RM Issue #031120
Tuesday, November 18 2003
Maher Arar and The RCMP Public Complaints Commission: a joke too brutal for laughter
by Robin Mathews
for Vive le Canada
Filling the press and media in recent weeks, Maher Arar needs no introduction. A 33 year old Canadian citizen, Ottawa resident, he was obviously “observed” by the RCMP, and perhaps CSIS. He was abducted by US agents in New York, jailed there, shipped to Syria (his birthplace and a country in which he also has citizenship), imprisoned and tortured for a year. Then he was released, no charges against him being laid in Syria, the US, or Canada. The RCMP has begun a formal investigation of its own role in the matter. According to the Globe and Mail (Nov. 6, A4) “The Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP” has asked “the force to respond to allegations that it encouraged US officials to deport Mr. Arar….”
The fact – to begin – of the investigation’s totally inadequate scope tells much. It cannot review CSIS, the Foreign Affairs Dept., or any person or institution in the USA. Nonetheless, members of the Canadian Cabinet chant in unison that all is being taken care of by the RCMP Public Complaints Commission instigated investigation.
If Maher Arar needs no introduction, the Commission obviously does. It is, some say, largely a sham. One might even suggest that when government is content to use the Commission, Canadians are not wrong to suspect a cover-up is in progress. Such unhappy statements are born out at the highest level of principle and legal philosophy. They are born out, also, in practical experience of the Commission’s work.
At the highest level of principle and legal philosophy it is held that no entity accused of wrong-doing can satisfy the demands of fair inquiry if the entity investigates itself. That is especially true in the contemporary world when the “entity” is a police force closely connected to the operations of the State. Reasonable Canadians, let us say, have reason to believe RCMP officers have acted, in a specific case, lawlessly, inadequately, and/or in some other fashion prejudicial to the constitutional rights of Canadians.
The only place those Canadians can go for formal investigation of their grievances is to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. The Canadians with a grievance file a complaint. What happens? The RCMP, alone, without independent oversight or public representation, investigates itself. That is like a band of burglars who broke your door down, tied you up, and then looted your home being chosen to review the burglary and to judge if they were engaged in wrong-doing. The comparison does not present an exaggeration.
In Canada, every day, police forces accused of wrong-doing investigate themselves in one of the on-going, unbelievable farces of Canadian life. I cannot exaggerate the importance of the principle involved which is daily violated in Canada. It is so compelling that all judges in Canada, Bar Associations, and Law Societies should have lodged permanent complaints to the federal government demanding the dissolution of the Commission and the creation of an independent, competent body to replace it. Those people and organizations are seriously delinquent – and may be openly charged with delinquency – for not having lodged complaints and keeping them loudly before the public.
When people in the RCMP investigate people in the RCMP and write a report to the RCMP, the Report is then usually handed to the head of the Commission, Shirley Heafey, in Ottawa for the rubber-stamping it usually gets. When the issue is of very small political importance, the Commission may report that wrong-doing has occurred.
And then what happens? Nothing. The whole process takes unlimited amounts of time. A reasonable and prudent Canadian might very well believe the process is used to stall, to obstruct, to erase, and to deaden the event in the memory of the public. The Commission, moreover, has no power whatever to require discipline or punishment of the RCMP officers involved in criminal behaviour or other unacceptable behaviour. The Report is sent to the Head man at the RCMP who yawns, blinks, and tells the Commission to get lost and mind its own business. End of the matter. Investigation successfully completed – usually after years of “investigation”.
The somewhat-less-than-comic farce becomes brutal farce when the issues are large, the lawlessness of the RCMP extraordinary, and their behaviour tied in some way to major Canadian political interests or to RCMP links with foreign powers, especially in the USA (as is likely in the Maher Arar case).
Just such a situation existed in a very large “completed” case about which we have beginning, middle, and end – the so-called APEC Affair (the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference held in Vancouver in November1997). Formed by the USA to serve its own interests, APEC was to meet in Vancouver. US government and some US investors had close ties with the corrupt, dictatorial, war criminal, President Suharto of Indonesia. The US wanted him in Vancouver for a trouble-free visit. At that time – it would seem – Jean Chretien still believed that by accommodating the US in such smelly activities he could gain sympathetic trade-war initiatives from the US. (By the last two years of his time in office, Chretien had learned his lesson and became a changed man.)
In 1997 he was alleged to be in direct communication with RCMP officers during the APEC event. The “security” activities seemed to be focussed on preventing any Canadians from getting even in view of President Suharto. In pursuit of that “ideal” the RCMP may very well have acted in a lawless manner even before the APEC meetings. During the event, it is alleged, the RCMP officers lost their cool and acted criminally against innocent Canadians. TV film of violent police action concentrated demands for a full investigation.
The response of the Commission (headed by Shirley Heafey who was appointed directly by Jean Chretien himself) was – unusually – to have a set of public hearings and to have a three-person investigative panel appointed. Remember, Jean Chretien was believed by many to be a key figure, and the head of the Commission appointing investigators was directly appointed by him. The public hearings became a farce very early. Government agents and police were fully represented by as many lawyers as were needed and who were paid from the public purse. Canadians complaining of violent police activities were given no legal assistance. Before long, Shirley Heafey interfered in the work of the panel. Her interference was so serious that the panel resigned, declaring she made it impossible for the panel to do its work. To be precise, I will use the words of Gerald M. Morin, Chair of the panel: “I came to the conclusion that she [Ms. Heafey] had gone past her legitimate role and had encroached upon the decision-making role of the panel to the point that the panel’s independence had been fatally compromised”. ( Pepper in Our Eyes, UBC Press, 2000, p. 161) Mr. Morin details interference, and it is of a very serious nature.
At that point Ms. Heafey should have been withdrawn as head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Parliamentary investigation should have followed, the Commission dismantled, and a wholly new, independent body created. None of that happened. But many witnesses and principals in the APEC matter came to see the investigation as a sham and removed themselves. That action alone called into question the efficacy of the Commission’s work.
The Commission – robbed of its investigative panel – rustled through its list of approved names and came up with a single name as replacement. He was former judge, former advisor to the B.C. government, a Queen’s Council, Ted Hughes. Mr. Hughes conducted a long investigation. He concluded it with a Report to Shirley Heafey on July 31, 2001. The Report is 453 pages long, to which are attached nearly 200 more pages of appendices and notes. Despite the fact that his position was compromised by Ms. Heafey’s connection to Jean Chretien, Hughes makes a strange claim for independence.
The Report is an embarrassment. In plain words, it is, all things considered,a whitewash of Jean Chretien, the people in his office, and of all police activity, providing extenuating reasons over and over for violent police action. It then blackwashes almost all of the demonstrators, almost never extending to any of them the profound sympathy it extends to any and every police officer. In addition, the Report is so constructed that even when Hughes cannot report anything else but police violation of law, he couches his consideration in language to erase, justify, or neutralize the infractions. To this eye, the bias of the Report leaps off the page.
I will provide only one outrageous example of the work of Mr. Hughes. Around the time (Nov. 24) of the APEC Conference, Jaggi Singh was walking alone across the campus of UBC (where the conference took place). He was set upon by plainclothes RCMP officers, thrown to the ground, and then manhandled into a waiting police car and driven off to the UBC RCMP office. He was then charged with an offense that Mr. Hughes finally admits in his Report should probably have never been laid against Singh. With proper knowledge, Hughes says: “I believe that Mr. Singh would not have been arrested on November 24 or at any other time for the November 7 megaphone incident”. Had the UBC RCMP detachment consulted about its plan to get Singh “with wise and seasoned heads … I believe the plan would never have been implemented.” (p. 435) That is a very, very serious admission – the implications of which Hughes then runs away from.
Mr. Singh was then driven into the City of Vancouver and three court officers, including a Provincial Court judge – created and acted on a highly dubious charge, with which I insist they should have been unwilling to involve themselves. They had Mr. Singh sign an undertaking that he would not return to UBC campus for some time. That whole matter stinks to high heaven. Who were the arresters (in fact, the kidnappers)? Who were the court officers who assisted in the forced undertaking by Mr. Singh to avoid UBC campus? Mr. Hughes writes that “I am not prepared to, and cannot, question the decisions made by Crown Counsel, Justice of the Peace, and the Provincial Court Judge”. (p. 206) But the terms of his appointment gave him full scope and responsibility to investigate and report on the matter, naming all of the people involved in the (probably criminal) activities. His terms state that he is “to inquire into all matters touching upon these complaints, to hear all evidence relevant thereto ….” One of the major complaints concerned the arrest, detention, and charging of Jaggi Singh. No more need be said. The Report stands self-condemned. That example is only one of many.
Hughes’ Report (not surprisingly) was accepted by Shirley Heafey who wrote a brief “final” Report, embracing the totality of the Hughes Report and conclusions. (Good luck, Maher Arar.)
I, myself, undertook a formal complaint to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. I did so because I believed then (as I believe now) that the so-called case (2001-2002) against Glen Clark, Premier of B.C., as accepting the influence of someone seeking a casino license who did about $10,000.00 worth of work on a deck for Clark without full and complete payment was – from start to finish – a sham case. I believed then (and do now) that the whole issue was fabricated to destroy Clark’s career as a politician and to destroy the power of the New Democratic Party in B.C. I believed then (as I do now) that portions of the RCMP were enrolled (consciously or unconsciously) in the fraudulent undertaking and needed to be independently investigated fully and completely. I filed a formal complaint that the RCMP had acted improperly in the matter.
