From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 24, 2009 03:18AM EDT
Abousfian Abdelrazik is suing the government – and Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon personally – for $27-million over Canada’s role in his arrest and alleged torture in Sudan and for violating his constitutional right to come home.
Mr. Abdelrazik, who spent nearly six years in prison or forced exile while his attempts to come home were thwarted, returned to Canada in June after Ottawa was ordered by a federal judge to repatriate the 47-year-old Sudanese-Canadian.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks more than double the $10.5-million the Harper government paid Maher Arar, the Canadian tortured in Syria.
The role of Canada’s spies in Mr. Abdelrazik’s case was “far worse,” than in the Arar case, said Paul Champ, one of his lawyers. “Its unprecedented that Canadian officials were directly responsible for the torture of a Canadian citizen.”
The suit seeks $24-million from the government and $3-million more from Mr. Cannon “for misfeasance in public office.” Mr. “Cannon deliberately and flagrantly violated the [Mr. Abdelrazik's] constitutional right to enter Canada, and his legal right to procedural fairness and natural justice, by refusing to issue an emergency passport,” the suit claims.
“[Mr. Cannon] knew he was breaking the law, he knew his decisions were made in bad faith, it’s a breach for which he is personally responsible,” Mr. Champ said, adding that Mr. Abdelrazik believes the minister must be held accountable. “We would have named the CSIS agents” who interrogated Mr. Abdelrazik in Khartoum if we could get their names, he added.
The Foreign Affairs media office had no comment on the lawsuit. None of the allegations have been proved in court.
A Federal Court judge – in a sweeping decision not appealed by the government – ruled that Mr. Abdelrazik’s constitutional rights had been violated and he ordered the government to escort him home.
In a landmark ruling, Mr. Justice Russel Zinn of the Federal Court said “had it been necessary to determine whether the breach was done in bad faith, I would have had no hesitation making that finding.”
When he announced the $10.5-million redress for Mr. Arar, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended what was then the largest payment ever to a Canadian citizen for government wrongdoing, saying it was a “realistic assessment of what Mr. Arar would have won in a lawsuit.” The Prime Minister also gave Mr. Arar a fulsome and public apology.
In Mr. Arar’s case “Canadian officials were only indirectly involved” in his imprisonment and torture in Syria,” Mr. Champ said. U.S. agents flew Mr. Arar to Syria, without the knowledge or explicit agreement of Canada, although the RCMP and CSIS had wrongly fingered him as an al-Qaeda operative.
“The difference in Mr. Abdelrazik’s case is stark,” Mr. Champ added.
Heavily censored Canadian government documents, stamped “CSIS,” say Sudan’s notorious secret police arrested Mr. Abdelrazik “at our request.”
“CSIS was complicit in the detention of Mr. Abdelrazik by the Sudanese authorities in 2003,” Judge Zinn ruled. Former CSIS chief Jim Judd insists the agency “does not, and has not, arranged for the arrest of Canadian citizens overseas,” a claim Judge Zinn found unpersuasive.
CSIS agents interrogated Mr. Abdelrazik in a Khartoum prison, offering him – according to Mr. Abdelrazik – freedom if he would help them and warning him if he didn’t he would never return home to his family and Sudan would be his “Guantanamo Bay.”
“The involvement of Canadian government officials in the false imprisonment and torture of a Canadian citizen abroad is conduct that must be condemned in the strongest possible manner by way of punitive damages,” the suit says.
It also alleges the government made “repeated promises to [Mr. Abdelrazik] that he would be given an emergency passport to return to Canada if he obtained a travel itinerary. These promises, given to a Canadian in distress, were made in bad faith and with no intention of being fulfilled,” the suit alleges.
Mr. Abdelrazik spent 14 months living on a cot in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum while the government made and repeatedly broke promises to give him an emergency passport.
Mr. Abdelrazik’s six years in prison or forced exile took place during both Liberal and Conservative governments. Ministers were repeatedly briefed about the case, including warnings that it might be expensive and embarrassing if the case became public.
Mr. Abdelrazik is the only living Canadian on the UN blacklist of alleged al-Qaeda terrorists, put on the list by the United States in 2006. In November, 2007, both CSIS and the RCMP said they had no reason to oppose an effort by then Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier to ask the UN to delist him, a request that was vetoed, presumably by Washington.
After activists – including a number of prominent Canadians – bought Mr. Abdelrazik an airline ticket home, Mr. Cannon declared him a “national security risk” and rescinded a previously written promise of emergency travel documents.
Sudan’s human-rights record is notorious and its President, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted for war crimes. Torture is commonplace in Sudanese prisons, according to UN and international rights groups.
Mr. Abdelrazik has repeatedly described beatings and torture during his nearly two years in Sudanese jails. Canadian officials have dismissed the claims.
“This does not amount to torture or mistreatment. It is the reality in Sudan and he would not have been targeted for mistreatment any more than other fellow detainees,” senior Foreign Affairs official Odette Gaudet-Fee said. Another suggested Mr. Abdelrazik mutilated himself.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Abdelrazik’s lawyer claims: “While in Kober prison, he was deprived of sleep, subjected to verbal assaults, pummelled, kicked and flogged with a rubber hose on his back.” At other times he was hanged by his wrists, he said, all of which is consistent with the reports of independent rights groups.