Police authorities, who were operating with a search warrant, attempted to locate the source of a government information leak concerning the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen deported by U.S. authorities to Syria in 2002.
On the morning of Wednesday, January 21, RCMP officers conducted raids on O’Neill’s home and the Ottawa Citizen’s city hall bureau. According to local press reports, police confiscated address books, Rolodex, and downloaded the reporter’s computer files.
The raids came in response to O’Neill’s November 8, 2003, article about Arar, who was detained by the U.S. authorities in New York in 2002 while on his way to Canada from Tunisia. The authorities deported him to Syria, where Arar alleges that he was tortured. After being freed by Syria in October 2003, he returned to Canada.
O’Neill’s article claimed that RCMP had identified Arar as having links to al-Qaeda, an allegation that Arar has denied.
The RCMP raid was conducted under the Security of Information Act, passed in Canada after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States. The Act contains prohibitions against distribution or possession of secret government documents. Consequently, O’Neill and the newspaper could face criminal charges.
“These actions by the Canadian police represent a significant threat to press freedom in Canada and also send a terrible message to journalists around the world, whose rights are routinely restricted by repressive governments in the name of national security,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper.