Maher ArarMaher Arar (born 1970) is a Canadian citizen born in Syria, who moved to Canada at age 17 in 1988 to avoid mandatory military service requirements. He earned a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from McGill University and a master's degree from INRS Telecommunications in Montreal, and was employed in Ottawa as a telecommunications engineer. He has two young children and his wife, Monia Mazigh, has a PhD in mathematics from McGill.
On September 26, 2002, he was detained by United States immigration officials while changing planes at JFK Airport while returning to Montreal from vacation with his family in Tunisia. Immigration officials claimed Arar knew a man in Ottawa whom they suspected of having links to the al-Qaeda terror organization, and suspected Arar of being an al-Qaeda member himself. After being held apparently without access to legal representation, and despite being a Canadian citizen travelling with a Canadian passport, he was deported to Syria on October 7 or 8 where he disappeared. The Canadian government was not contacted about Mr. Arar's case until after he had been deported, on October 10, 2002. He later was discovered to be in a Syrian jail.
His deportation was condemned by the Canadian government and other groups such as Amnesty International, as was the American immigration policy of racial profiling. On October 29, 2002, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a travel advisory strongly cautioning Canadians born in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Sudan against travel to the United States for any reason. (This complaint led to Pat Buchanan's "Soviet Canuckistan" comment.)
The American ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, later told Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham that all Canadian passport holders would be treated equally. However, incidents attributed to racial profiling continue to be reported.
In Canada, the New Democratic Party pressured the government to do more to secure his return to Canada. The London-based Syrian Human Rights Committee (considered a credible source of information by Amnesty International) reported at this time that Mr. Arar was heavily tortured after being imprisoned, and continued to receive physical abuse from time to time. The Syrian ambassador to Canada denied this.
He was finally released on October 5, 2003, 374 days after first being deported to Syria. He immediately returned to Canada to be reunited with his wife and children.
Controversy continued after his release over the circumstances of his deportation. The US claimed that the RCMP had provided them with a list of suspicious persons including Mr. Arar's name.  It was also discovered that Canadian consular officials knew that Mr. Arar was in American custody but did not believe that he would be deported until he was. The Canadian government maintains that the decision to deport Mr. Arar was purely American.