Benamar Benatta: Government must provide full disclosure

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Amnesty International - Canada
Canadian Arab Federation
Canadian Council for Refugees
Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN)
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

For immediate release
9 September 2009

Government must provide full disclosure on illegal transfer of Benamar Benatta

A coalition of rights groups today deplored the Canadian government’s failure to disclose fully documents relating to the illegal transfer to the US on September 12, 2001 of Benamar Benatta, resulting in his detention there for close to five years.

Mr. Benatta will be bringing a motion in Ontario Superior Court Friday to demand full disclosure.  In responding to Mr. Benatta’s suit for damages, the government failed initially to disclose a number of documents that are helpful to Mr. Benatta’s case.  The existence of these documents is known because Mr. Benatta had earlier obtained them through Access to Information.  On being challenged, the government responded that the documents were “not relevant”.  This raises a question about whether there are other important documents that the government has similarly deemed “not relevant”.

“Effective human rights protection demands transparency and accountability,” said Hilary Homes, Amnesty International Canada. “Since September 11th, however, in case after case allegedly involving national security, the Canadian government has obstructed transparency and blocked accountability at every turn. Benamar Benatta – and all Canadians – deserve better.”
 
Mr. Benatta has been seeking answers as to why he was handed over to the US without any legal process.  The government has not responded to his questions.  Because there is no complaints mechanism available to him, he has been forced to turn to the courts.

The hearing Friday will take place 8 years less a day after Mr Benatta was illegally transferred to the US.

“This case illustrates yet again the urgent need for a complaint and integrated review mechanism over the operations of all agencies involved in national security, including the Canada Border Services Agency,” said Roch Tassé, National Co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. “But two years after the Arar Commission report, the government has still failed to implement Justice O’Connor’s recommendation for such a mechanism, leaving a dozen government agencies, including CBSA, unaccountable for the impacts of their actions on real people, on real lives.” 

“The treatment of Mr. Benatta illustrates the extreme vulnerability of refugees when they knock at our door seeking asylum from persecution,” said Janet Dench, Executive Director, Canadian Council for Refugees.  “They depend for their safety on our officials respecting domestic and international law.  The government needs to shed full light on why laws were not followed in Mr. Benatta’s case, so that he can get answers and measures can be taken to ensure that it never happens again.”

Amnesty International Canada, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) call on the government to provide Mr. Benatta with a full accounting as to why he was transferred to the U.S. and appropriate compensation for the serious human rights violations that he experienced as a result of this transfer.

Mr. Benatta was treated as a suspect in the September 11 attacks and detained for nearly five years, despite being quickly cleared of any suspicions.  He was held in conditions that the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found could be described as torture and suffered abuse that is well-documented by the US Department of Justice. Canadian officials finally arranged for his return to Canada in July 2006. Mr. Benatta was granted refugee status in Canada in November 2007.

For more information:
Letter to Minister of Public Safety, 11 December 2008, re. Government of Canada’s Statement of Defence, http://www.ccrweb.ca/documents/benatta08.htm
Open letter to Minister of Public Safety, 8 May 2007, calling for an investigation of the case, http://www.ccrweb.ca/documents/benatta.htm
Press kit, April 2007, http://www.ccrweb.ca/eng/media/pressreleases/benattapresskit.pdf

Contacts:
Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223, ext. 1
Beth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations, Amnesty International, 416-904-7158 (cell), 416-363-9933, ext. 332
Roch Tassé, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, 613-241-5298
Mohamed Boudjenane, Canadian Arab Federation, 416-493-8635 ext. 23
Ihsaan Gardee, CAIR-CAN, 613-254-9704