HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS: A CANADIAN PRIMER
Canada claims to respect human rights. This claim ignores a number of facts. Just looking at the last decade, there have been many violations of human rights by Canadian authorities. There has also been a targeting of certain ethnic, national, and religious groups.
• Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was detained by US security agents at a New York airport in 2002. After days of interrogation, Mr. Arar was deported to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured before being released without charges nine months later.
The Canadian government’s commission of inquiry found that the CIA had acted on false information provided by the RCMP, who wrongly accused Mr. Arar of ties to al-Qaeda. It also found that, after Mr. Arar’s return to Canada, Canadian security officials, aided by the media, launched a smear campaign against him. The commission exonerated Maher Arar of any wrongdoing.
• Extraordinary rendition is the practice of transferring suspected terrorists, without due process, to foreign prisons where torture is permitted. The practice is legal in the US. It is not legal in Canada. As the Arar Commission revealed, after the RCMP gave intelligence to the CIA, Canadian officials suspected that Mr Arar might be shipped somewhere where he could be “questioned in a firm manner,” but they did nothing to stop his deportation. Nor did they initially do anything to secure his release once he was in jail in Syria.
The name “Maher Arar” is now well-known in Canada. Less familiar are the stories of three other Canadians who, in a modified version of extraordinary rendition, were imprisoned while they were travelling in Syria: Muayyed Nureddin for one month, Abdullah Almalki for 22 months, and Ahmad Abou El Maati for 27 months. All three say they were tortured. All three have returned to Canada and have not been charged. There was no apparent US involvement in these cases. In December 2006, the Canadian government launched an inquiry into the role played by Canadian security officials in the three men’s imprisonment. Unlike the Arar Commission, this inquiry is being conducted in secret, a move that excludes the three men from participation in the proceedings.
• Omar Khadr, a Canadian, is the only detainee from a western country in Guantanamo Bay prison. He is charged with killing a US soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. At the time he was taken prisoner by US forces, Omar Khadr was 15 years old. He is the only child in modern history to be charged with war crimes.
“Enhanced interrogation techniques,” another term for torture and humiliation, is official US government policy at Guantanamo. According to US government officials, the Geneva Conventions protecting prisoners of war from abuse do not apply to Guantanamo detainees. Britain, Australia, Sweden, and Germany were able to negotiate the release of their citizens from Guantanamo. Canada, on the other hand, sent intelligence officers to Guantanamo to interrogate Mr Khadr and then passed the information on to US prosecutors.
• Security certificates are a legal instrument by which the Government of Canada can detain and deport resident non-citizens. They strip individuals of their habeas corpus right to be brought before a court of law. Individuals may be held for several years without criminal charges being laid. They can also be deported without any criminal charge or conviction. In February 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that security certificates were unconstitutional. In February 2008, parliament passed a slightly amended version of the security certificate legislation.
Currently there are 5 people being held under security certificates in Canada. Mohammad Zeki Mahjoub has been detained since June 2000, Mahmoud Jaballah since August 2001, Hassan Almrei since October 2001, Mohamed Harkat since December 2002, and Adil Charkoui since May 2003.
• Project Thread is the code name of an RCMP investigation that in 2003 led to the arrest in Toronto of 21 mainly Pakistani students on the grounds that they might pose a threat to national security. None was ever charged with terrorism-related offences. All were found guilty of minor immigration infractions. Most have been deported.
• Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, was rushed through Canadian parliament in late December 2001. It gives the state special powers of prosecution and investigation. These include preventative arrests–the right to detain people on the mere suspicion they may be about to commit a crime; investigative hearings–the power to compel testimony, under threat of imprisonment, in secret judicial hearings; and closed trials–the right to withhold from the accused and the public the precise nature of the allegations.
• The Toronto 18 are 14 men and 4 teenagers, all Muslim Canadians, who were arrested in the Toronto area in June 2006 and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The charges include conspiring to storm Parliament Hill and take MPs hostage and to use bombs made of fertilizer to blow up the offices of CSIS, the RCMP, and the CBC.
Despite two years of investigation, there is scant evidence to suggest the suspects were plotting anything at all. 3 of the teenagers and 1 of the adults have been released without charges. 5 of the adults are out on bail. The 8 remaining adults are still incarcerated, nearly 2 years after their arrest, awaiting trial or bail hearings. The remaining youth is currently on trial.
• The no-fly list is a list of people banned from boarding aeroplanes in Canada. Compiled by Transport Canada, with input from the RCMP, CSIS, and US security authorities, it took effect in June 2007. The list, which is not available to the public, contains between 500 and 2,000 names. As Maher Arar stated, “It’s safe to assume that most of those names are of people who have a Muslim background.”
A free and democratic society is built on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. Not to speak out against human rights abuses is to be complicit in the violation. Canadians would do well to heed Martin Niemöller’s warning to his fellow Germans, a contemporary version of which appears below.
First they came for the Muslims.
But I remained silent because I was not a Muslim.
Then they came for the recent immigrants.
I did not speak up because I was not one of them.
Next they came for the peace and justice activists.
Again I remained silent. I was not one of them either.
By the time they came for me
There was no one left to speak up.
MAKING PEACE VIGIL
Bearing witness to our society’s involvement in violence and injustice
Committing ourselves to creative action for change
until peace breaks out
From 12 noon to 12:30 pm
On Scarth Street at 11th Avenue