Government compensates and apologizes to Canadians tortured in Syria
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OTTAWA — The Trudeau government has given apologies and compensation to three Canadians who were tortured in Syria.
The government said Friday it had settled long-simmering lawsuits filed by the men over the federal role in their painful experiences, though details of the settlement were not made public.
In October 2008, an inquiry led by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci found Canadian officials contributed to the torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin by sharing information with foreign agencies.
Iacobucci concluded the men were abused in Syrian custody and, in the case of El Maati, in Egypt as well.
The former judge cited the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Foreign Affairs for mistakes in the cases.
All three men deny involvement in terrorism and none has ever been charged.
"Our clients are gratified to have received an apology from the highest level of the Canadian government," said Phil Tunley, lawyer for El Maati and Nureddin. "They and their families are pleased that their long legal ordeal is over."
Tunley would not elaborate on the settlement.
On behalf of the government, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland apologized to the men "for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to their detention and mistreatment abroad and any resulting harm."
"We hope that the steps taken today will support them and their families in their efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in their lives."
Legal actions filed by the three men had been stuck in the courts for years. They sought compensation for experiences they say shattered their reputations and left them physically and psychologically wounded.
In statements of defence filed years ago in the cases, the government said that if mistreatment did occur, responsibility rests with Syrian and Egyptian authorities.
For years the government refused to budge even though Maher Arar, another Arab-Canadian who was abused in a Syrian prison, received an apology and $10.5 million, plus another $1 million to cover legal fees.
In June 2009, the House of Commons public safety committee recommended apologies and compensation for Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin. The MPs also urged the government to do "everything necessary" to remove false allegations about the men and their families in records held by national security agencies.
Almalki, an Ottawa electronics engineer, was detained in Syria in 2002 and held for 22 months.
El Maati, a former truck driver, was arrested in November 2001 upon flying to Syria to celebrate his wedding — nuptials that did not take place.
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.
The federal apology had been expected for weeks following word the government finally settled the cases.
It has been a long and difficult journey to justice for the three men, said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
"They deserve gratitude and respect from all Canadians for their steadfast determination. This compensation and the apology will now help them to recover and rebuild their lives," Neve said in a statement. "It will also send a strong message that what was done to them cannot and must not ever be done to others."
— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter