Closure for Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin
"I'm happy. With this apology, I can have peace. My family and I, we're grateful to finally have closure. This is a victory for us, a victory for Canada, and for every Canadian who holds dear the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, due process,the rule of law, equality, dignity."
"I never lost hope. [I am grateful my father is alive to witness the apology and] can again call himself a proud Canadian."
"Being a Muslim, the understanding I have from my faith, is that I should condemn the bad actions of people, but I should never hate the person. That distinction between the person and the action, it was not easy for me, and I struggled for so many years."
"But I'm very thankful to God that I was able to reach the point where I was able to forgive the people who did this to me, be they the people in Canada or in Syria. I don't have hatred. I don't have feelings of revenge. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be held accountable for what happened."
"I'm a living example of what could happen under C-51 [Anti-Terrorism Act]."
"They were very difficult feelings to reconcile: The country that I loved betrayed me and set me up for torture and did nothing to help me, then continued to smear me."
"Throughout the last fifteen years, I have seen a very ugly side of humanity, but I also have seen a very bright, hopeful, loving side of it."
Abdullah Almalki, Syrian-Canadian, political activist, wrongly accused torture survivor
In 2001 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police characterized Mr. Almalki to Syrian intelligence agencies as an "imminent threat". Soon afterward in an RCMP memorandum, the Canadian investigators wrote they were "finding it difficult to establish anything on him other than the fact he is an Arab running around". A fairly astonishing admission of the failure of their lengthy investigation of this man, tinged with an aura of racial bigotry, coming from an official source.
Mr. Almalki, who had graduated from Carleton University with a degree in engineering, spend 22 months in custody in Syria, when he was arrested there in May of 2002 on suspicion of links to terrorists. There he was tortured, based on information with no actual basis in factual discovery that Canadian intelligence had conveyed to Syrian authorities. While he was being held and undergoing torture, he had no Canadian consular assistance; he was abandoned to his fate.
Mr. Almalki had been the target of a national security task force named Project A - O Canada, under surveillance for six years by the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the FBI. Those who knew him were interviewed, his computers were confiscated for analysis when his home was raided, and all the while he maintained himself to be innocent of any wrong-doing. His pleas of innocence failed to convince investigating authorities.
In the end, however, it was the Syrian justice system that found him innocent of the alleged crimes he was said to have committed, and released him. Soon after he returned to Canada after his ordeal, he and his family launched a $100-million civil lawsuit, ten years ago. They sought an official apology and financial compensation to acknowledge his pain and suffering. Over an eight-year period the government spent millions in contesting the lawsuit, until several years ago arbitration set in.
And finally, Abdullah Almalki and the government reached a settlement and the apology was produced and received. The financial end of the settlement remains sealed to the public, and Mr. Almalki has agreed there would be no disclosure. He was not alone in being incorrectly charged with terrorism; there were other Muslim Canadians who faced similar situations of being arrested abroad, incarcerated and tortured, and they too have seen their cases finally settled.
Abdullah Almalki (right to left), Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad El-Maati arrive at a news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 21, 2008. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Mr. Almalki intends now to get on with his life, dedicating himself to the continuation of his role as a human rights and national security activist. His goal is to have the Anti-Terrorism Act repealed so that the Canadian spy agency will no longer have the right to disrupt threats they perceive to national security. This is obviously a non-starter. There is no denying that Canada has been and continues to be under threat by foreign and home-grown jihadis interested in destabilizing the country and harming its citizens.
In a sense, post-9/11 it is hardly surprising that Mr. Almalki came to the notice of Canadian intelligence. By any metric what he was engaged in appeared to link him to terrorism. He operated a business out of Ottawa selling communications equipment to a large company in Pakistan with ties to Pakistan's military. It is well enough known that Pakistan is a source of violent fundamentalist jihadis. Some of the equipment Mr. Almalki's firm had sold to Pakistan was found to be possessed by the Taliban. And, of course, Pakistan's military and its intelligence agency had close ties to Afghanistan's Taliban.
Since Canada was part of the coalition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, any equipment in the hands of the Taliban that aided them in their conflict with the NATO-led military coalition meant that items that would advantage them originating in Canada were being used in deadly assaults against Canadian members of the military.
Mr. Almalki's interpretation of his faith bears little resemblance to the Islam based on the Koran which authorizes the faithful to commit to jihad. But there are others among the faithful who practise what the Koran and Friday sermons in mosques demand of the faithful. The predations of Islamist jihadis against other Muslims in sectarian conflicts and in jihad's wider outreach to the non-Muslim world has given the West ample reason to commit itself to intelligence gathering and terror-prevention.