By Meraj Abedin
“I don’t know even if he’s dead, alive, tortured, punished, anything.”
These are the terrified words of Monia Arar, whose husband, Maher Arar, has been languishing in a Syrian prison since late September. Maher Arar is a Canadian citizen who left his native land of Syria 16 years ago.
On Sept. 26 Mr. Arar was on his way to Montreal from a family vacation in Tunisia. He stopped over briefly in New York. However, this brief stopover turned out to be anything but. After reaching Kennedy International Airport, U.S. authorities interrogated him for nine hours without a lawyer, jailed him for two weeks and then deported him to Syria without notifying Canadian officials.
During his interrogation, Mr. Arar was denied any contact with his family or Canadian officials and was accused of knowing a man in Ottawa with alleged terror links. The CBC later reported the RCMP had questioned Arar about the relationship months ago and were apparently satisfied with his answers.
This story should shock all Canadians. How our American “allies” treated a citizen of this country is truly outrageous. It was both in violation of human rights and international law, and it casts a serious doubt on how seriously Americans take our sovereignty as a nation.
While the Canadian government has logged complaints and protests against the U.S., there’s simply not enough effort being put into bringing Mr. Arar back home. What would the Canadian government’s reaction be if this had happened to a non-Arab Canadian? Surely the outrage and concern would be much louder, and rightly so.
This whole story should send chills down the spines of every Canadian Arab and Muslim. Having Canadian citizenship is clearly no guarantee to avoiding arbitrary arrest and deportation when in America. Muslim and Arab Canadians are now all vulnerable to the suspicions and impulses of U.S. authorities.
As for Maher Arar, the Syrian regime has confirmed his imprisonment but is apparently “searching for him.” This is bad news. Syria is one of most oppressive regimes in the Middle East, and Mr. Arar could easily be lost in the dungeons of Syria among the thousands of other political prisoners. He could have been brutally beaten, tortured or worse. The fact that Mr. Arar left Syria as a teen to avoid compulsory military service does not bode well for him \ either.
If Mr. Arar was in fact associated with terrorists, then the Americans had the right to hold him. But why on earth did they deport him to Syria? They could have easily sent him back to Canada. Wasn’t Syria recently added to the ever-growing “axis of evil?”
The core of this issue is this: an innocent Canadian whose only crime was being an Arab now faces grave dangers at the hands of a tyrannical regime, all because some American officials didn’t like the look on his face.
The Canadian government must take a hard line on this issue. The rights of Canadians, regardless of origin or religion, must be respected. We must demand that the Syrians immediately release Maher Arar and that the Americans explain their illegal actions and the contempt they showed against a Canadian citizen. Canada has a righteous and humane reputation, let’s be sure to put it to practice for all Canadians.