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Canadian Government Maintains Secret Detentions

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Issue: 9 Section: Canadian News Geography: Canada Topics: prison, civil liberties

October 20, 2003

Canadian Government Maintains Secret Detentions

by Daron Letts

Families in Montreal spoke out against secret trials and racial profiling during July's No One Is Illegal march. Daron Letts/The Dominion

The federal government is holding five men on "Security Certificates," devices developed in 1992 through which CSIS can argue for the "removal" of permanent residents and foreign nationals based on "national security" concerns.

Mahmoud Jaballah (held since August 2001), Mohammad Mahjoub (held since June, 2000), Mohamed Harkat (held since December, 2002) , Adil Charkaoui (held since May) and Hassan Almrei (held since October, 2001) are being incarcerated indefinitely without bail in Canadian prisons.

The Certificates are signed by Solicitor General Wayne Easter and Minister of Citizenship Denis Coderre, and are issued under the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The process involves either Easter or Coderre presenting all or part of CSIS' evidence to a Federal Court judge in the absence of the person named on the Certificate. The accused is permitted to present evidence and testimony in his defense, but he receives no disclosure of charges or evidence from the Crown. The court's decision cannot be appealed.

"This is not only about racial profiling," says Salam Elmenyawi, President of the Muslim Council of Montreal. "This is about fundamental justice and due process and it is about making sure that people will be treated equally under the law."

The Council recently launched a constitutional challenge in response to the detention of Charkoui.

Elmanyawi says the organization will pursue the challenge to Federal Appeal Court, the Supreme Court and the United Nations if necessary. Whatever the outcome of the challenge, it will relate to existing and proposed Canadian legislation such as Bills C-36, C-35, C-18, C-17 and C-20, which share features in common with the suspension of due process permitted under the Security Certificate, but apply to all Canadian citizens.

"None of these men have ever asked people to judge them," Elmanyawi says. "All they've ever said is eif there's a case against us, bring it forward, let us answer it in open court, otherwise, release us, because this is a charade'."

In his capacity as General Counsel with the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association, lawyer Faisal Kutty provides support for those who feel harassed by law enforcement. He receives a call every week or two from Arab or Muslim males who have been approached by CSIS or the RCMP. The surveillance and intimidation is creating stress, alienation and fear in the communities, particularly among recent immigrants.

Representatives of a Mosque contacted him when they started losing members and donations because CSIS and the RCMP questioned those frequenting the building. Elmanyawi and the executive of the Mosque contacted CSIS and offered to host a meeting between the board and CSIS representatives. They also offered to open their books and records for inspection, asking only that agents refrain from secretly approaching the families attending the Mosque. The Department of Justice responded in a letter that such a meeting was not necessary at present.

Advocates on the outside have also organized ongoing awareness-raising events, jail solidarity and court support over recent years, working alongside the family members of the five detained.

Hassan Almrei, a 29 year old Syrian Refugee among the five detainees, is being held in solitary confinement in Toronto's Metro West Detention Centre. He is in the third week of a hunger strike that presses for three demands:

1. A letter guaranteeing that the temperature in his concrete cell be monitored and kept at 22 degrees Celsius or above (the Ontario standard)

2. A sweater

3. Slippers

He lost 25 lbs since beginning the hunger strike and 110 lbs since entering solitary confinement almost two years ago. Now at 169 lbs, he refuses to eat because he does not want to suffer through another cold season without proper heating.

"That's the lay of the land right now," says Matthew Behrens, of Homes not Bombs and the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. "We have to beg and lobby and fast and demonstrate for simple things, like having the heat turned on in a Canadian prison in winter."

Behrens points out that it is a violation of the United Nations Minimum Prison Standards for a prisoner to have shoes and a sweater withheld. The organizations he works with are planning a Halloween-themed protest at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa on October 31, with solidarity actions throughout the country.

Carleton University professor, Diana Ralph, is in the second week of a fast in solidarity with Almrei.

On the ninth day of her fast, Ralph, whose Jewish father was a lawyer at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, publicized a 1996 occurrence report from the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Correctional Services linking the severe cold at Metro West Detention Centre's concrete solitary confinement cells with the death of an inmate.

The document, written by a guard in the same facility that now holds Almrei, describes cell temperatures as low as 10 degrees Celsius, and suggests the installation of thermometers to maintain minimum temperatures.

Ralph has communicated regularly with Almrei since his June 24 bail hearing, at which she offered bail surety and other support. She says she plans to attend the October 31 action at CSIS headquarters dressed as a kangaroo.

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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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