For background information, see Canadian Report’s Home Raided
An Interview with Juliet O’Neill
Evan Solomon: Juliet, just take me through the sequence. Eight o?clock, just tell me what happened from your point of view. You?re in bed – just quickly walk me through it. So what happens?
Juliet O’Neill: I’m lying in bed listening to the radio, the doorbell rings, I’m not expecting anyone, so I peek out my blinds, and see cars-full of people, shadowy people, figures. And immediately I knew they were police cars, no one was blocking the driveway as well. Went to the side window and looked out and saw men in black standing on the doorstep. And the bell was ringing, I guess, because I peeked out the window, they knew I was home. So I thought I’m not answering my door without taking a shower and getting dressed. And I actually had a wild hope by the time I was out of the shower, they?d be gone.
I had a shower and got dressed and by then the phone was ringing and the doorbell was “Ding, ding, ding, ding,” so I thought I better not take the time to dry my hair. Came downstairs, opened the front blind so that they would know I was coming to the door, and I went to the door and asked them "Who are you? Who am I looking at?" And they showed me the RCMP ID. So I opened the door. Three of them came in, filling out my little entryway, and I felt kind of intimidated.."stifled" would be a better word. The last one went to close the door tightly and I pulled it open, I didn’t want to be inside with the door closed with them.
They pulled out the search warrant, pulled out a tape recorder, and I said I didn’t want to go any further without calling a lawyer. I called the Citizen lawyer, I was read the warrant, they taped it as well, he pulled out a card, read my rights, and I?d already called the lawyer, so it was redundant, but they have to do that. They explained that this was a high-level investigation into a secret document pertaining to Maher Arar.
and that I was subject to the warrant because I had written a story for the Ottawa Citizen on Nov 8. and that was all specified in the warrant as well. They explained what was going to happen, that a group of investigators would come into the house and search.
I phoned my editor, let him know what was happening, my editor phoned back pretty quickly and told me what my rights were, and the most important part was to make sure they put anything they were taking away in a sealed container, sealed plastic envelopes. He then told me that the lawyer was on the way.
They began assembling. They didn’t actually start the search until I indicated the lawyer was on the way and so on, they explained that they would conduct the search throughout the house at the same time in each room. There were 10 of them, I have six rooms here, so there was more than one per each room.
First thing they did was asked me to take them to my lap-top computer, so I went upstairs to my office and asked them what was the rush, and they said “We have to take you off-line.” And I said I have the dial-up connection, and I’m not on line. And they said “We have to verify that,” and unplug everything. And the officer, one of the two women, actually told me that she also has the dial-up connection at home, and she said “I sit in front of the computer all day so I really don’t need anything more than a dial-up at home."
The three of them came into the office upstairs, and one of them started raffling through my books and files immediately. One of them attacked my computer, and it was so crowded up there that they ended up taking my laptop downstairs–two of them worked on the computer, to my dining room table. I remember seeing this cute little box of miniature tools and -the strange things that go through your head-I remember thinking “Oh, that’s so cute.” And then realizing what they were doing with it, they were taking the back off my computer and peering at it very closely.
Evan Solomon: They were copying your hard drive.
Juliet O’Neill: They were copying my hard drive. The first thing I had said to them when they did take me upstairs was “Please don’t take my laptop, it’s my life, it’s my work, I can’t live without it.” And they said “We won’t take it if we can copy the hard drive.” And of course, they took away two copies of my hard drive, as a matter of fact
Evan Solomon: Then they went through all your stuff, personal letters?
Juliet O’Neill: They went through all my stuff, including a little box of treasured mementos, birthday cards, anniversary, receipts from plays and love letters from James, my partner, who writes beautiful love letters, I?ve kept all of them. They went through all my old postcards and personal letters from a few years ago. Most of my friends, we now communicate through email, so I actually don’t have much current snail mail around.
They went through my clothes, and when I was upstairs, I moved around the house as much as I could to see exactly what they were doing. When I went past the dressing room, I saw a woman rifling through my underwear drawer, I was quite” and my heart (thumps her chest), it was shocking. And later I saw her lifting my bed clothes. I just had to hold my emotions in check, it was SO invasive.
Evan Solomon: Every place?
Juliet O’Neill: Every place, every drawer. My little drawers of candles and, my drawers with unopened junk mail. A note from my mother “Julie, I?ve left soup in the fridge. I’m off to Norm (her best friend)."
Evan Solomon: How long did it take?
Juliet O’Neill: It took five hours and one of the men in charge, a man from Truth Verification Section of the RCMP remarked a few times during this that he thought it was going well, it was going quickly and he was pleased with the pace.. And I remarked “Well, it’s fast because there’s so many of them in here and it’s such a small house.”
Evan Solomon: Were you scared?
Juliet O’Neill: I wasn’t scared, scared isn’t the right word. What kicked in was the feeling of “Control your emotions.” I felt defiant but I didn’t express defiance. I guess I expressed defiance by being calm, by asking questions and a lot of my journalistic buttons went on automatically. And I even used the term “This is a journalistic opportunity.”
We all heard of people who got an early morning knock on the door from the RCMP, especially since 9/11, people from the Middle East and people of the Muslim faith, you know, who were saying “Gee, there seems to be one law for us and one law for the rest of you.” And harassment and intimidation are words that we heard many times since 9/11? And I thought, here I am, in the middle of what’s happened to other people, and it’s happening in my home and I’m going to be alert and remember as many details as I can. And I also thought, I wonder if I take pictures if they?ll object. So I went to where I thought my digital camera was, and it wasn’t there. And I started looking for my digital camera and I was thinking, “Oh, the last time I could remember where it was, it was in the right-hand drawer in my office.”
So I phoned my buddy at the office, three of us worked there, and I said “Can you check my right-hand drawer, I need my digital camera. If it’s not there, that means I?ll keep looking around the house.” And he said, “What are you talking about, I’m locked out of the office. It’s been taped off as a crime scene. Your office is being searched as well.” And I said?”My office is being searched”? And of course, the guys here knew that, it was a simultaneous search, they didn’t tell me.. And my colleague told me not only are we locked out of the office today, but the Sun, our rival newspaper which has an office across the hall. And I asked "How can they keep the Sun from working? It’s bad enough that Citizen reporters are not allowed to work because of this?" But, you know?
Evan Solomon: Is it harder to deal with it now than it was then?
Juliet O’Neill: You know, yes, because I was. There is a certain amount of adrenaline, there’s a certain amount of detachment that comes with the observation. You are just keenly aware and want to remember everything and I took notes. The phone was ringing off the hook, there was a certain amount of chaos, because it was so crowded and things were being knocked over. And yet, there was order, in that, people had a silence, people were wearing gloves, they were very methodical, I called it “Slow Motion Robbery? because of the method. But at the same time, there was the chaos of people phoning and saying “I?m at this address” and that was an address I had three years ago, and we’re outside and the press was gathering outside and the RCMP, one of them said “We can move people away from the house if you?d like.” And I said, “No way, those are my buddies out there.”
Evan Solomon: Do you ever think that you?ve been set up, that the leak you got about what happened to Maher Arar was a set-up in some way, and you published all this stuff and that maybe the RCMP or CSIS was using it to flesh out their own link?
Juliet O’Neill: Because of the potential charges, it’s not right for me to discuss my analysis of what’s taken place, but I will say that my story was an attempt to put the Maher Arar case in the context, in a broader context than what we were getting. And I will also say that many reporters received leaks about Maher Arar and I was putting together all the elements, some known, some new, in the context of this story.
Evan Solomon: I have to ask you these questions: did they find your source?
Juliet O’Neill: You?ll have to ask them that.
Evan Solomon: And can you comment on whether you?ll continue to pursue this story?
Juliet O’Neill: I?d like to retain the right to pursue this story. I’m a feature writer, so it wasn’t a daily journalism job, it was a feature. I, at this moment, am a part of the story so the best I can do and I certainly welcome the ability to do that, was write a first person account. I don’t really like first-person stories, but I did. So I’m only able to write about my role in it at the moment.
Evan Solomon: Just tell me, has this? have you contacted your source at all or has your source contacted you since the raid by the RCMP?
Juliet O’Neill: That’s another question I can’t answer.
Evan Solomon: Do you think this will have a chill on the kind of sources that journalists use?
Juliet O’Neill: I would think that especially at this moment, that not only would it have a chill on many journalists? I’m a journalist who has a huge corporation behind me, so, maybe I have more courage then some. I?ve had calls from freelance reporters who maybe can’t afford a lawyer. And it would also, I would think, have a chill on leakers, and I think it’s pretty obvious that was what was intended.
Evan Solomon: You think this was intended to chill leakers so that the public doesn’t get more information?
Juliet O’Neill: It’s intended to catch a leaker and under that law, to catch the recipient of the leak.
Evan Solomon: You think you?ll get charged?
Juliet O’Neill: I’m told that the Crown had said “Imminent charges are unlikely.”
Evan Solomon: When you heard the Prime Minister Paul Martin comment from Switzerland, what was your reaction?
Juliet O’Neill: I wasn’t watching television, I was working. And a colleague phoned me and said he’d just said it. I shook hands with James, we did our own version of the hi-five. I was very heartened by that, it was a big turning point that day.
Evan Solomon: The Prime Minister’s comments were a turning point?
Juliet O’Neill: (nods)
Evan Solomon: Well, thanks for letting us in here, it was a pleasure for me, a real pleasure