Experts list hard lessons of post-9/11 world

Experts list hard lessons of post-9/11 world
Safeguarding rights best way to fight terrorism, writes Haroon Siddiqui

Dec. 10, 2006. 01:00 AM

The threat of terrorism is real. It is the duty of the state to ensure the safety of the public. The only real difference of opinion is over whether the job is best done within the rule of law or by running roughshod over people's civil rights and, in some cases, ruining their lives, as was done to Maher Arar.

The wrongs done to him have been laid bare by Justice Dennis O'Connor. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has since quit. O'Connor will file another report Tuesday, outlining ways to better protect civilians.

He will likely recommend strong civilian oversight for the RCMP and the nearly two dozen other agencies and departments that do security, intelligence, police, immigration and other related work, including the Canada Border Services Agency.

Now only the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE, the secret cyberspace spy service) are subject to civilian scrutiny.

There's an RCMP Complaints Commissioner but he/she has been rendered toothless by the stonewalling Mounties.

I asked two Torontonians of impeccable credentials what post-9/11 lessons we've learned.

Here's what Paul Cavalluzzo, lead counsel for the Arar Inquiry, and Ron Atkey, former head of the agency that monitors CSIS and who was a "friend of the court" at the inquiry, said in separate interviews.

Accountability. "For too long, the RCMP have been a law unto themselves," Atkey said. "It'll be a shame if the Zaccardelli resignation gets the government off the hook in implementing part two of O'Connor."

A review of RCMP activities is as essential as having the auditor general look at expenses. "If you are subject to review, you don't engage in excess and the organization improves itself," as did CSIS once it was monitored.

Cavalluzzo notes that history is repeating itself. Given their excesses in Quebec, the Mounties were stripped of security operations in the 1980s, only to be allowed back in after 9/11, as Ottawa tried "to please certain groups south of the border."

But the Mounties lacked the training and expertise to do the job. If they are to stay in the business, "they have to be sensitive to the rule of law."

Intelligence: Gathering and sharing information is key to the global anti-terrorism effort, noted Cavalluzzo.

But the intelligence must be precise. And when it's passed on, it should carry caveats: It should not be used in criminal prosecutions or deportation proceedings, or shared with others without authorization (so that it does not end up with agencies notorious for not respecting human rights).

When receiving information from others, we must ensure it was not obtained under torture.

Security certificates: Immigration law allows non-citizens awaiting deportation to be detained indefinitely, on secret evidence to which even the lawyer of the accused has no access but which is shown to a judge in private. The Supreme Court is to rule soon on the constitutionality of the procedure.

Cavalluzzo suggests a roster of lawyers, with security clearance, to represent the accused at the in-camera hearings, where they would challenge the secrecy and test the reliability of the government evidence.

Community relations: The best counterterrorism tool is to have the confidence of the targeted community. It opens up leads and helps avoid mistakes born of ignorance.

Post-9/11, investigators asked the wrong questions: How often do you pray? Do you read the Qur'an? In one case, the person being questioned wondered: "What do you mean whether I am a fundamentalist?" And the officer said, "I don't know."

Agents were visiting people at work. "You can just imagine what the employer might think of that," Cavalluzzo said.

"We need effective community outreach. One-day-a-year tutorials won't do. We need to ensure that people are educated in politics, history and cultures."

Is that realistic?

"We can't do otherwise, if we want to have an effective counterterrorism strategy. This is a job requirement. It makes the investigation reliable."

Atkey said not only should the concerned community be consulted but "you also need people on staff from that community. CSIS has done a better job than the RCMP in recruitment."

Profiling: "It's a difficult issue," Cavalluzzo noted. "There's no point in going after grannies. The paradigm is the young Muslim terrorist. What do you do?

"You investigate not because he's a young Muslim but because he has said or done something, or associated with people, things that raise suspicions, not just because he likes Osama bin Laden or dislikes what America is doing in Iraq." Agents have to "know what constitutes a threat, what doesn't."

Public discourse: "The whole society is engaging in racial profiling these days," said Atkey. "It's amazing what otherwise intelligence people will say about Muslims these days."

Cavalluzzo: "We are all to blame, not just the RCMP and CSIS. This is the attitude of the times. There's enough blame to spread around to everybody ... If you ever need a Charter of Rights, it's at times like these."

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