruled out a public inquiry.
Martin raised the Arar case with President Bush last week and got an agreement that Washington would consult Ottawa before deporting Canadians to third countries.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Grant M