IMAGE: Stephen Harper
Tom Hanson  /  AP
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes on behalf of the government to Maher Arar, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday.
updated 1/26/2007 2:40:36 PM ET 2007-01-26T19:40:36

Canada's prime minister apologized to Maher Arar on Friday and announced the government would compensate him $8.9 million for its role in his deportation by U.S. authorities to Syria, where he was tortured while held in prison for nearly a year.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper again called on the U.S. government to remove the Ottawa engineer from any of its no-fly or terrorist watchlists and reiterated that Ottawa would keep pressing Washington to clear Arar's name.

"We think the evidence is absolutely clear and that the United States should in good faith remove Mr. Arar from the list," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa. "We don't intend to either change or drop our position."

The U.S. government has repeatedly insisted it has reasons to leave the 37-year-old wireless technology consultant on its watchlists. The issue has grown into an unpleasant diplomatic row between the world's largest trading partners and closest allies.

The Syrian-born Arar, who came to Canada with his family when he was 17, is the best-known case of rendition, a practice in which the U.S. government sends foreign terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.

Detained at JFK airport
Arar was detained at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 during a stopover on his way home to Canada from a vacation with his family in Tunisia. The United States turned him over to Syria, where he says he was tortured and kept in a dark cell for nearly a year.

He said he was chained and shackled by U.S. authorities for 11 days during interrogation and then flown to Syria, where he was tortured and forced to make false confessions. He was released 10 months later, with Syrian officials saying they had no reason to hold him further.

A Canadian inquiry last fall determined that Arar was indeed tortured and cleared him of any terrorist links or suspicions.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I want to extend a full apology to you and Monia as well as your family for the role played by Canadian officials in the terrible ordeal that you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said.

Arar is married to Monia Mazigh and they have two children. He was expected to address a news conference later in the day.

Court action in U.S.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals last February dismissed Arar's lawsuit against U.S. government officials, ruling the deportation of the dual Syrian-Canadian citizen was protected on national security grounds. His attorneys with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed an appeal in December.

"We are grateful that the Canadian government has had the humanity to try to right the terrible wrong that was done to Maher," CCR attorney Maria LaHood said in a statement Friday. "We still hope the U.S. government will follow Canada's lead."

The new Democratic chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, earlier this month publicly scolded U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for refusing to explain why the United States had sent a Canadian citizen to Syria.

"The Canadian government now has taken several steps to accept responsibility for its role in sending Mr. Arar to Syria, where he was tortured," Leahy said in a statement Friday. "The question remains why, even if there were reasons to consider him suspicious, the U.S. government shipped him to Syria where he was tortured, instead of to Canada for investigation or prosecution."

He said the U.S. Justice Department intended to respond to his demands next week.

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