01/25/2012 01:15 EST | Updated 03/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Maher Arar backs Paul Dewar for NDP leader

NDP MP Paul Dewar announced Wednesday that he has won the endorsement of Maher Arar for his leadership bid.

"I fully endorse Paul to be the next leader of the New Democratic Party," Arar said in a statement. "Paul's knowledge of foreign policy, his involvement in supporting human rights causes in Canada and abroad have allowed him to grasp many of the complex issues that Canada and the rest of the world are facing today."

Arar is the Canadian citizen who was deported from the United States during a stopover flight and sent to Syria, his country of birth, in 2002. He was jailed for suspected links to terrorism, but never charged with a crime, and faced torture during his imprisonment for a year.

Dewar, an Ottawa MP who has served as his party's foreign affairs critic, was a champion for Arar's cause, demanding his release and advocating for Arar after he came back to Canada.

A judicial inquiry into Arar's case set up by the federal government found in 2006 that Arar, an engineer who was living in Ottawa at the time of his deportation, had no links to terrorist organizations or militants. It also concluded the RCMP had given misleading information to U.S. authorities, which may have been the reason he was sent to Syria.

In 2007, the federal government settled a $10-million compensation deal with Arar and the House of Commons gave him an official apology for his ordeal.

"Like many Canadians, I was shocked and deeply disturbed by the treatment of Maher Arar during those terrifying months he spent in Syria," Dewar said in the statement announcing Arar's endorsement. "As Prime Minister, I promise to stand up and fight for the rights of all Canadians, regardless of religion, colour of skin, or country of birth."

Arar, whose wife Monia Mazigh ran as a candidate for the NDP in the 2004 election, adds his name to a list of human rights advocates who are backing Dewar in the contest.

"I can easily picture Paul as the next prime minister of Canada," Arar said.

The NDP will elect its a new leader to replace Jack Layton on March 24. Layton died in August.

Dewar is up against fellow MPs Nicki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash and Romeo Saganash in the contest. Brian Topp, former president of the NDP, and Martin Singh, a pharmacist from Nova Scotia, are also vying for the job.