Saturday, December 18, 2010
(The following letter was sent to organizers of Ottawa's Eid celebrations in September, 2010. Three months of silence have greeted this letter, so it is now being published in an open forum to encourage discussion on this topic)
I trust that you and yours had a wonderful Ramadan and Eid Celebration.
I am writing because I read in a Sept. 12 Ottawa Citizen article entitled "Spirits high as festivities mark end of Ramadan" that individuals attending Eid celebrations at Carleton University could, among other things, "meet a member of the RCMP's national security community outreach team."
While I appreciate the openness and kind nature of Ottawa's Muslim community, I was rather shocked to see that a representative of an organization that has been found to be complicit in the torture of Canadian Muslims would be welcomed at such a holy event. Indeed, Ottawa resident Abdullah Almalki is one such individual who, along with his family, has faced over a decade of the most hellish existence imaginable, in large part due to the unjustified targetting, spreading of false information about, and harassment at the hands of the RCMP.
While it is unclear why, exactly, the RCMP was there, the intention behind inviting them, and the goal of the RCMP in appearing – both of which I would be curious about – are nonetheless not nearly as significant as the powerful symbolic value posed by the agency's presence at this community function.
It has been almost two years since the Canadian government's internal inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci, found that the RCMP's sharing of information with the U.S., and sending questions to Syrian interrogators, likely contributed to Mr. Almalki's torture. Iacobucci also found that Canadian officials (including from the RCMP) falsely labeled Mr. Almalki as a threat in communications with American, Syrian and other foreign agencies before his detention, without taking steps to ensure those labels were accurate or properly qualified, without attaching caveats, and without considering the potential consequences for Mr. Almalki.
Iacobucci found that the RCMP labeled Mr. Almalki in communications with Syria as "linked through association to al Qaeda" and an "imminent threat" and did so "without taking steps to ensure that the description was accurate or properly qualified", and that the words "imminent threat" in particular were "inflammatory, inaccurate and lacking investigative foundation."
As someone who is gravely concerned about our government's complicity in torture, I have read the inquiry reports from Mr. Iacobucci (concerning the cases of Mssrs. Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, all tortured as a result of Canadian intelligence agencies falsely labelling them as threats) as well as Judge O'Connor (concerning Maher Arar, also tortured as a result of the RCMP's false targetting and labelling). It is well nigh impossible to come away with anything but a negative impression of the RCMP's behaviour, which clearly constitutes complicity in criminal harassment, racial profiling, and torture.
Despite the half-hearted apology Mr. Arar received from the RCMP, Mssrs. Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin have yet to receive an apology, compensation, or an official clearance of their names. Further, none of the agencies involved (RCMP, CSIS, DFAIT) have taken the steps necessary to ensure accountability for decisions that clearly led to the men's torture, and in the case of the three men above, the government is now denying that they were in fact tortured, despite the findings of expert medical practitioners and two judicial inquiries.
This brings me back to the article in the Ottawa Citizen and the RCMP's presence at the Eid celebrations. The very presence of a "national security" representative implies that the Muslim community is the breeding ground of threats to national security. This in itself contributes to the false notion that Muslims have to be watched and are not to be trusted. We know of both the RCMP's and CSIS's record of extortion in the Muslim community, threatening those who will not spy on their communities, and their presence here suggests one more effort to infiltrate and control the community.
I believe very much in the power of nonviolence, and the transformative nature of dialogue with one's opponents, especially when they are engaged in activities that are harmful to the community. However, that attempt to heal community does not involve a welcoming embrace of those who have wronged until there has been an acknowledgment of the wrong, and measures have been taken to right the wrong.
The RCMP has not done this in the cases of Muslim brothers Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin. To have the RCMP present at this holiest of days is, to be blunt, an insult to these men, their loved ones, their community. It is a tacit form of approval for their behaviour, an implicit message that all is well and there is no cause for concern. They are thus no more held to account by the Muslim community than they are by the federal government.
I am hoping that you will reconsider any such invitation at next year's celebrations, and be wary in future public events that having members of such agencies as the RCMP present is, in its present state of denial, an act that serves to paper over the very real, painful, unresolved issues that afflict a growing number of members of the Muslim community.
I look forward to speaking further with you about this, and look forward to your reply.
Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Another Forgotten Victim of 9/11 Awaits Justice in Canada; Benamar Benatta Seeks Apology and Accountability for Canadian Government’s Role in his Ren
September 12, 2010 – It would be difficult to imagine that nine years ago today, anyone on the planet was unaware of the terrorist attacks that had occurred the previous morning in the United States. Yet one individual in Canada was not only unaware, he was also falsely tarred with responsibility for the attacks and illegally rendered to the U.S., where he would face five years of imprisonment under conditions that constituted torture.
Benamar Benatta, a former member of the Algerian air force who, for refusing to commit war crimes, had to flee for his life, came to Canada seeking asylum on September 5, 2001. Like many refugees, he was thrown into detention pending further investigation, and was in solitary confinement, cut off from the rest of the world, when the planes struck New York City and Washington, D.C.
Following a brief detention review on the morning of September 12th, during which Benatta had no access to legal counsel or a translator, he was remanded one further week in custody.
Later that day, two officials who Benatta believed to be Canadian asked him whether he knew how to fly airplanes and whether he had any counter-terrorism training.
RENDERED TO TORTURE IN THE U.S.
What happened next is a nightmare beyond imagining. That evening, he was taken from his cell, placed in the back of a car, and driven across the Rainbow Bridge into the U.S., all without benefit of a hearing, access to a lawyer, or due process of any kind.
Surrounded by dozens of men with guns on the U.S. side, he was taken to an immigration detention facility and interrogated four days about alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He was then bundled off to Brooklyn’s notorious Metropolitan Detention Centre, where he was thrown into a solitary confinement cell, the letters WTC (World Trade Center) plastered across his door, and treated as a prime suspect in the attacks.
