The federal government has paid settlements totalling just over $31 million to three men falsely accused of links to terror groups, then imprisoned and tortured in Syria in the early 2000s.
Ottawa announced earlier this year that it had settled with Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.
None of the three men has ever been charged with any terror-related offence. They have all denied ever participating in any terror activity.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland also formally apologized last winter to the three “for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to their detention and mistreatment abroad and any resulting harm.”
The exact amount of the financial payout was not known until earlier this month when it was listed in the government’s public accounts.
As first reported by Quebec newspaper Le Devoir, the money may have been split evenly between the three Canadian men at $10.5 million apiece.
They had filed $100-million lawsuits against the federal government for its alleged role in their ordeals, which occurred between 2001 and 2003.
The legal actions were held up in court for years, but finally resolved in March.
WATCH: Canadians should be ‘angered’ by $31.25M settlement, Trudeau says
On Thursday afternoon in Burlington, Ont., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is glad that Canadians are fully aware of the settlement.
“We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms … when governments, regardless of which stripe, do not defend those rights, Canadians have to pay. I hope people take notice of this. I hope people are angered that governments violated people’s fundamental rights. And I hope people remember to demand of governments, this one and all future governments, that nobody ever has their fundamental rights violated.”
Trudeau called it a “difficult lesson.”
El Maati was detained in Syria after travelling to the region from Canada for his wedding, which he was never able to attend. Nureddin, a geologist and educator in Toronto, was imprisoned while visiting family. Almalki, an Ottawa electronics engineer, was held for 22 months.
An inquiry, a committee report and secret documents
The men were tortured, a subsequent inquiry in 2008 confirmed, suffering severe lashings in one case and being forced to confess to links to al-Qaida under extreme duress in another.
Like in the case of their fellow Canadian, Maher Arar, it was found that Canadian security and intelligence services shared unreliable information with international partners that led, albeit indirectly, to the detentions or torture.
A year later, in 2009, the House of Commons public safety committee, chaired by then-Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, recommended apologies and compensation for Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin.
The MPs also urged the government to do “everything necessary” to remove false allegations about the men and their families in records held by national security agencies.
In 2016, CBC News obtained documents that showed Canadian law enforcement officials were aware that the three Canadians were being tortured, and that a Canadian ambassador even helped to deliver questions the RCMP and CSIS wanted put to the men.
Payout amounts ‘confidential’
On Thursday morning, a spokesperson for minister Goodale’s office said the settlements awarded this year are “consistent with the findings of the Iacobucci Inquiry, which was established by Mr. Harper’s government.”
The government is not confirming the total amount received by each of the three men, noting that “the details are confidential under terms of the negotiated settlement as is typical in these situations.”
In a brief conversation with CBC News on Thursday, Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson said that “anybody who was tortured, anybody who was imprisoned because of false, incorrect information deserves to be compensated.”
Global News contacted Toronto lawyer Phil Tunley, who is representing Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin, on Thursday for reaction to the settlement amount. He declined to comment.
– With files from The Canadian Press and Andrew Russell