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Open Letter to the People of Canada

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Issue: 42 Section: Opinion Geography: Ontario Millhaven

January 13, 2007

Open Letter to the People of Canada

from the Detainees at Canada's Guantanamo Bay

by Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei

Mahmoud Jaballah at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre in Millhaven Penitentiary. Photo: Darren Ell

We are writing to you because the government of Canada will not speak with us. We are three Muslim men who have been detained under a security certificate, without charge or bail, for between 5 and 6 and a half years. We are not allowed to know the evidence against us.

Many groups such as Amnesty International have called security certificates fundamentally flawed and unfair. The United Nations has criticized Canada for this practice. Right now, the Supreme Court is deciding what Canada should do about them.

We are held at a place called the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC), located on the grounds of Millhaven Penitentiary. Some people have called this place Guantanamo Bay North. Like the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, we are held indefinitely. This is a kind of psychological torture that is almost unimaginable. We do not know when, or if, we will be released from jail.

We still have many months, and possibly years, of jail before us while our cases go through different court proceedings.

We have been very patient and done our best to deal with a process where it is impossible to defend yourself. And we will remain patient, because we know that ultimately, we will be let out, because we are innocent men.

But sometimes there is only so much human beings should be required to accept before they raise their voice in peaceful protest.

Hassan Almrei at Millhaven Penitentiary. Photo: Darren Ell

Right now we are on a liquid-only hunger strike protesting the conditions of our detention. For Mohammad Mahjoub, it is day 45, for Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, it is day 34. We do not want to be on hunger strike. It is hard on us and our families. But it is the only voice we have.

When we were detained in Toronto, there were many hunger strikes protesting our conditions of detention. Because of this, the new facility at Millhaven was built, and now we are three hours away from our loved ones. Many of the things promised to us, such as educational programs and a library, have not happened. We do not have the same rights as convicted criminals to trailer visits with our families. And now we are faced with the denial of medical care. In one case, shots for Hepatitis C have not been given since September 2, 2006. Surgery for a knee injury and a double hernia have not been scheduled, even though we have been here since April, 2006.

Our demands are very simple.

There must be a supervisor to be present with us when we move anywhere within the facility. In particular, this is important if we move from the living unit to the next building or to the Millhaven building for health care. Without a supervisor present, the possibility remains of a guard making a false accusation against us. As we have seen too often here, when it comes down to our word against a guard's, the staff will side with the guards.

Medical care must be delivered to us in the living unit if we are not accompanied by a supervisor to the administration building. We have not refused the offer of medical care. We want medical care. Medical care was given to us in this area before September 10, 2006, and now our refusal to go to the administration building without a supervisor -- a choice we have made for our own safety -- is being used as an excuse to deny us medical care.

We would like to have access to the media without guards present during an interview. We had private access to the media at Metro West, without needing approval from the jail.

We want an end to daily head counts, since there are only three of us, and they are humiliating and unnecessary.

We would like to use phone cards to call family overseas. The KIHC makes us use the most expensive plan available, which our families can't afford because they are on social assistance. Since calls are monitored, it makes no sense why a cheaper calling card cannot be used.

We want the same rights as other federal inmates: access to a library, educational programs, and trailer visits with our families where we can stay together for three days every month.

Our "yard" is a small concrete area. Just three metres from this is a huge grassy area, but we are not allowed to enjoy it. It is surrounded by two huge fences, but nobody currently uses it. We see no reason why we cannot enjoy the outdoors.

Because problems keep happening here, we need to get at the root of the issue: there is no independent body or neutral mediator and there is no translator for meetings with staff (English is not our first language). All our complaints about staff are dealt with by staff. They are not objective, so the complaints are always dismissed, with no appeal. This is not fair. There is no ombudsperson that we can speak with. We have been told we can send complaints to the Red Cross, but we are not allowed to phone them. Besides, the Red Cross has no authority here.

Ultimately, we wish to be treated as human beings, and all human beings have rights. We wish to be reunited with our loved ones, but until that time comes, we want to live with as much dignity as is possible while we are at Guantanamo North. There is no security-related reason why this is not possible.

Our hearts cry from the suffering we see in the world, and we ourselves try to cope day to day with lives that have been stolen from us based on secrets. Our families are in prison, too. The children long for us to be home with them to play, to help with the schoolwork, to be there as they grow up. And we know that day will hopefully come soon.

Many times before, people across this country have spoken up for our rights, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Right now, we face a very difficult situation, and if the government will not speak with us, we hope they will listen to you.

Please contact your Member of Parliament, write a letter to the newspaper, and call Stockwell Day, and ask him that he fix the problems at KIHC. The pain we feel from a lengthy hunger strike is also felt by our families and friends, who worry so much about us. Secret trials are a wound to Canadian democracy. Justice for our situation can help heal that wound.

[For more information, see this press release.]

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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