OTTAWA – Canada’s spy agency inappropriately disclosed personal and classified information about a Montreal man while he was imprisoned in Sudan, says a federal watchdog.
In its annual report tabled Thursday, the body that reviews the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also says CSIS reported inaccurate and exaggerated information to partner agencies about Abousfian Abdelrazik’s case.
Abdelrazik, 51, was arrested but not charged during a 2003 visit to see his ailing mother in Sudan.
While in Sudanese custody, he was interrogated by CSIS about suspected extremist links.
In its report, the Security Intelligence Review Committee found no indication that CSIS had asked Sudanese authorities to arrest or detain Abdelrazik.
However, in the months prior to his arrest abroad, CSIS did keep its foreign intelligence allies up to date on fresh information gleaned from the investigation of Abdelrazik, who denies any involvement with terrorism.
Abdelrazik claims he was tortured by Sudanese intelligence officials during two periods of detention, but Canada says it knew nothing of the alleged abuse.
He is suing both the federal government and former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon.
Abdelrazik’s lawyer, Paul Champ, seized on the review committee’s finding that CSIS made improper disclosures about his client as evidence of federal culpability.
“One way or another, this false information provided by CSIS was responsible for Mr Abdelrazik being arrested and tortured by Sudanese authorities, and was used to block him from returning to Canada,” Champ said.
“Where is the apology from CSIS or the federal government to my client? Where is the accountability?”
The review committee found that Sudanese authorities were under the mistaken impression that Canada, including CSIS, had supported the original decision to arrest and detain Abdelrazik.
This confusion might be explained by the fact the case was perceived as “an intelligence issue” — and it remained so in the minds of the Sudanese, the review committee’s report says.
Further complicating matters was the fact CSIS and Foreign Affairs — the two Canadian agencies most heavily involved in the case — were sometimes “at odds” with each other in carrying out their consular and intelligence work.
Upon learning of Abdelrazik’s detention in Sudan, CSIS “should have been more forthcoming” with Foreign Affairs in regard to what it knew “so as to ensure a more informed and co-ordinated Canadian response to his case,” the committee report adds.
Champ said the conclusion reflects a dispute between consular officials at Foreign Affairs, who were “trying to help Mr. Abdelrazik return to Canada, and CSIS, which wanted him to stay in a Sudanese cell, far from Canadian soil.”
CSIS said director Michel Coulombe was unavailable to discuss the report.
The review committee found the long-simmering Abdelrazik affair “did raise a number of concerns.”
First, while CSIS followed proper authorities in seeking approval to interview Abdelrazik following his initial imprisonment, the committee found “CSIS inappropriately, and in contravention of CSIS policy, disclosed personal and classified information.”
Second, in mid-2004, in preparation for Abdelrazik’s possible release, CSIS updated government partners on information it possessed — assessments the review committee says “contained exaggerated and inaccurately conveyed information.”
Finally, CSIS kept “a significant amount of information” in its operational databases about individuals who were not investigative targets in the probe.
Days after Abdelrazik’s second release from prison in July 2006, his name appeared on a United Nations Security Council blacklist that prevented him from flying back to Canada.
He was granted haven in the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum, but Canada refused to issue him a travel document to fly home. It subsequently said Abdelrazik must have a valid plane ticket before a passport could be provided.
Even though a group of concerned Canadians bought him a ticket, no passport was forthcoming.
Abdelrazik, who has four children, finally returned to Montreal in June 2009. That same month, the Federal Court of Canada concluded CSIS was complicit in his 2003 detention.
The review committee says no recommendations flow from its study because there have already been substantial changes over the last decade in the way CSIS operates.
“There’s been a quantum leap in change in CSIS in how they handle and conduct themselves on these international and joint ventures,” committee chairman Chuck Strahl said in an interview.
The committee, known as SIRC, fails to recognize the damage to done to Abdelrazik’s and his children, Champ said. “I guess SIRC doesn’t care about the casualties from CSIS mistakes.”
Still, the committee says “valuable lessons” can be drawn from the affair.
New information is still likely to emerge from documents held by other federal agencies, as well as from legal proceedings, the committee adds.
“As it stands, Abousfian Abdelrazik’s story has yet to be fully written.”