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Spies at work

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Issue: 45 Section: Canadian News Geography: Quebec Montreal Topics: racism

April 20, 2007

Spies at work

CSIS questioning of Canadian Muslims threatens their jobs

by Stefan Christoff

Visits from CSIS are an occupational hazard: Bassam Hussein

MONTREAL MIRROR--The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is conducting regular interviews and interrogations with hundreds of Arabs and Muslims across Canada at their workplaces, homes and in the vicinity of local mosques, say national and Montreal-based Arab and Muslim community groups. The groups are reporting major increases in the numbers of calls from distressed community members concerning CSIS interventions. According to the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in Canada (CAIR-Canada), CSIS intelligence-gathering activities have increased over the past year.

“Community members who have been approached by CSIS across the country are calling our office on a weekly basis,” says Sameer Zuberi, CAIR-Canada’s communications co-ordinator. “This hike in CSIS visits is alarming to CAIR-Canada as it casts a blanket of fear and intimidation that is spread over our entire community.”

In response to increased CSIS activity, CAIR-Canada has shipped thousands of copies of a publication designed for Canadian Muslims dealing with CSIS and other Canadian authorities, entitled Know Your Rights Guide, to local mosques and community centres.

“I got a call from a CSIS agent a couple of months ago asking for a meeting at a café downtown on Peel street,” says former Concordia student Mohammed over the phone from Kuwait, where he is currently working as a mechanical engineer. He asked that his last name not be used due to fears of possible repercussions. “I was asked numerous questions concerning my own involvement in the Muslim community [and] was asked by the CSIS agent to not bring a lawyer to the meeting. The agents acknowledged that they had no specific incriminating evidence against me, but explained in a non-direct fashion that they simply wanted to gather information on our community, leading me to feel suspect in Canada simply because of my religion.”

“People are being targeted by CSIS for simply belonging to a certain ethnic group with certain religious beliefs without any obvious rationale for such targeting,” says Bassam Hussein of the Centre Communautaire Musulman de Montréal. “I was recently visited by a mother of four in Montreal who was seeking help due to CSIS harassment against her and her husband,” says Hussein. “CSIS went to her husband’s employer to inquire about him, the employer was terrified when CSIS contacted him and two weeks later, the employer let the husband go.”

The 2007 Conservative federal budget “earmarks new funding for CSIS,” according to the Ministry of Finance website, to the tune of $80 million over two years in addition to the approximately $200 million already allocated to Canada’s national spy agency. Media representatives from CSIS did not return repeated requests for an interview from the Mirror before deadline.

CAIR-Canada recently reported that approximately 30 per cent of all CSIS visits in the Muslim community are occurring at the workplace, often putting individuals’ careers in jeopardy.

“Community members feel that their civil liberties are being seriously compromised under the pretext of fighting terrorism,” says Hussein. “Community members who I know are being contacted by CSIS are simple people working hard to live in peace and raise their families.”

The following letters were published in the Mirror in response to this article.

Letters of April 12:

[Re: “Spies at work,” April 5]: Stefan Christoff’s article is inaccurate and misleading in several respects and does not represent the state of relations between CSIS and Canada’s Muslim community.

Mr. Christoff’s assertion that “Media representatives from CSIS did not return repeated requests for an interview from the Mirror before deadline” is simply untrue. Mr. Christoff left one message, which was returned within two hours, at which point he had apparently already filed his story.

Had Mr. Christoff decided he wanted to balance his story with commentary from CSIS — or information from the extensive CSIS website — he would have learned that interviewing a person at his or her workplace is an exception, not the rule, in how CSIS performs its duties. CSIS makes every effort to interview people at a location that is convenient for them.

In addition, CSIS is not a law-enforcement agency. We do not gather evidence, as the story suggests, and we cannot arrest people. CSIS relies upon the voluntary assistance of members of the community. Despite counsel from some associations not to assist us, CSIS receives useful information from all segments of Canadian society, and we are grateful for this assistance because it helps us keep all Canadians safe.

For several years, CSIS has been an active participant in a number of outreach meetings with various ethno-cultural communities across Canada, including in Montreal. CAIR-CAN, which seems to be advising Muslim Canadians to not help CSIS discharge its duties, has participated in some of these meetings, and is fully aware that they can alert CSIS to any perceived instances of inappropriate behaviour on the part of CSIS employees. To date, it has never done so, choosing instead to bring its vague accusations to the media.