With the light burning 24 hours a day in his solitary confinement cell, he was jarred awake every 30 minutes day and night with guards banging on his door. Once again denied access to a lawyer, he was only taken out of his cell for interrogation. In addition to humiliating strip searches, he experienced continual beatings, including having his head slammed against the wall, his leg shackles stomped upon, causing foot and ankle injuries, and other torturous treatment at the hands of guards. This was all later confirmed and well-documented in studies by the U.S. Department of Justice and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which concluded that his treatment was tantamount to torture.
Conditions were so bad that Benatta and other detainees conducted hunger strikes, with Benatta going to the point where prison officials, fearing he might die, were on the verge of force feeding him.
FBI CLEARS BENATTA WITHOUT TELLING HIM
In November, 2001, the FBI cleared Benatta of any suspicions of involvement in terrorism, but no one told him. Apart from some U.S. officials, no one knew where he was as he continued his indefinite punishment in solitary confinement. It would not be until he was transferred to a detention facility in Batavia, New York, in April, 2002, that he first saw a lawyer, but he would spend over four more years behind bars.
In 2003, Benatta was finally brought before a judge to face criminal charges that were dismissed as a “ruse” by the FBI and immigration authorities to justify his continued detention.
The judge found that “there is no doubt in this court’s mind that the defendant, because of the fact that he was an Algerian citizen and a member of the Algerian Air Force, was spirited off to the MDC in Brooklyn on September 16, 2001 and held in SH [special housing] as ‘high security’ for purposes of providing an expeditious means of having the defendant interrogated by special agents of the FBI….” The judge also found Benatta “undeniably was deprived of his liberty and held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be ‘oppressive.’”
But Benatta would not breathe the air outside of prison for another three years, when he was eventually released and returned to Canada to resume his refugee claim (since accepted). Benatta is also now a permanent resident in Canada.
TREATED LIKE A CRIMINAL
Benatta says that “On the day I was released, I had nothing – no money, no belongings and no family or friends to turn to. When I arrived in Canada by prison escort, after being interviewed for hours by Canadian officials, I was allowed to leave with a U.S. lawyer who had come to help me. We headed to the local Wal-Mart, me still in my prison uniform, to find some new clothes. I will never forget the frightened little girl who ran from me, or the cashier who eyed me like I was a criminal. It is these little indignities that stick with me.”
Canada’s role in this nightmare is the focus of a lawsuit currently before the courts. As with other torture cases in which Canadian officials maintain a maddening policy of denial (largely from scandal-ridden spy agency CSIS and the equally complicit RCMP, along with the Department of “Justice” and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade), Benatta is unable to get a concession that what happened to him was real, much less the responsibility of federal officials.
Yet in Benatta’s case, the Canadian government knows it is in the wrong. In January 2006, while Benatta was still behind bars in the U.S., a briefing note was prepared for the President of the Canadian Border Services Agency by Nicole Houle, Director General, Admissibility Branch, Peoples Programs Directorate. Houle wrote that the agency has “reviewed the file and determined that proper procedures may not have been followed and that Mr. Benatta may be entitled to have his [refugee] claim heard in Canada.”
INTERNAL DOCUMENTS ADMIT CULPABILITY
The briefing note later states “the notes and documentation on file and the lack of clear supporting documentation for the actions taken [the illegal transfer to the U.S.] suggest that an oversight my have occurred in this case, which resulted in Mr. Benatta not being allowed to have his refugee claim heard in Canada.”
It is putting it kindly to refer to this action as an “oversight” when it was Canadian officials who took the proactive step of calling up the U.S. and informing them them of Benatta’s presence in Canada. Indeed, U.S. Magistrate Schroeder, hearing Benatta’s case in 2003, found as fact that “as a result of the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Canadian authorities alerted United States authorities of [Benatta’s] presence and profile as set forth and returned him to United States authorities on September 12, 2001.”
The CBSA briefing note further states that “there maybe [sic] at least a moral if not legal obligation to review Mr. Benatta’s file” and a need to explore “the legal ramifications or liability for the Agency in this case given Mr. Benatta’s long term detention in the U.S.”
Despite this acknowledgment of complicity in his rendition from four years ago, Benatta is still facing an uphill battle. Earlier this year, an Ontario Court ordered the federal government to disclose all documents related to the case when it was found that Ottawa had been withholding numerous files.
Such lawsuits tend to drag on for years, especially when the government stalls, stonewalls, and attempts to whitewash its complicity in clearly illegal activities. But still Benatta fights on, seeking an apology, accountability, and compensation for nine lost years.
A man who refuses to commit human rights abuses is someone we should celebrate and welcome. But in a world gone mad with hyped up Muslim-hatred and ruled by irrational fear (a poll released two days ago revealed half of Canadians feel Muslims do not share their “values”), Benatta still faces an uphill struggle.
Anyone who knows Benatta (as this writer does) comes to the early and easy conclusion that he is an individual of great integrity. He is also someone who clearly continues to suffer from the aftereffects of torture and the further humiliation of trying to deal rationally with a Canadian government that denies and deflects all questions of responsibility.
SUPPORTING BENAMAR BENATTA
It is a stunning challenge, but one he can only meet with the support of people in this country who are willing to support him. Benatta survives in poverty, trying to finish a university degree so he can find work.
Individuals who wish to help out with financial support can do so through a special “Benatta fund” set up by Toronto Action for Social Change, which pays for such necessities as food, rent, and educational expenses.
If you wish to support Mr. Benatta, you can make out cheques to Toronto Action for Social Change (marked “Benatta” in the memo portion of your cheque) and mail them to PO 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. Tax receipts are available for donations over $75. For details on how to receive a tax receipt email us at email@example.com.
