The Canada-U.S. agreement struck last year to prevent a recurrence of the Arar affair is ineffective and legally unenforceable, American human rights experts testified yesterday.
"I don't think it does a damn thing," Stephen Yale-Loehr, lawyer and adjunct professor of immigration and asylum law at Cornell University, told the Arar inquiry.
The Monterrey Protocol, based on an exchange of letters between former foreign affairs minister Bill Graham and former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell in January of 2004, stipulates that immigration authorities on either side of the border will notify the other side before deporting one of its citizens to a third country.
Maher Arar, a 34-year-old computer engineer, husband and father of two from Ottawa, was deported from the United States to Jordan in the dead of night on Oct. 8, 2002. He was later transferred to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year. He says he was tortured there on suspicion of being a terrorist.
It has since emerged that neither Canadian officials nor the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation nor the Syrians ever had credible evidence that Mr. Arar was involved in terrorism, or any other crime.
In his testimony before the Arar inquiry last week, Mr. Graham acknowledged that the Monterrey Protocol fell short of Canada's best possible remedy.
"It clearly is not as effective as an outright undertaking not to deport anybody under these circumstances," he said, "which would have been a preferred option of the Canadian government."
But Mr. Graham argued that the protocol should still reassure Cannadians that incidents such as Mr. Arar's won't happen again. Once there is notification, he said, "alarm bells are going to go off all over the place. If necessary, we can ratchet it up, call in the Prime Minister and the President."
But Mr. Yale-Loehr and Julia Hall, a lawyer and senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that's wishful thinking.
"Our research indicates that there's no bar. . . . If national-security concerns are always privileged over human rights issues, as we've seen in the course of the global war on terrorism, then it is very possible that this could happen again."