A minimum of research on Mr. Christoff’s part would have resulted in a balanced story, one that would have informed readers rather than trying, rather blatantly, to incite anger in the community.

John M. Dunn, Director General, Communications, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Ottawa

[Ed’s note: Stefan Christoff replies that he left messages on March 30 and April 2]

I just wanted to congratulate you for your article “Spies at work.” My first reaction is fear and disgust towards the racist behaviour of government agents here in Canada. But my second reaction is hope and pride that some newspapers like yours publish this kind of information. First, because it needs to be told, but especially because it seems that it is usually hidden not only out of ignorance or lack of interest, but out of fear of going against the “Terrorist Act,” “Patriot Act,” “War Against Terror” and all this propaganda that we are being fed all day long.

Thereby, in the name of our protection, our governments actually subtly shut our freedom of speech. So congratulations for going against this form of self-censorship.

Prof. Dror Warschawski, UQÀM

Kudos to Christoff for shedding light on the state intimidation and institutionalized racism in Canada towards Arabs, Muslims and those who might be perceived as Arab or Muslim. It is such a relief to see that alternative media like the Montreal Mirror still covers issues that the mainstream press is not willing to touch.

Having moved to Parc Extension recently, I see the type of intimidation that Christoff describes on a weekly basis with police patrols on Fridays and overall increased police presence in the neighbourhood. Their mere presence (ie. the parade of cop cars in front of the mosques) causes discomfort and unease amongst all of the residents of the neighbourhood and creates an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

I am absolutely disgusted to read that CSIS is playing an even more insidious part in all of this by going to innocent people’s employers to inquire about them. How dare CSIS interview or interrogate people who are not under investigation? According to their logic, in our modern democracy, it is perfectly fine to endanger the livelihoods of people, trample their civil liberties and abuse their fundamental human rights just because of the colour of their skin or their creed. I hope that more people speak out about this frightening trend.

Indu Vashist

Kudos to the Mirror for revealing the disturbing facts about CSIS’s harassment of Muslim communities. I have long heard about this going on, but I have not, until now, seen any coverage in the press about these activities.

If there are reasonable measures that can be taken to stop people with plans to attack people or targets inside the US or Canada, CSIS has clearly gone several steps beyond these. Broad racial profiling of this kind is criminal, and it is embarrassing and shameful that they have been doing it with impunity for so long.

Dru Oja Jay

Letters of April 19:

[Re: “Spies at work,” April 5]: We have been closely following the important discussion in the Mirror about CSIS and the targeting of Muslim communities. The assertions made by CSIS’s communications director [Letters, April 12], John Dunn, about good relations between the spy agency and the communities it is targeting do not correspond to testimony we heard during the People’s Commission’s public hearings held in Montreal last spring.

Witness after witness spoke about the sense of intimidation and alienation in communities that CSIS is targeting. There was nothing at all vague about the detailed testimonies about experiences with CSIS, or about the sometimes devastating impact on people’s lives; from job loss after workplace visits, to social isolation, to living in limbo without legal status for years.

The final report from the hearings includes a full subsection on CSIS practices and can be downloaded at www.peoplescommission.ath.cx. Mr. Dunn should know that there is nothing “voluntary” about “assistance” provided in a context of fear. The fact that CAIR-CAN, a well-respected and very moderate national organization, has gone to the length of warning people not to cooperate with CSIS for their own safety says a great deal about the level of distrust that CSIS practices have generated.

We hope Mr. Dunn will forgive us for not taking his invitation to report abuses to the very agency that perpetrates them very seriously. Indeed, it was the lack of effective recourse that led community organizations to establish the People’s Commission in the first place.

People’s Commission on Immigration Security Measures, Montreal

Letters of April 26:

In his letter [Letters, April 12] response to Stefan Christoff’s article [“Spies at work,” April 5], John Dunn, CSIS’s General Director Communications, made a number of factually inaccurate statements about the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN).