In the meantime, it never hurts to write to Stephen Harper (via the website http://pm.gc.ca/eng/contact.asp) and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (Toews.V@parl.gc.ca), calling on them to accept responsibility, and not only offer an apology and compensation, but take the measures necessary to ensure this never happens again, and that those responsible are held truly accountable.
Further information is available at www.benamarbenatta.com
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Attack of the Beards: A Reflection on the Hirsute Hysteria Dominating Canadian Media in Latest “Domestic terror” Allegations
September 3, 2010 – Coverage of the alleged Ottawa “terror” plot seems more inspired by Fashion TV or The National Enquirer than the objective, professional standards one would hope undergird established Canadian news outlets. Giant helpings of Islamophobia mixed with repeated references to speculative allegations not even mentioned by police in their end-of-the-world-is-coming-to-Ottawa press conference have done nothing but contribute to an environment of fear and hysteria.
A BUNCH OF BEARDS
Almost every article describing the accused men refers to the way they and their loved ones look. The Toronto Star notes one man was “sporting a bushy beard [and] a knitted skull cap.” The Ottawa Citizen reports one young man had a “full, long beard,” and that his wife wore a niqab.
The Citizen also reports that, in one case, “[the accused] took an extended vacation more than a year ago and returned having grown a full beard. It wasn’t known where he spent the weeks he was away.” (This is not normally information one shares with an employer or even fellow employees, but here it is clearly painted as suspicious.)
We are also informed that the wife of one of the men “dressed modestly”. The same article also references the “full beard often worn by Muslim men of strong faith,” but that during one man’s court appearance, it was a “full but neatly trimmed beard.” Brownie points clearly go to this Muslim! Another article in the same paper (Citizen) references an individual “with a curly beard and a brown skull cap over his long curly brown hair, and [another defendant] sporting a full beard.”
Are we to take from this that Muslims apparently “sport” beards, as if they are part of the terrorist tool kit? And can you tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim by the length and curliness of their facial hair? As the week goes on and another young man is arrested, he is referred to as a “slightly-built bearded man.”
What is next? Inquisitorial committees asking men of Muslim faith the $64,000 question: Do you now or have you ever sported a beard?
In addition, we see that normal, everyday activities also become suspicious when engaged in by men of Muslim faith.
The Star reported that a neighbour of one of the accused men said that the first time she saw him, “he was pacing his lawn with his hands behind his back.” Where is the editorial hand that asks this journalist how this in any way contributes to the story?
The Citizen reported that the neighbour of another of the accused men recalled that his girlfriend had seen “men in robes, with beards and a type of ‘cone’ hat, near the elevator. When she tried to enter the elevator, the men told her to take the stairs instead, he said.”
No explanation is offered for this alleged behaviour, and we only hear one side of the story after a few days of scare headlines may have influenced this recollection, but seriously, are men allegedly plotting mass destruction going to discuss this in a 20-second elevator ride?
But Muslims grouped in elevators are clearly something we need to be vigilant about. Indeed, as Ottawa Police Chief Vern White warned residents of the National capital region this past week, we must all be wary now.
A NEW REALITY?
“Threat of terror our new reality” screams the front page of the Ottawa Citizen, though the police chief reassures us that there is no reason for people to be living with fear, even though he promises we have to be concerned about terrorism “for at least a couple of decades to come.” White tells us to be “vigilant about the abnormal. It doesn’t hurt to make the call and let police decide what’s up.”
But how does one define abnormal? Is it the one who doesn’t sit religiously watching the Ottawa Senators on the tube or attend Red Friday support-the-troops rallies? Is it someone who questions Canada’s occupation of Afghanistan, and this nation’s role in the torture of Afghans?
In the meantime, the press at all levels continue to parrot the party line without serious questioning. The Ottawa Citizen’s September 2 lead story screams, “Report links Ottawa ring to Taliban.” Reporter Ian Macleod conclusively begins his story by informing us that “The Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for May’s failed Times Square bombing, is now implicated in the alleged jihadist scheme to bomb Ottawa.”
What sounds pretty convincing in the first paragraph becomes, in the second paragraph, “the possible connection” between the groups. So where is this report? It emerges from the Daily Times of Pakistan, which states there is an “intense investigation” underway to determine “whether” the Pakistani Taliban “had a hand in the supposed plan to attack sites here.” Further, the report is based on statements from “an unnamed western diplomat and two officials in the ministry of the interior.”
BASELESS SCARE HEADLINES
So how can the media scream such a conclusive headline based on an overseas newspaper’s attempts to establish a link based on the unsubstantiated speculation of nameless individuals whose credibility cannot be established and who can hide behind their anonymity to press any agenda they please? The answer is simple: at the far right of the column is the bearded man in an orange jumpsuit staring out at us. Guilt by alleged association is easy to get away with when a climate of fear is created and stereotypes rule the day.
That stereotype deepens with sinister overtones related to travelling overseas. Colin Freeze of the Globe and Mail opines on August 28 that “the latest circuitry discovered is disturbing. Sources [unnamed] say it could have set off many explosions…While the device was assembled in Canada, police say they were partly built out of know-how acquired from terrorists overseas.”
If these alleged plotters are so smart—engineers, computer scientists, medical professionals –why would they need to go overseas to learn how to assemble the kind of basic electronics anyone could figure out here at home?
Freeze then says: “Details of the plot remain fuzzy, but there is speculation that Parliament Hill was a target on the terrorist hit list.” Who is speculating? Mr. Freeze? An official source, perhaps one who would publicly take responsibility for such a claim? And why would anyone trust a source from the so-called “intelligence” community when its agencies have clearly been found by Canadian courts to have lied, withheld information that goes against their own theories, and used information gleaned from torture?
