May 12, 2004

LIB

Yvon Charbonneau

Liberal

Hon. Yvon Charbonneau (Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (Emergency Preparedness), Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in response to the request put to the House by my colleague, the member for Ottawa West—Nepean, in regard to allowing Mr. Arar's counsel to participate in the in camera hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar. We recognize the particular interest and the work that the member, our colleague, brings to this file.

As hon. members know, this commission of inquiry was called on the recommendation of the hon. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to investigate into and report on the actions of Canadian officials in the Maher Arar affair.

The government has appointed a well respected judge in the person of Mr. Justice O'Connor to conduct an impartial review of all the evidence relating to the way Mr. Arar was treated by Canadian officials.

The role of the factual inquiry is not to investigate the actions of Mr. Arar. It is meant to investigate and report on the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Mr. Arar during his detention in the United States, his deportation to Syria via Jordan, his imprisonment and treatment in Syria, his return to Canada, and any other circumstances directly related to Mr. Arar that the commissioner deems relevant to fulfill his mandate.

In this process, Justice O'Connor is seconded by his own counsel, Paul Cavalluzzo, who will have access to all the information and all the witnesses who will be heard during the inquiry, including those testifying in camera.

The commission's counsel will be in charge of calling witnesses and thoroughly testing their evidence. The interim rules of procedure and practice provide the following:

Commission counsel will thoroughly test the evidence heard in camera by examination in chief or by cross-examination where deemed appropriate.

We also recognize the provisions of rule 46, whereby, prior to going in camera, all parties shall raise with commission counsel specific areas for questioning, which would include representations by Mr. Arar's counsel.

It is also important to note that in accordance with rule 41 of the commission's draft rules of procedure and practice, the commissioner will appoint an independent legal counsel to act as an amicus curiae to appear in the in camera hearings to make submissions with respect to the request for in camera hearings. This counsel shall be independent of government and shall be a person with a background in security and intelligence. His or her mandate shall be to test in camera hearing requests on the grounds of national security confidentiality.

Some parts of the commission's hearings will likely be held in camera—the decision will be made by the judge—because of the nature of the information that the commissioner will review during his inquiry. In camera hearings are necessary to prevent the disclosure of information which, if it became public, could, according to the commissioner, be prejudicial to international relations, defence or national security, as mentioned in paragraph (k) of the mandate of the public inquiry commission.

In summary, the government has called this inquiry to provide assurances to Canadians that an independent and respected jurist has examined all of the relevant evidence about the actions of Canadian officials in relation to Mr. Arar's arrest, detention, treatment in Syria, and return to Canada, through both public and in camera proceedings.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Excise Tax Act
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LIB

Marlene Catterall

Liberal

Ms. Marlene Catterall

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his additional response.

I must say I fully understand and respect the need to consider the requirements of national security and the safety of other people who might be jeopardized, among other things, by the release of information that should not be released. Having said that, I think we are all very well aware of the public debate about what is the proper balance between national security and the need for secrecy around certain issues and the rights of average Canadians to the protection of Canadian law.

The purpose of my question was to ensure as far as possible that we are respecting that balance, that Mr. Arar has, as far as possible, fully equal status with the Government of Canada in any proceedings before the inquiry.

As I said, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's additional comments, but I do think that this is a question that will continue to engage this Parliament: the proper balance between our security concerns and our respect for the human rights of all Canadians.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Excise Tax Act
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LIB

Yvon Charbonneau

Liberal

Hon. Yvon Charbonneau

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member, who is understandably concerned about this rather disturbing situation, that the government made a commitment to get to the bottom of this issue by launching a public inquiry.

Unlike a trial, the inquiry process is not adversarial in nature. Commissioner O'Connor is responsible first and foremost for establishing the facts. The commissioner will be assisted by lawyers whose role will consist in examining the evidence in an impartial and independent fashion, to help him determine what happened.

Successive Canadian governments have consistently maintained that they have an obligation to protect certain fundamental principles including the right to privacy, the confidentiality of officials' advice to ministers, cabinet confidences and sensitive national security, law enforcement and international relations information.

The government has a responsibility to balance the importance of public disclosure against national security concerns.

I want to reassure the hon. member by telling her that the minister will always ensure that this balance is maintained.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Excise Tax Act
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:41 p.m.)

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Excise Tax Act
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May 12, 2004