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.
Subtopic: Excise Tax Act