LINKED BY SEVERAL DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Such examples of sloppiness (or, if one were to look at this systematically, fear-based bias) are everywhere. Further fear is put out there with the front page Ottawa Citizen headline, “CSIS kept close eye on suspect who worked with radioactive isotopes.” Well, turn to page three and the headline reads “One accused worked near radioactive isotopes.” An even smaller headline reads “Ahmed had no access to isotopes – used in dirty bombs – hospital says.”
Are editors at the Citizen asleep at the wheel here? From working with isotopes to being near them and then having no access to them – but reminding us that if he DID have access, he could always make a dirty bomb – scares the heck out of people who have been trained to react to those key words, like “extremist,” “dirty bomb,” “Islamist,” “beards”…
If we look further into what it is that may have “inspired” one of the men to be involved in the alleged plot, we are informed by The Ottawa Citizen that two threads are available to national security agents. One: the individual traveled to Pakistan to help with earthquake relief. This not uncommon act of charity on the part of the individual was replicated by thousands, so does that make them all security risks?
Two: “he added his name to a letter that demanded the Canadian government offer better medical care to three men held in jail on security certificates. (The men were then on hunger strikes.).” The report neglects to mention that over 70 health care professional signed that letter, and thousands of Canadians wrote letters on behalf of the men who were trying to improve living conditions in the facility dubbed Guantanamo North. Those detainees were held under a secret process unanimously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. Are all of these individual letter writers and Supreme Court judges now suspect?
Meanwhile, the terrorism industry’s most trusted guardians, those who produce endlessly scare mongering “op-ed” pieces for our papers, cheerily joined in the fray with repeated warnings that Canada’s time will come.
One Kingston academic praises the arrests as “clear successes for the Canadian security community.” How can these be successes if the men have not even been tried, much less convicted? The Toronto Star editorializes on August 27, “Breaking up a terror plot,” without using the term alleged – have they made up their minds already?
PROFILING IS STILL THE RECOMMENDED ANSWER
The Globe and Mail’s editorial board seems to have made up their own minds too. While editorialists scream bloody murder about the allegedly disabling political correctness of not offending the Muslim community, and now take pains to say they are not trying to profile the community, they go ahead and do it anyway.
In an August 27 editorial, “The call of jihad rings far and wide,” the Globe expresses shock that one of the men alleged to be involved “accepted the Hippocratic oath.” The Globe did not mention that doctors complicit in torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Force Base, and other sites of torture have also taken that oath.
The editorial then asks “how to protect against a threat that cannot be stereotyped or fought by profiling based on age, appearance, or education.” In a leap of illogic, they answer that question by relying on the very profiling they say they will not use, saying “it is vital that those who would kill their fellow Canadians…are not sheltered or ignored by anyone in the Muslim community.”
MUSLIMS JUST CAN’T WIN
Aha, so there it is again: the false conclusion that the Muslim community “harbours” those engaged in terror.
The arrests of this past August are reminiscent of those that took place 7 years ago, when Canadian media faithfully repeated baseless allegations against almost two dozen young men falsely accused of links to al-Qaeda. The so-called RCMP Project Thread was a complete and unsubstantiated bust, but lives were ruined and fear spread as headlines in “liberal” papers such as the Toronto Star blared “"Terror suspect may be freed; But others held as security threats; Documents claim links to Al Qaeda".
Then as now, the same racist questions are raised, almost all of which ask whether Muslims are willing to “integrate” into Canadian or “Western” society. “He seemed so westernized,” says one friend of a suspect (Star, August 27), while others worry about the “ordinariness” of the suspects (they played hockey!!!!).
Most incendiary was the August 27 headline in the Ottawa Citizen, screaming out, above two pictures of bearded men: “Your friends and neighbours: The Face of homegrown terror.” What kind of message does this send to anyone who may wear a skull cap and sport a beard? Are they to be looked at with suspicion? Obviously. And now, the ordinariness argument is thrown in. Not only are we to fear and suspect people who look this way, we are doubly to fear them if they are doctors, engineers, or computer technicians who like to play ball hockey. The message is clear: if you are Muslim, you cannot be accepted in “Canadian” society. If you are a successful Muslim in a professional field, can we REALLY trust you?
TIME FOR A CHILL PILL
Amidst all the hand-wringing and scare mongering, there have been the odd voices calling for reason and reflection. One of them, the Citizen’s Dan Gardner, reminded Canadians that while no one was killed by “terrorism” in 2006, 41 people were killed in bath tub accidents, 9 in canoe and kayaking incidents, six by hot tap water, 104 by choking to death, and 54 by falls from ladders. Gardner notes that perhaps it’s time we stepped back and examine the real threats to the health and safety of Canadians (heart disease, diabetes, etc.).
“Terrorism is nothing more than one item on a very long list of relatively modest threats we cope with in modern life,” he writes. “Perceptions to the contrary are not the product of evidence and reason, but of flawed media reporting, self-interested hype and unfortunate foibles in human psychology.”
His conclusion, ultimately, is that we need to “calm the hell down.”
(Report from the bearded Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada and Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture)
"A revolution is interesting insofar as it avoids like the plague the plague it promised to heal." Daniel Berrigan
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
By Matthew Behrens (from rabble.ca)
| May 4, 2010
Viewers tuning in to last Wednesday evening's rabble.ca videocast from Montreal could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled across a surreal version of the infamous PBS fund drives that annually dominate American airwaves.
Indeed, the perky pitches from energetic hosts, a phone bank of pledge takers, and a large map of Canada with pins marking the city of each donation would have seemed familiar to anyone who enjoys public television or radio.
But that is where the similarities ended. Those calling in to take part in a "sanctions-busting telethon" in support of Montreal's Abousfian Abdelrazik were informed that, by donating, they could risk prosecution under Canadian law. Remarkably, over 100 people who did get through understood the caution, pledged thousands of dollars, and consented to having their names listed in a public act of defiance. (Their names can be found at http://www.peoplescommission.org/en/abdelrazik/supporters.php)
The telethon was part of a six-month campaign to remove Abdelrazik from the United Nations 1267 list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on anyone unlucky enough to be named. Individuals can be placed on the list without notice or access to the "case" against them, and with no right to a hearing or an appeal.
