OTTAWA — The federal government acknowledges in a new court filing that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP interviewed a Mauritanian man at a Guantanamo Bay prison in 2003.
But the government denies Canada supplied faulty information that contributed to the detention and torture of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was held at the U.S. offshore military prison in Cuba for 14 years.
Slahi, 52, filed a lawsuit last year seeking damages over Canada's alleged role in his imprisonment at Guantanamo, where he says he suffered beatings, sleep deprivation, sexual assault and death threats.
In a statement of defence submitted to Federal Court, the attorney general of Canada says events that befell Slahi were exclusively the result of actions and decisions of foreign officials.
"Canada denies that it engaged in unlawful conduct — whether under Canadian law, American law, or international law — in the course of any interviews with the plaintiff at Guantanamo Bay."
Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen with permanent resident status in Canada, lived in Montreal in late 1999 and early 2000 upon moving from Germany.
He left Canada after the RCMP started questioning him about supposed ties to Ahmed Ressam, the so-called millennium bomber who planned to attack the Los Angeles airport. Slahi denies ever meeting Ressam.
Slahi's amended statement of claim, filed in January of this year, says surveillance during his brief period in Montreal pushed him to return to West Africa, setting off a lengthy pattern of arrests, interrogations and imprisonment.
The statement says he was arrested on arrival in Senegal and interrogated by American officials about the same allegations Canadian authorities had pursued.
"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Slahi was again arrested in Mauritania at the behest of the United States," the statement of claim reads. "He was kidnapped and transported against his will on a CIA-orchestrated rendition plane to Jordan, where he was interrogated and tortured for eight months, before being rendered to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and then onwards to Guantanamo Bay."
Slahi contends that Canadian authorities induced him to leave the country so he could be arrested and interrogated in countries where the rule of law and international human rights are not respected.
He also alleges Canadian authorities contributed to his detention and torture by sharing "false and exaggerated intelligence" about him without appropriate safeguards.
Slahi, whose story became a bestselling memoir and Hollywood film, was released from Guantanamo in 2016 and now lives in the Netherlands.
He maintains he was tortured based on information derived from Canadian authorities.
"For example, his interrogators pressed him about a phone call in Montreal in which Slahi invited someone for tea and asked him to bring sugar," the claim says. "His interrogators insisted the request for 'sugar' was code for 'explosives.' This made no sense to Slahi and was entirely untrue."
Eventually, Slahi's statement says, the torture broke him down and he falsely confessed to a plan to blow up Toronto's CN Tower — a building he didn't even know.
Slahi argues Canadian authorities had knowledge of his torture and mistreatment leading up to the confession. "In the alternative, they should have known, or showed reckless disregard or wilful blindness to his torture and mistreatment," the statement says.
In its defence, Canada denies any role in Slahi's arrest, detention, interrogation and alleged mistreatment after the events of 9-11, whether at Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else.
The government says while Canada shared information with other governments or foreign agencies, it was not false, faulty or exaggerated.
The statement of defence also says Canadian authorities did not aggressively monitor Slahi or induce him to leave Canada. However, it acknowledges a Canadian official called Slahi's family at one point to say he should not return to Canada.
Canada was granted access to Slahi at Guantanamo "to conduct interviews restricted to intelligence and law enforcement purposes," the statement adds.
CSIS interviewed Slahi in February 2003, while the RCMP questioned him in May that year, the defence says.
"Canada denies any role — including encouragement, inducement, conspiracy, contribution or participation — in the plaintiff's alleged mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press