OTTAWA – The federal government used an Ottawa courtroom Thursday to fire back at United Nations criticism that Canada was “complicit” in a human rights violation against three Arab-Canadian men.
The Justice Department dismissed the criticism of the UN Committee Against Torture, which last week called for Canada to apologize to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who were held in Syria after the 9-11 attacks.
The UN panel also called on Canada to compensate the men, who are suing the federal government for its role in their detention abroad. The UN gave the government until next year to issue a formal response.
But the government essentially shot back Thursday at the UN panel during a court hearing in Ottawa for Almalki’s lawsuit.
Justice Department lawyer Barney Brucker rhetorically asked Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland why his court was hearing the case “if the UN really has the last word.”
Lawyers for Almalki and the government were arguing a key procedural matter over the disclosure of evidence in the long-running case.
Almalki’s lawyers want Hackland to order Ottawa to disclose thousands of pages of documents on their client by the end of September or face the strict sanction of having to argue that their defence should be struck down.
Almalki’s lawyers had filed a copy of the UN’s recent decision to support their latest motion.
But the government contends the UN finding is irrelevant to the case.
Brucker argued that provisions in Canadian civil law offer the necessary legal protections in the case.
“We don’t find them in the Convention Against Torture,” he told the judge.
Almalki’s lawyer Andrea Gonsalves argued that the federal government is also bound by its international legal commitments.
“The eyes of the world are watching these cases,” she said, referring the lawsuits brought by Almalki and the two others.
Almalki, a Canadian citizen, was the subject of an RCMP investigation that sought to prove he was linked to al-Qaida. He was arrested in Syria while visiting family in 2002 and spent two years behind bars, where he was subjected to torture.
The government held a commission of inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, that concluded in 2008 that Canadian officials passed on information about Almalki that was “inflammatory, inaccurate, and lacking investigative foundation.”
Iacobucci’s report concluded Canadian officials shared unfounded information with foreign governments that the three men were extremists, which was likely partly to blame for their torture.
The men accuse the government of hiding behind Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act, which allows the government to withhold sensitive information to protect national security.
Almalki sat silently in court during Thursday’s 75-minute hearing as the two sides argued the merits of the government disclosing further documentation about him.
Prior to the hearing, Almalki said he wished, in light of last week’s UN finding, that the government would admit its complicity in his torture and issue and apology.
“I hope the government would rethink its position of wasting so much money and time,” he said.
“All that we see is the government trying to delay the case as much as they could.”
Hackland reserved judgment on the motion brought before him Thursday. No date was given for the ruling.