Abdelrazik was placed there during a six-year ordeal of detention and torture in Sudan, one in which the Canadian government was found complicit by the federal court in 2009.
After repeated attempts to return home were foiled by the federal government, Abdelrazik entered the Canadian embassy in Khartoum in April 2008, and endured a 14-month exile there until hundreds of Canadians under the banner of "Project Flyhome" purchased an airline ticket for him, risking prosecution under Canada's United Nations Al Qaeda and Taliban Regulations (which stipulate that no Canadian shall "provide or collect by any means, directly or indirectly, funds with the intention that the funds be used" by a listed person).
Ottawa's refusal to issue a subsequent travel document triggered a federal court case that eventually resulted in an order compelling the government to bring Abdelrazik home. That decision also condemned the 1267 listing as "a denial of basic legal remedies and as untenable under the principles of international human rights. There is nothing in the listing or de-listing procedure that recognizes the principles of natural justice or that provides for basic procedural fairness."
And although he returned home on June 27, 2009, Abdelrazik found himself in a prison without walls, still subject to the 1267 restrictions preventing him from travel, accessing any assets, holding a job, or receiving social assistance.
In an interview with rabble.ca during the telethon, Abdelrazik described his shock last July when, shortly after opening a bank account in Montreal, he was called in by a manager who informed him his assets had been frozen. "I couldn't believe it," he says, "The manager, he looked sad, but said there was nothing he could do."
Since that time, Abdelrazik and his children have been condemned to legally enforced poverty, given the Canadian government's failure to push the UN to remove him from the 1267 list and to stop enforcement of his own restrictions, which, notably, have never been reviewed by Parliament.
Faced with the same Kafkaesque conundrum that his supporters met in 2009, the telethon seemed the perfect vehicle to again publicly challenge the sanctions imposed on Abdelrazik. No doubt to Ottawa's chagrin, the response to the telethon was immediate and enthusiastic.
Even before the event began, individuals from across the country -- from Camrose and Vancouver to Meaford, Iqaluit, Rivière de Loup, and Halifax -- had already pledged more than $1,350. As the telethon officially kicked off at 7 p.m., the phone lines were immediately flooded with calls from across the country, and remained busy until 9 p.m.
No one balked at the warning repeated scores of times throughout the evening about potential prosecution. In fact, many welcomed the challenge and, as one pledge taker noted, "One woman who is 87 said if the Mounties don't like it, they can come and take her away. Then she put her 91-year-old husband on the line and he said they could take him too."
Midway through the telethon, which also featured diverse entertainment by the likes of Norman Nawrocki, Al and Jess Blair, Ehab Lotayef, and Jou Jou Tourenne, viewers were informed that Abdelrazik has been granted an exemption that allows him to access a small portion of his funds for basic living expenses, a limited window of hope that he credits in part to the amount of grassroots support he has enjoyed since his return.
But the exemption is not enough. Addressing Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs minister Lawrence Cannon directly, Abdelrazik pleaded, through an Arabic-speaking interpreter: "I'm asking you at least for once to give priority to the human side. My kids, my family, have suffered for seven years. Please address the United Nations and ask that my name by taken off this inhuman list. I want to live like any other Canadian. I want a normal life."
In a subsequent interview, Abdelrazik said the telethon "gives me hope and encouragement to go on. This support, it makes me happy and sad at the same time. They are all taking a risk for me."
Always on Abdelrazik's mind are his three children and step-child who, he says, are also victims of this process, since they do not have a normal life, and can sense that they "do not have a normal father." He describes the pain he feels when he has to explain why they are the only family in Canada who cannot travel to the U.S. and visit Disneyworld.
Abdelrazik thanked his supporters, and noted, "I spent six years trying to come home. I can't spend another six trying to get off this list. This list makes me insecure and isolates me from others; until I am free of it, I won't feel like I am truly home."
Individuals wishing to make Mr. Abdelrazik feel more at home can join the campaign by contacting Project Fly Home, and by donating directly. Write cheques to Abousfian Abdelrazik and mail them to CSCP Charlevoix, P.O. Box 65053, Montréal, Q.C., H3K 0K4
Monday, February 8, 2010
Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
For immediate release
Abdullah Almalki Refused Entry to Air Canada Flight
Members of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture Demand Answers for Why Almalki was not Allowed on Domestic Flight
December 7, 2009 - Members of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture are expressing major concerns about the fact that, after being given a boarding pass for an Ottawa-to-Windsor flight on December 2, Ottawa resident Abdullah Almalki was not allowed onto the domestic Air Canada flight. Almalki, a Canadian citizen who was found to be tortured with the complicity of his own government, was supposed to have been in Windsor the next day to deliver a talk on "two-tier citizenship" as well as the manner in which the Canadian government was complicit his torture in Syria.
"The very day Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in China talking about the need to respect human rights, we have a Canadian citizen, Abdullah Almalki, turned away from a domestic flight that would have taken him to Windsor to talk about human rights," says campaign spokesperson Matthew Behrens. "What is going on?"
At the last minute, Mr. Almalki, an Ottawa engineer and father of six, was informed he could fly to Toronto but not carry on to Windsor because he was apparently "restricted from travelling in US airspace." In addition, Mr. Almalki found that his bag, despite being bound for a domestic flight, was opened and searched, but no sticker explaining that invasive intrusion nor indicating who searched his bag was placed on it.
Mr. Almalki, tortured almost a full two years in Syria based on false allegations and questions that came from Canada and, according to the secretive Iacobucci internal inquiry, based on allegations that were “inflammatory, inaccurate, and lacking investigative foundation,” is seeking an apology, accountability, and compensation for the ordeal that he and his family were put through by the Canadian government.
This incident occurred the day before the House of Commons passed a motion calling on the government to respect a series of recommendations from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security which, among other things, calls on the “Government of Canada do everything necessary to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin and members of their families.” (Mssrs. El Maati and Nureddin, both of Toronto, were also tortured both in Syria and, in Mr. El Maati’s case, in Egypt, based on similarly false allegations.)
Asked by members of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture how he felt about being turned away from the Air Canada flight, Mr. Almalki stated, "We have the O'Connor report more than three years ago, the Iacobucci report more than a a year ago – both of which confirm the Canadian complicity in my interrogation and torture in Syria – and now we have the MPs who represent the majority of the Canadian people in Parliament voting in favour of the government issuing an apology and correcting in Canada and abroad the huge and terrible misinformation that Canadian agencies falsely spread about myself and my family. When will the government act, and how much longer do my family and I have to suffer? Whose decision was it to prevent me from boarding a domestic flight to Windsor? I need answers, Canadians need answers.”
The refusal to allow Mr. Almalki on the Air Canada flight adds insult to the injury already sustained by the family earlier this year when they found out that his wife and oldest son, aged 15, had problems boarding a plane in Vancouver until his wife showed airport officials a copy of the 544-page Iacobucci internal inquiry report.
Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture is an organization that for a number of years has worked with Canadians who have been tortured with the complicity of their own government. In 2008, it organized two cross-Ontario caravans raising awareness of the issue and organizing speaking events featuring Mssrs. Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin.
For more information, or to contact contact Mr. Almalki, please contact Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture at (416) 651-5800 or visit www.abdullahalmalki.com.
Detained almost exclusively in solitary confinement since 2001, Almrei now
looking to piece his life together
(report from the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada)
Toronto, December 14, 2009 -- The Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, which for almost a decade has sought abolition of secret hearing security certificates, rejoices in the decision to quash the security certificate against Hassan Almrei, who has spent more time in solitary
confinement than anyone in recent Canadian history.
In a 183-page decision released today, Judge Richard Mosley of the Federal Court found, "Having considered all of the information and other evidence presented to the Court, I am satisfied that Hassan Almrei has not engaged in terrorism and is not and was not a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe has, does or will engage in terrorism. I find that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that Hassan Almrei is
today, a danger to the security of Canada. Thus, I find that none of the grounds of inadmissibility in subsection 34(1) of the Act have been made out and, accordingly, I find that the certificate is not reasonable and must be quashed."
Significantly, Mosley also found that the government and CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, "were in breach of their duty of candour to the Court," noting "The duties of utmost good faith and candour imply that the party relying upon the presentation of ex parte evidence [i.e., the stuff being heard in secret in the absence of Mr. Almrei and his lawyer] will conduct a thorough review of the information in its possession and make representations based on all of the information including that which is unfavourable to their case. That was not done in this instance. The 2008 SIR [security intelligence report] was assembled with information that could only be construed as unfavourable to Almrei without any serious attempt to include information to the contrary, or to update their assessment."
The Almrei decision is riddled with comments that point to the weaknesses in the alleged case against him, weaknesses that show that CSIS and other government agencies have taken full advantage of a fundamentally flawed and unfair process to try and not only falsely tar Almrei with the terrorist brush, but to have him deported to torture in Syria as well. Similar findings have been made in other recent security certificate cases as well.
While Judge Mosley still comes to the remarkable conclusion that the security certificate process as currently constructed is working, this is no comfort to those three men who continue to wonder what is in the secret case against them: Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, and Mohamed Harkat. They still do not know the heart of the case against them, or even if such a case exists; that is still to be determined in secret, and they continue the fight to stop their deportation to torture and to end draconian house arrest.
GOVERNMENT WITHHELD INFORMATION FROM THE COURT
Indeed, one imagines we shall see in the remaining cases a similar pattern of CSIS malfeasance emerging. Mosley notes that his 2009 decision is based on information "that was not previously presented to the Court," noting that only information that casts a negative light on Mr. Almrei was presented until additional disclosure requirements as a result of a second
Supreme Court challenge by detainee Adil Charkaoui opened a few more doors.
Mosley notes that when he looked at the secret files, "redactions had been excessive and tended to unnecessarily obscure portions of the records. For example, the names and other identifying particulars of casual contacts and sources of information, including police officers, was routinely redacted in these documents in keeping with the [CSIS]’s policy of protecting human sources. This information was not sensitive and would not have put individuals at risk if inadvertently released." He was also critical of the government's practice of continuing to file "new" information that was not presented to the ministers who signed the security certificate, a tactic the government tends to use to bolster its case at certain strategic times when it appears the detainee may be gaining ground.
Despite Mosley's conclusions as to the workability of the law as currently constructed, his lengthy reasons are a good insight into the "workings" (read failings!) of a security certificate and how, despite his own confidence in the process, one can see how easily a certificate can
condemn one to years of indefinite detention in advance of deportation to torture (indeed, until the recent quashing of the Charkaoui certificate, only two others out of almost 30 had ever been quashed.)
As the law allows anything to be put into evidence, even if it is not normally admissable in a court of law, Mosley notes that in Almrei's case, much of the unclassified material consisted of newspaper and magazine reports along with on-line reports, often with unknown authors and
PROFILING AND PARANOIA
Some declassified surveillance reports show the extent to which profiling and paranoia contributed to the arrest and decade-long ordeal of Mr. Almrei. For example, one report "describes Almrei’s driving behaviour as he was followed around Niagara Falls while he visited several nightclubs and restaurants. This ... report was relied upon in support of an assertion that Almrei had exhibited security tradecraft in an effort to determine whether he was being followed. Another interpretation, conveyed by one of the surveillance teams, is that he was wandering around just to kill time."
