Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): – Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence concerning his testimony this week before the Arar inquiry. I ask because the government needs to take some responsibility. The Member for Halifax consistently raised Syria’s record of torture in this House and elsewhere.
Presumably the Minister knew of Syria’s appalling record on human rights. He was, after all, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. How could he not know a Canadian citizen deported to Syria would be at risk for torture? How could he not have known that?
Hon. Anne McLellan (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as we have said before in the House, we do not comment on the daily testimony that is being put into evidence before a public inquiry. Regarding the Arar inquiry, Mr. Justice O’Connor was put in place to determine the facts around the conduct of Canadian officials in relation to Mr. Arar’s deportation to Syria and his treatment while in Syria. That is his mandate. He is independent. We in the House do not comment on daily testimony.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, my question was for the Minister who gave his own testimony. Surely he is able to comment on what he said and take responsibility for it. The question is, how could he not have known about Syria’s appalling record about torture? To fall back on the idea that somehow his staff did not tell him is a total cop-out.
I ask the Minister again, how could he not have known what might happen to a Canadian citizen deported to Syria and that he would face the risk of torture? Surely the minister can account for and be responsible for and have the government be responsible for the travesty of this affair concerning Maher Arar.
Hon. Bill Graham (Minister of National Defence, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have no intention of commenting on the evidence before the Arar inquiry. However, I have to tell the Members of the House that I resent very much the allegations regarding members of our civil service. They worked their hearts out to do their best for Mr. Arar. They work around the clock in very difficult circumstances, and are doing their best for the people of Canada. They gave me the best advice they could, and we worked as hard as we could to get Mr. Arar released.
Believe me, I think we can be proud of the actions of our civil servants. We can recognize that we might have done better and we can learn from our mistakes, and we will from the inquiry, but let us not denigrate the work that was done which successfully got Mr. Arar out.