Ottawa seeks indefinite delay in $27-million torture lawsuit by Canadian citizen detained in Sudan

Photo: thestar.com

 

OTTAWA—When it looked like Sudanese jailers would release Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Montreal man who Canada’s spy agency suspected was tied to Al Qaeda, a senior CSIS officer fumed in an email to colleagues: “So much for jail forever.”

The classified 2004 CSIS email filed Friday as part of the court record in a long-running lawsuit goes on to accuse Canadian consular officials who were seeking Abdelrazik’s release of “just wanting to cover their asses.”

The writer’s name is blacked out. But the attitude is not.

Abdelrazik, his lawyer Paul Champ, and Amnesty International say it, and a trove of other documents in the case, display a casual or callous indifference toward the man’s plight that led directly to his detention and torture in Sudan.

“At best, the document demonstrates that for CSIS human rights of a Canadian citizen are a cynical joke,” said lawyer Paul Champ.

“At worst, it is damning evidence of Canadian complicity in arbitrary and illegal detention of a Canadian by notorious torturers.”

Champ says that attitude continues to this day. Federal lawyers gave surprise notice they want to delay Abdelrazik’s civil lawsuit indefinitely.

The 10-week trial in the $27-million lawsuit was supposed to start Monday in an austere Federal Court room in the same building as the Supreme Court of Canada. Witnesses including current and former government officials were booked, along with costly flights and hotels, said Champ.

The move stunned Abdelrazik and his supporters.

It follows a series of moves in recent weeks in which the federal government has: admitted it failed to disclose to Abdelrazik roughly 500 relevant Privy Council documents; sought to shield the identities of five current and former CSIS employees from the public when they testify; and now justice department lawyers suddenly want the Federal Court to adjourn proceedings indefinitely.

They want another federal judge to review thousands of documents that have already been redacted and disclosed to Abdelrazik’s legal team in order to confirm those redactions under national security provisions in the Canada Evidence Act.

The government has refused to clarify how long it thinks that process will take, said Champ.

“They had nine years to do that,” said Champ. “This action was started in September 2009.”

Abdelrazik, 56, denies he is a terrorist and is suing the Canadian government for an apology and compensation, claiming Canadian officials were complicit in the torture and mistreatment during his six-year ordeal in Sudan.

He became a Canadian citizen in 1995 after arriving in Montreal as a refugee in 1990 and first came to CSIS’s attention in 1996 because of his association with other suspected extremists.

When he returned to Sudan in 2003 to visit family, he was arrested, and detained without charge for three years, shuffled between prisons, held under house arrest, and lived for a year at the Canadian embassy in Khartoum after the Canadian government denied him a passport to travel.

In an agreed statement of facts in the case, the government acknowledges CSIS officials sent questions to his Sudanese jailers, and twice travelled to Khartoum to interview him in the presence of Sudanese officials about his suspected terrorist connections. But Canadian officials deny any knowledge of or involvement in abuse.

Champ accuses Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould of abusing a federal power to ask a judge for a delay in the name of national security.

“In our case conference with the judge, Department of Justice officials suggested that this was coming from the very top,” he said. “They advised that the Attorney General of Canada, Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould, has insisted that this must be done, that these documents have to be reviewed for reasons that they can’t explain.”

He said courts “properly defer” to the executive on matters of national security, but in this case the government has gone too far and is further abusing Abdelrazik’s right to seek redress for human rights violations under international law.

In criminal cases, a judge can halt proceedings if it takes too long to bring charges to trial. In civil cases, there is no such remedy. Champ says Abdelrazik’s civil case should go to trial or it should be settled out of court.

“This is how our court system provides justice for victims of torture,” Champ said. “It’s unconscionable” and a violation of Canada’s international law obligations, he said.

Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada backed Champ at a news conference. He said Abdelrazik’s torment stretched beyond the six years he spent in jail or under house arrest in that country.

“It has been a much longer 15-year nightmare of complicity, callousness and duplicity on the part of Canadian officials who bear direct disgraceful responsibility for this human rights nightmare.”

Amnesty International supported the Trudeau government’s “principled decisions” to settle other cases “of deep injustice” where national security cases went “terribly wrong” and Canadian officials bore some degree of fault, said Neve. In the past two years, Ottawa settled similar lawsuits in the case of Omar Khadr, and in three other unrelated cases: Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.

Champ says there is no excuse for further delay. “It was the government of Canada that asked for a mediation six months ago,” said Champ. “We wanted to go to trial over a year ago and they said, ‘No, we’re prepared to resolve this case.’ ”

But in April, the justice department backed out of formal mediation the day before a judge was to hold three days of hearings aimed at getting a settlement, he said.

Abdelrazik at the news conference Friday accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of breaking a promise to help him.

“Sudanese intelligence secret police they tortured me physically and mentally. The Canadian government abused me and tortured me mentally and my family, my children, and it still continue to violate my rights.”

Neither the justice minister nor the public safety minister’s office provided a response Friday to the Star’s request for comment following the news conference by Abdelrazik and his team.

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thestar

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