Meantime, the "human sources" whose allegations jailed Almrei were also highly suspect. Mosley points out that CSIS interview notes of the informers, if any were actually made, were not retained. And "in respect of one human source, a polygraph examination had not been performed as was previously reported. With regard to a second human source, the
circumstances surrounding a 2007 polygraph examination, not directly related to this matter, were in question...the second human source was found to have been deceptive in providing answers during the 2007 polygraph examination."
Worse still, these deficiencies had not come to light until this year. As Mosley points out, "Production of the Charkaoui 2 [disclosure] information also allowed for a comparison of the reports of information provided by the human sources with other information held by CSIS including the intercept and surveillance reports. That comparison identified some serious contradictions. In the result, I was satisfied that the highly relevant information provided by one source in particular was not credible as it conflicted with surveillance and intercept reports made by CSIS personnel regarding the same dates and times. It is of particular concern
that these contradictions did not come to light until they were put to the Service witness in cross-examination by the Special Advocates [security-cleared lawyers who can test some, but not all, of the secret case]. That witness was unable to provide satisfactory explanations for
the failure of the Service to analyse the conflicting reports and to disclose this information to the Ministers and to the Court. This suggests a serious lack of analytical capacity in managing the enormous volume of information collected by the Service."
The Almrei decision, in analyzing the public merits of the case, is almost unceasing in pointing out the many flaws in the CSIS approach to these cases, from the use of information for which the original source was not checked, and the use of excerpts from such unreliable sources as
Wikipedia, to the provision of clearly stale and outdated information and misleading and selective quoting from important judicial decisions that actually change their original meaning in a manner meant to, again, cast a negative light on Almrei.
Of course, advocates for secret trial abolition have pointed out such fatal flaws in the process for years; it will forever be a cause of shame that Federal Court justices have been so blind to the bias that so clearly existed, with the resultant, incalculable human cost to the detainees and
The fact that Mr. Almrei had lied to authorities, which he himself admits, seems to have been blown out of proportion as well. As Mosley quite correctly recognizes, "It is an unfortunate reality that many people lie in their encounters with the authorities over immigration matters.
Particularly those who come from regions of the world where telling the truth to the authorities may not be advisable."
GUILT BY ASSOCIATION
Mosley also takes to task the amazing calisthenics through which CSIS witnesses place the "facts" of their case by building guilt by association. Indeed, he shows how witness Thomas Quiggan, a national security expert, explained that "The Ministers' case is concerned with
inferences drawn from association or linkage to Al Qaeda. The Taliban supported Al Qaeda. Hamid Karzai supported the Taliban. Canada supports Karzai. If you took the logic to its extreme, in Mr. Quiggin’s view, one could say that the Canadian government is linked to Al Qaeda. It is all a question of context."
Another expert witness, Brian Williams, had pointed out that he was stunned to read the Security Intelligence Report on Mr. Almrei, which Williams said he would have given "a failing grade had it been submitted by one of his students." (Interestingly, the exact same words had been used five years ago by a secret trials opponent while in court, and she was taken to task for making such a comment. Times have changed.)
Interestingly, Mosley comes back to Williams' testimony by recalling, "Williams has turned down requests to testify in 14 Al Qaeda related cases. He was sceptical about this one also but agreed to read the materials. As he did, he says, he had a growing concern that the government story did not fit what he knew about the history of the region. He found glaring historical errors and misstatements.
Williams says he would have failed a student who relied on flimsy internet sources such as those in the public summary. In his view, the document was prepared under pressure and with orders to find linkages between Almrei and Al Qaeda. As a result, the analysts used “wiki-intel” to hastily paste together reckless claims. Williams claims he had never seen such a poorly
prepared analysis of this nature."
As Mosley brings his lengthy decision to a close, he points out that one of the government's main contentions -- that Bin Laden retains the resources to launch a major strike, "The source given for this proposition is a January 1999 report from a non-authoritative, and now stale, online source. While that may have been true in 1999, it is questionable to-day." Indeed, it is typical of a larger lethargy in the preparation of the allegations against Almrei, and Mosley laments, "I found it troubling that the work done to prepare the new SIR [security intelligence report] in 2008 had not kept pace with developments in the field. And the sources relied upon by the Service were often non-authoritative, misleading or inaccurate," and "simply recycled stale information without attempting to offer a more balanced and nuanced view."
Mosley also notes that numerous of the human sources in this case provided information from which CSIS "then drew certain inferences from that information which, in my view, were not well-founded," adding "I am satisfied that certain of the human sources in this case had motives to concoct stories that cast Almrei in a negative light."
YEARS IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
Almrei, arrested in October 2001 on secret allegations that he could not access or rebut, spent the following four years and two months in solitary confinement, freezing through the first two winters in an unheated cell at Metro West Detention Centre. Many Canadians first heard of Almrei when he went on a 40-day hunger strike to have the heat turned on in his cell in October, 2003. At the time, a classified government memorandum (later released during the Arar Inquiry) revealed that the federal government did not have enough information to lay a criminal charge against Mr. Almrei; that same document expressed concerns that the torture of Mr. Arar in Syrias would make it more difficult to have Mr. Almrei deported to the same fate in Syria.
Almrei, along with Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat (held on security certificate since December 10, 2002), joined the historic 2006 Supreme Court challenge launched by Montrealer Adil Charkaoui (arrested in May 2003) to seek an end to security certificates. The Court, in February 2007, unanimously found that the heart of the security certificate process violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, asking how one can answer a case that one does not know. But the federal government simply added some minor changes (including security-cleared special advocates who could test some of what is in the secret file), but the new legislation allowed the detainee no greater access to the case against them than they had before.
