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A Canadian arrested abroad has made ‘serious and credible’ allegations of torture, minister told

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland arrives at the Office of the United States Trade Representative on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Washington, D.C.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland arrives at the Office of the United States Trade Representative on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Washington, D.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Carolyn Kaster

A Canadian arrested abroad has made “serious and credible” allegations of torture, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has been advised in a classified memo.

The name of the Canadian who complained of torture and the country in question were removed from the version of the memo obtained by Global News.

The complaint was made in 2018, although the exact date was also removed.

But the document said the government’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Torture and Mistreatment had reviewed the allegations and “assessed these to be serious and credible.”

“Both the Department of Justice and the RCMP have been informed of the allegations,” it said.

READ MORE: Canadian torture survivor sues Sri Lankan official he claims was responsible for abuses

Marked “Secret-Canadian Eyes Only,” the memo was prepared under a policy requiring the minister to be promptly briefed when a Canadian complains to a consular official about having been tortured.

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A report last year by the auditor general found that Global Affairs Canada was taking too long to assess torture and mistreatment allegations and to inform the minister about them.

“That any Canadian should be mistreated or tortured while detained abroad is of extreme concern to the government,” said Adam Austen, the minister’s spokesperson.

“Due to the provisions of the Privacy Act, no specific information regarding this memo can be shared at this time.”

In recent years, Canadians have complained about torture and mistreatment in such countries as Syria, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Iran.

The memo, titled “Allegations of torture by a Canadian citizen,” indicated the alleged incident followed an arrest, but all details of what happened were blacked out by officials.

“As per departmental protocols, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Torture and Mistreatment met virtually on [date removed], to consider the allegations of torture made by [name removed] and assessed these to be serious and credible,” it said.

READ MORE: Canadian man tortured in Sri Lanka must receive reparations: UN 

Released under the Access to Information Act, the memo said the working group was chaired by the director-general of consular operations and included senior counsel from Global Affairs Canada’s legal services department and the director-general of the office for human rights.

The assessment found the torture account was “detailed and specific which lends it credibility.” It also found the account was consistent with human rights reporting and said the time frame was significant.

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“This is the initial phase of detention in which detainees are under the responsibility of the arresting authority. This initial phase of detention, in which authorities are conducting initial investigations/interrogations, is where mistreatment of detainees is most likely,” it said.

It also suggested this was not the first time Canadians had complained of torture in the same country.

“The AWG has examined [number removed] other instances since 2012, where allegations of torture have been made by Canadian citizens detained in [country removed] and found them to be serious and credible,” the memo said.

The account made by the subject of the memo “accords with previous allegations in important ways,” said the memo, signed by Ian Shugart, then the deputy minister of foreign affairs.

Under the heading “Next Steps,” it said Global Affairs officials would closely monitor the situation and liaise with the RCMP and Department of Justice to ensure they met their “respective responsibilities.”

Global News reported in May that the Global Affairs working group on torture had met to consider allegations concerning Canadians detained in Syria. Those earlier allegations of mistreatment were found to be credible, but the group was not able to assess the torture claims due to a “lack of information.”

Austen said the department had instituted “new training for consular officers in dealing with arrest and detention cases, including allegations of mistreatment or torture.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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— With files from David Akin