From left to right, Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmad El Maati hold a news conference on the steps of the Prime Minister's office in Ottawa, May 8, 2008.
Feb 22, 2009 04:29 PM
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Three Canadians who were jailed and tortured in Syria are filing new lawsuits against the federal government, armed with fresh information from an inquiry that implicated several agencies in their ordeals.
The renewed legal actions come four months after a commission of inquiry said Canadian officials contributed to the brutalization of Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin and Abdullah Almalki by sharing information – including unfounded and inflammatory accounts of extremist links – with foreign intelligence and police agencies.
Former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci cited the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Foreign Affairs for mistakes.
Iacobucci concluded the three men were tortured in Syrian custody and, in the case of El Maati, in Egypt as well. None of the men – all of whom are now in Canada and deny involvement in terrorism – has ever been charged.
Initial lawsuits by the three were put on hold during the inquiry, which lasted almost two years. Now the men are renewing legal efforts to wrest compensation from the government.
El Maati and Nureddin are seeking permission to amend their original suits, and have filed proposed new claims with the Ontario Superior Court. Almalki plans to update his claim in coming days.
In interviews, El Maati and Nureddin stressed that while they're suing for monetary damages, a federal apology is crucial.
"The apology's very important for me, because without (an) apology the suspicion is still hanging over my head," said Nureddin, who fled Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime 15 years ago.
"We're living in Canada, a democratic society. We should see accountability."
Both El Maati and Nureddin say they have been shattered by their experiences, left physically and psychologically bruised, and unable to work due to the trauma. Even worse, they feel cut off from the world, having been ostracized by numerous friends and community members who fear any association will bring suspicion upon themselves.
El Maati, a former truck driver, was arrested in November 2001 upon flying to Syria to celebrate his wedding – nuptials that never took place.
"All my dreams were shattered," said El Maati, who lives with his mother in Toronto.
False confessions extracted under torture from El Maati were used to justify a telephone wiretap in Canada. After several weeks in Syria, he was flown to Egypt and further abused during two years of detention there.
His battered body has undergone several operations.
"I used to be someone who's very fit," he said. "And I used to like walking and hiking and stuff like that. Now I can't go for one block till I need to sit down and rest."
Nureddin, a Toronto geologist, was detained by Syrian officials in December 2003 as he crossed the border from Iraq, where he was visiting family. He was held for 34 days in Syria in late 2003 and early 2004.
Nureddin is now afraid to travel and wonders if he will ever again see his ill mother in Iraq.
Almalki, an Ottawa electronics engineer, was detained in Syria in 2002 and held for 22 months.
In their revised claims, El Maati and Nureddin allege that the government, knowing they could not be legally held or successfully prosecuted in Canada, facilitated their "arbitrary detention, torture, false imprisonment and assault and battery" overseas.
The claims against the government and various officials have not been tested in court.
After release of Iacobucci's report last fall, then-public safety minister Stockwell Day declined to comment on the prospect of compensation or apologies, noting civil suits were before the courts.
El Maati and several family members are suing the federal government for $100 million, while Nureddin and his family claim damages of $90 million.
The Commons public safety and national security committee plans hearings next month into the government response to the commission of inquiry into the cases of El Maati, Nureddin and Almalki.
MPs will also examine how the government handled recommendations of a 2006 inquiry report on the case of Maher Arar, another Arab-Canadian jailed and tortured in Syria.
The government apologized to Arar two years ago and paid him $10.5 million in compensation after he initially sued for $400 million, a figure later revised to $37 million.