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Olympics security list worries city councillor

VANCOUVER - An Olympics security plan to store information on 140,000 people involved with the Games could produce another Maher Arar-type fiasco, a Vancouver city councillor fears.

“We all have concerns in this age when a police force puts your name on a list,” David Cadman told The Tyee. “How other governments may interpret the reason you’re on the list is worrisome.”

Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian deported to his native country in 2002 after U.S. officials detained him on suspicions of terrorism during a flight layover.

He was later exonerated by a federal commission which concluded he’d been tortured in Syria. What role RCMP information played in the ordeal is still a source of controversy.

Last week, RCMP assistant commissioner Bud Mercer outlined plans to do accreditation checks on all people planning to enter a secure Olympics venue.

“At present, we have approximately 40-42,000 in our computer banks that we’re working on as we speak,” Mercer told city council.

The 2010 Integrated Security Unit plans to collect information on another 100,000 individuals by Games-time next year, he added.

Athletes, volunteers and media – basically, all people entering a secure venue – are subject to an electronic background check, ISU spokeperson Bert Paquet explained in an emailed statement.

“[It] will assess whether an individual could pose a risk to the Games,” he wrote.

Only police personnel working on accreditation requests will view personal data and all information must be destroyed two years after the Olympics, Paquet wrote. The entire process conforms to “Canadian laws and values,” he added.

“There’s an aspect of me that says I want to know more about this list,” Cadman said. “We’ve seen the consequences of the sharing of those lists – people like Maher Arar.”

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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