Published On Thu Oct 22 2009
Ignatieff made the erroneous statement in an interview published in September in The Observer while clarifying his stand against torture. He has had to defend himself against persistent accusations, often made by Conservative opponents, that he supports "torture-lite" based on his previous writings on the subject.
"Canada sent Maher Arar (a Canadian engineer) to Syria, and a court found that he had been subjected to extraordinary rendition, that his claims (of torture) were true and that he had delivered no intelligence to anybody. It was a disgrace. So, we don't do it. Ever. Period. Off the table. We don't get other people to do our dirty work for us, and we don't do dirty work ever."
Arar was sent to Syria by the United States in late 2002 after he was detained while in transit to Canada through JFK Airport in New York.
Contrary to what Ignatieff said, no court has made findings of fact in Arar's case.
A Canadian commission of inquiry – not a court – that heard some evidence in secret concluded the American authorities deported Arar under the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program, first to Jordan and then on to Damascus, where he was jailed without charges for more than a year by Syrian military intelligence.
The former Liberal government in Ottawa consistently denied it ever played a role in Arar's rendition, and the inquiry concluded Canadian officials were not directly complicit in the affair.
Arar, a Syrian-Canadian computer software consultant, said he was tortured during the first two weeks in Syria, and for most of the rest of the year he was jailed in inhumane conditions in a small, dirty cell he labelled "the grave."
The American and Syrian governments refused to participate in the inquiry led by Justice Dennis O'Connor, and Arar did not testify.
Nevertheless, O'Connor concluded in September 2006 the Americans "very likely" deported Arar on the basis of erroneous information the RCMP provided that he was a suspect with terrorist links.
The government, under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, apologized to Arar for the role its agents played and settled a lawsuit out of court for $10.5 million.
Arar is still attempting to sue American authorities over his ordeal.
The Star requested an interview to discuss Ignatieff's statement, but his spokeswoman, Jill Fairbrother, declined the request.
"It's clear and I don't think he'll have much to add if the subject is torture."
When told that Ignatieff was wrong and asked if she could verify the quote, Fairbrother said she no longer had a tape recording of the interview.
Ignatieff returned to Canada from the U.S. in 2005 to run as an MP. He was elected as an MP in January 2006, and was in Canada when the O'Connor inquiry reported.
UBC law professor Michael Byers said while public figures sometimes make mistakes, Ignatieff's statement was related to his own position on torture, "a matter on which he wrote extensively while a Harvard professor, with those writings having since been subject to intense scrutiny."
"For him to get the facts wrong on the highest profile case of torture involving a Canadian citizen is deeply worrying.
"It suggests a certain lack of attention to detail, and perhaps even concern, on a matter that was engaging the Canadian public, a commission of inquiry, and courts in both Canada and the United States at the very same time that he was expressing opinions on torture in The New York Times."
Ignatieff's ignorance is mind boggling. This is the man who the Liberals suggest should be the next prime minister?
Just when are the Liberals going to realize that he Igy has as much potential of being the next prime minister as Stockwell Day.