As a part of its involvement in the “gossip incrimination” of Glen Clark, the RCMP had been accompanied by a television crew when it went to Clark’s house to serve and execute a search warrant. How did the television crew know to be on hand? A complaint was made on the matter. “E” Division of the RCMP in charge of the search did an investigation of “E” Division and found that “E” Division had done nothing wrong! If this sounds like madnesses in Alice in Wonderland, that is because it is very similar to them.
What happened with my formal complaint? The RCMP set about - I was informed - investigating the RCMP in order to report to the RCMP. Each month I received a short note to tell me that the RCMP which was investigating the RCMP was still in the process of investigating the RCMP. It told me nothing more. This pattern was repeated. Then I was written from the same “E” Division by R.C. Cardey on March 6, 2001,told that the RCMP had put together “an evidentiary brief” of “twenty-nine volumes of documentation”, and that no further investigation would be conducted. I had no reason to believe that any kind of investigation of my complaint had, indeed, been conducted, or - if it had been - that it was in any way a fair and just and reasonable investigation. No independent party had anything whatever to do with surveillance of the “investigation”.
For that reason and under the principle in our system that persons complained of for inadequate behaviour cannot satisfy fair and reasonable people by investigating themselves, I am at liberty to say I believe the whole of my complaint was treated in a fraudulent way, and no one can say I am being unreasonable.
Incidentally, Mr. Cardey informed me in his letter of March 6, 2001 that if I wasn’t satisfied with his letter, I could ask for a review by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP by corresponding with their office in Surrey, B.C. That is in fact what I had done! More and more Alice in Wonderland.
The lawyer for Glen Clark tried on more than one occasion to have the trial ended and the case thrown out as baseless and vexatious. I believe David Gibbons did the right thing and that Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett (consciously or unconsciously) was caught in a web of malice. At the conclusion of the trial, the Vancouver Sun (August 30, 2002) reported that the surprising thing about Ms. Bennett is that she is a school parent advisory association member and a qualified minor hockey coach.( p.A4) Not everyone agrees with that judgement of the surprising things about her. Ms. Bennett did not pillory the accusers of Glen Clark for bringing a vexatious case against him – a case that she found too weak to base a conviction upon. (The twenty-nine volumes of documentation gathered by RCMP “E” Division, apparently, were “busywork”.) But she did make a judgement against Glen Clark, saying that his hiring of the neighbour in question to do the work on his deck was “an act of folly”.
And now – briefly – we have Shirley Heafey, Commission Chair, releasing just this week the slight-of-hand Report on the police action at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec in 2001. Let us call a spade a spade. The Report can only be – at very, very best – a sham in any democratic society worth the name. (A) It can only deal with police action, not with the forces setting the police on peaceful Canadians, and others. (B) The Chair of the Commission for Complaints against the RCMP is appointed directly by Jean Chretien who had to be implicated in the events of Quebec Summit. Ms Heafey, once again cannot be an independent party. The Report cannot, in principle, be an independent Report. (C) The Commission has no power whatever to censure, to discipline, or to otherwise punish police officers who engage in criminal activity. (D) MP Svend Robinson and others attacked are put in the outrageous position of having to seek justice, themselves, through civil suits, because the Criminal Justice System of Canada sees police officers of the RCMP who act criminally as people who are above the law.
Poor Maher Arar. We may hear nothing, ever, about what the RCMP did to bring about the arrest, abduction, imprisonment, and deportation of Mr. Arar to Syria. On the other hand, we may hear of a Report sent to Ms. Shirley Heafey at the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. And out of her office may come the information that for Mr. Arar to go to Tunisia and then to fly into New York was not an act of terrorism, but his arrest, detention, and torture were really his own fault for going to New York. We will doubtless be told that the RCMP which had investigated itself found it had acted impeccably.. Mr Arar has been viciously treated and violently abused. He has been the victim of huge injustice which may very well have been contributed to in substantial ways by actions of the RCMP. That his deeply disturbing experience has led to the RCMP investigating the RCMP in order to report to the RCMP and to the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP is a joke too brutal for laughter.
Robin Mathews publishes on culture, politics, the arts, and Canadian Intellectual history. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, a potter. His column appears regularly on Vive le Canada.
Maher Arar and the RCMP Public
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Maher Arar and the RCMP Public Complaints Commission: a joke too brutal for laughter
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 19 2003 @ 12:20 AM MST
I have always believed that the RCMP, should be answerable to a independant body, made up of various members of society, lay people, a member of each political party, a few lawyers etc; but basicly not answerable to the politcal party in power or holding the most power. They should be accountable to the people, they should be free to investigate political figures, judges and other powerful people as well as the average Joe or Jane. This is just more abuse of political will, whoever is in power decides who is to accountable, who can get away with breaking which laws etc etc. This is an excellent article, but it makes me very angry. I think there are many excellent policemen who are tainted because their hands are tied and can't do their work properly, also the good ones watch helplessly, as the corrupt ones get away with murder(so to speak, I hope?).