Following the transfer of four secret trial detainees to the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (aka Guantanamo North), Mr. Harkat, along with fellow detainees Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohammad Mahjoub, were eventually released to strict house arrest, leaving Mr. Almrei once again in solitary confinement as the only detainee in the Kingston facility. Released under
house arrest earlier this year, Mr. Almrei has lived on his own, wearing a GPS monitoring bracelet and phoning the government to seek permission to buy groceries, visit doctors, and have friends visit.
The quashing of Mr. Almrei's certificate is the latest blow against the draconian secretive process, which allows for lower standards of justice than those applied to citizens facing equally if not more serious allegations. Reecently, Montreal's Adil Charkaoui saw his certificate
quashed, and Mohamed Harkat uin Ottawa had most of his house arrest conditions dropped. While Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has announced that there will be a review of the law because it does not appear to be working, critics of the process note that then Public Safety
Minister Stockwell Day, in February of 2008, praised the new secret trial legislation as among the best in the world.
"The fact that even with the cards stacked so high against the detainees that these cases are falling apart shows how non-existent they are to begin with," says spokesperson Matthew Behrens. "The fact that Mr. Almrei has lost a decade of his life to a process that has detained him with, as the government has admitted, not enough information to even lay a criminal
charge, speaks to how dangerous this process really is."
Behrens notes that the claims these cases are falling apart because of national security concerns -- CSIS does not want to disclose information even in the secret hearings -- is pure rubbish. "As we saw in the Arar Inquiry, the government claims National Security Confidentiality every
time it is worried about being embarrassed, not because anyone is threatened by its release."
While media reports continue to portray these victories as "blows" to a beleaguered CSIS, they fail to see the reality: they are in fact a testament to the almost decade-long struggle of the detainees, their families, and their supporters to overcome vicious lies and scare tactics
and cling to some basic cherished principles, including the presumption of innocence, and the right to see and question one's accuser. They have also continued to struggle for the right of all people in Canada, regardless of citizenship status, to equality in the eyes of the law, a principle
grossly violated by security certificates (along with numerous other attributes of immigration law."
That struggle continues. If you can help, we would appreciate contributions. You can send donations to Homes not Bombs, PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. The funds will be used for ongoing educational and political work as well as detainee family support.
For more information: Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org, (416) 651-5800
Take Action to Demand a Public Inquiry into Canada's First 9/11 Rendition to Torture
While headlines rightfully scream about the scandal of Canadian troops transferring Afghan detainees to torture, an Algerian refugee here in Canada continues waging a lonely struggle to determine why Canadian officials decided to illegally render him to the United States on September 12, 2001 with the false, dangerously inflammatory accusation that as a Muslim who knew about airplanes, he was connected to 9/11. The resultant five years of indefinite detention in the U.S. under conditions that the United Nations declared constituted torture continue to haunt Mr., Benatta, who was eventually returned to Canada where his refugee claim was accepted (adding further concerns that a person in need of protection was so callously thrown back to the U.S., from whence he could have been deported to his death in Algeria).
While Greater Toronto area residents can attend a free International Human Rights Day public event featuring Mr. Benatta and Prisoner of Tehran author Marina Nemat on Wednesday, December 9 at 7:15 pm at Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street (mark your calendars!), all are invited to respond to the call to demand a public inquiry (see below)
Toronto Action for Social Change (founding member of the Benatta Coalition for a Public Review, www.benamarbenatta.com)
Read more about Benamar's case here: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/668160
Contributions to the Benatta Education Fund can be sent to Toronto Action for Social Change, PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. Put Benatta in the memo portion of cheque. All funds will go toward Mr. Benatta's efforts to complete his education. If you would like a charitable tax receipt email us at email@example.com for details.
Below is an appeal from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association regarding the case.
Please forward this item widely and take a moment to email the PM and his Ministers about this case, calling for an immediate inquiry into how Canada helped send this man off to torture in the US. Thanks, Tom
Please send your emails to
Prime Minister Harper, PM@PM.gc.ca
Minister of Public Safety Van Loan VanLoP@parl.gc.ca
An inquiry is needed to determine how Canada became an accomplice to torture in the U.S.
By Tom Sandborn, Special to the SunOctober 9, 2009
Most Canadians know the name Maher Arar. It has been clearly established and admitted by our government that misconduct by Canadian officials played a role in Arar's shameful rendition to torture in Syria.
Far fewer of us know the name Benamar Benatta. We should, because credible accounts suggest that Benatta, an Algerian national who applied for refugee status in Canada in the week before 9/11, was rendered back across the border into the hands of American officials who held him for five years, despite the fact the FBI dismissed suggestions he was a terrorist only months after his involuntary surrender to American custody.
During his five years of American imprisonment, Benatta says he was tortured, and a 2004 report from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention agrees his treatment "could be described as torture." When handed over to American officials, Benatta had been in Canadian custody for seven days and should have had the benefit of due process guaranteed by law and the Charter.
Instead, it appears he was unceremoniously bundled into the back of a car and shipped across the border into the hands of men who were willing to ignore his rights and subject him to years of unwarranted detention and maltreatment.
Since his return to Canada in 2006, Benatta has received the refugee status he asked for in 2001. What he has been denied is any credible explanation of how Canada came to act as an accomplice to torture in his case. He has been calling since his return for an impartial and public investigation that would provide him, and the Canadian people, with an account of how this civil liberties and human rights nightmare was allowed to unfold.
This summer, the BCCLA (www.bccla.org ) wrote to Canada's prime minister, attorney general and minister of public safety, calling for just such an inquiry. To date, we have received no substantive reply. Benatta, finally safe in Canada after his American ordeal, deserves a public accounting for the role Canada played in sending him into harm's way. The Canadian people deserve reassurance that our tax dollars will not in the future be used to open the door to a torture chamber.
It is past time for an inquiry into the Benatta case. The BCCLA again urges this government to finally do the right thing and convene such an inquiry.
Tom Sandborn is a member of the board of directors of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.