Opening a window for Benamar Benatta

15 Dec 2009

An Ontario court has just ordered the federal government to make a better effort to produce all documents relating to their transfer of Benamar Benatta, a refugee claimant, to the US on 12 September 2001.

Fingered as a suspect in the 9/11 attacks, Mr Benatta spent nearly five years in detention in the US despite being quickly cleared of any terrorist involvement.

Since his return to Canada (where he has been recognized as a refugee), he has been trying to find out why the Canadian authorities handed him over to the US, without any semblance of legal process or concern for his rights.

He has not been getting answers from the Canadian government.  When direct requests led to nothing, he turned to the courts.  But the government failed to disclose all documents.

Now the Ontario Superior Court has said the government needs to try harder.  The court drew parallels with the security certificate cases where the Federal Court has strongly criticized the government's failure to disclose important evidence (see the recent Harkat decision).

The court has taken the unusual step of requiring the government lawyers to certify a revised list of documents, after speaking to the Deputy Minister of each affected department.  This makes the lawyers personally responsible for the adequacy of the new disclosure.

Mr Benatta has taken a lot of abuse from the Canadian government: illegally handed over to the US in 2001, denied an explanation or an apology after his return in 2006, he then found himself gratuitously blamed by the government for his ordeal in their Statement of Defense.

The court's recent order was only on a procedural matter, but it sends a strong message that Mr Benatta is entitled to fair treatment and that it is not enough, when people's rights are at stake, for the government to say "trust us".


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