Mr. Dunn alleges that CAIR-CAN advises the community not to co-operate with the spy agency. In fact, we simply advise community members of their rights under Canadian law, and insist that meetings with CSIS only be arranged when a lawyer is present. This ensures that abuse, misunderstanding and intimidation are minimized. Unfortunately, CSIS operatives oftentimes discourage people from contacting lawyers. In a number of cases, CSIS has actually cancelled meetings when a lawyer’s presence is insisted upon.

Additionally, Mr. Dunn states that CAIR-CAN has never directly confronted CSIS on their dubious practices; this again is false. On several occasions, CAIR-CAN has directly communicated concerns about workplace visitations, discouraging legal counsel and community intimidation to CSIS’s top levels.

As a result, instances of abuse and insensitivity have been reduced; nevertheless, there is still much room for improvement.

CAIR-CAN holds that protecting our country’s national security is paramount; however, its pursuit is not above the law, nor can it disregard the fundamental rights of people. By acting as a watchdog, and insisting on public accountability over CSIS, a powerful state apparatus, CAIR-CAN is simply contributing to the democratic process.

Like the People’s Commission on Immigration Security Measures, CAIR-CAN has also published a report on CSIS. This document is available at the publications section of our Web site, www.caircan.ca.

Sameer Zuberi

[Re: “Spies at work,” April 5]: I guess I should start by thanking the Mirror editors for deciding to publish this article about the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — Canada’s spy agency — questioning Canadian Muslims at their workplaces. This has not been reported anywhere else and you should be applauded for doing so. Bravo to the writer of the article, and more importantly, to those who give their full names in the article, because it can be scary to publicly criticize a spy agency. Spies can be dangerous and intrusive, right?!

CSIS needs to be reminded—and publicly—that it cannot abuse its role of “protecting the national security interests of Canada” by harassing people at work. CSIS is also supposed to be “guided by the rule of law and the protection of human rights.” Is the right to work without harassment not a human right?

Hopefully, the Mirror’s attention to this inappropriate behaviour by CSIS will get its “workplace visits” reviewed by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which “ensures that (CSIS) powers are used legally and appropriately, in order to protect Canadians’ rights and freedoms.” Since SIRC does not oversee CSIS, but “examines CSIS’s performance on a retrospective basis,” this type of reporting is crucial to prevent further inappropriate behaviour, which can only lead to abuse of power and corruption.

And we certainly don’t want a post-9/11 trend of increased institutionalized racism in Canada towards Arabs and Muslims to lead this country to an East German-style Stasi protecting our security and interests. That’s for sure!

David Widgington

This is really scary. Are we turning into a country like any other where people’s rights are affected? People will start living in fear and many immigrants leave their countries to come to Canada to find peace and freedom.

This is sad.



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just recieved a call from csis..!!

i recieved a call from them too asking me for a meeting @715 peel ..on thursday april the 3 rd 2008 ..they told me they want to discuss issues concerning lebanon which i didn't believe it one bit ! who am i so that they want my oppinion about lebanon ?! they must want to threaten me or scare me to leave this country ..i'll tell you & them one thing ,i will not feel sorry for leaving this country : racisim at work ..bad streets bad health care ...they have money to lose in afghanistan but not to educate our children or to fix our roads !!

one of my friends was harassed too just because he was always surfing jihadi web sites just for general informations.. they should then arrest all the media who are following and geting infos from those sites too !! is it because they don't want us to know the truth about how their behinds are kiked in afghanistan and iraq ?! it is for you to judge ..

Mr.Christoff please see

Mr.Christoff please see article in paper called "the working forests" volume 14 issue 5,entitled "land owners encouraged to assert crown land patent rights"please help free the people by reporting on said.Or link through comments.

Although this is a four year old article

Although this is a four year old article, I've just lost my job after a visit from a CSIS agent. A job that I worked so hard to get and was so much fun to work with, I was fired without any reason, just two weeks after the CSIS agent arrived at my house.

His recent visits became more frequent , even after knowing I got fired. Now his tone is becoming more and more aggressive , as if he's trying to entrap me or rather his questions becoming more direct, as if I was some kind of a terrorist.

I thought Canada was a free country, but now I'm trying to find a way to get out of this freak as soon as possible. Appears to me that these people are nothing but puppet dogs of US ---A

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