From the Court of Public Opinion, to the Court of Secret Trials: A Reflection on Public Dissent and the Notion of "Impartiality" in a secret hearing
photos of today's vigil are at : http://johnb.smugmug.com/gallery/1187381
TORONTO, FEBRUARY 7, 2006 -- It was an interesting afternoon for the group of seven individuals braving the cold and wind at the entrance to Canadian Forces Base Downsview. Holding banners that read "Homes not Bombs" and placards which reminded passersby of notorious quotations from Canadian generals acting out their bloodlust for killing in Afghanistan, the group was watched over by a veritable garrison of security from Metro Police (with an oversized arrest wagon on standby), Ontario Provincial Police, military police, and a sweet but painfully obvious undercover military official taking lots of pictures and asking far too many leading questions.
Perhaps the copious collection of cop equipment was justified due to an incident three years ago when members of Homes not Bombs, with friends from the Catholic Worker community, had been arrested for seeking a discussion on Nuremberg Principles with the Canadian military. Rather than inviting us in for tea and a respectful dialogue at that time, 10 were arrested and criminally charged.
Midway through today's freeze-fest, a couple of bannerholders began a brief discussion about what gives us hope to sustain our efforts over the long haul. Perhaps without realizing it, we were seeing one of the reasons we are not as powerless as we think. There we were, a small group with a simple idea: we should never be "ready to kill," as we are told Canadian soldiers are ready to do in Afghanistan, and that instead we should ready ourselves for peace with justice. That this was enough to provoke such a large response was a good reminder of the power of an idea, of small groups of people standing up and saying no to injustice.
All along the front of the base, a patchwork series of barriers had been painstakingly constructed, no doubt costing officers many hours of work. On the roof of the main building stood hooded officials keeping their watch. Nervous-looking soldiers stood behind barbed wire fences and watched us as we watched them. In short, an hour's vigil with seven participants had brought business as usual to a halt at the base.
Canadian forces in Afghanistan are proudly bearing the flag of the U.S.-led "Operation Enduring Freedom," which has been implicated by respected human rights organizations in arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture of detainees, and murder of those in custody. This is the same coalition which regularly sweeps through Afghan villages in the countryside, terrorizing the civilian population. This is the same coalition that fires missiles from unmanned aerial predators that wipe out countless individuals sitting down to dinner or holding weddings. The murders of these human beings are always justified on the idea that "Al-Qaeda's Number Two Man" might have been there.
The ubiquitous "Al-Qaeda Number Two" is the greatest excuse for murder from the air since the less-than-successful rationale of weapons of mass destruction (which, we may one day learn, is also connected to Al-Qaeda's Number Two Man...)
CFB Downsview is a busy place these days. With mega money flowing into the Canadian military at the further expense of affordable housing, accessible healthcare and post-secondary education, among other social programs suffering under the weight of the bloated war budget, there were lots of military vehicles coming in and out of the base. It is unclear where they went, since they usually returned within a few minutes. Maybe it is part of the growing normalization of a military presence on the streets of our cities, the Harperization of Canada.
Perhaps most bizarre of all was a super-length 18-wheeler that was plastered with a huge ad for the Canadian military. The truck wheeled out of the base and returned twice while we were there, perhaps as a muscular reminder to a poor community that, on the one hand, the military is here to crush any resistance, and also to tell poor young'uns that their best choice for a career is through the military. In a part of the city that is often defamed for gun-related violence, it is doubly ironic that there is a four-story advertisement affixed to the main Downsview barracks that shows where youth can come and access the big stuff that really blows people away.
Meanwhile, an undercover photographer from the military took great pains to share his story about being a freelancer who was there to submit photos to the Globe and Star. After asking one too many questions (Who are you guys? What do you do for a living? Have you ever been involved in violent incidents? How can I find out more about your backgrounds?), we asked him for his freelance photographer's card. Caught off-guard, he actually took out his wallet and play-searched for his "card," during which we saw his clearly identified "department of national defence" card. When we asked if he worked for the War Dept., he said he contributed to many magazines, shot across the street, and eventually walked back onto the base, his cover blown.
All this for a small group with banners and flyers.
At one o'clock, the massed forces of the state, unused in a sting operation to catch unguarded peaceniks, began to head away as we rolled up our banners and bid adieu until our next monthly vigil at another Toronto location representing militarism.
A group of us then headed downtown for a similarly surreal scene, the beginning of the public portion of the third security certificate hearing for secret trial detainee Mahmoud Jaballah. Jaballah, a father of six held over five years on secret evidence neither he nor his lawyers is allowed to see, is fighting deportation to torture in Egypt. It is fairly clear that he is being held because he refused to spy on his community for CSIS (a common form of payback). His lawyer, John Norris, made an eloquent motion to the court that the current judge hearing the case should be removed due to an apprehension of bias.
In response, a government lawyer jumped up and down, hooted and hollered, and made melodramatic statements about the dignity, sanctity and overall greatness and impartiality of the Canadian court system and, specifically, the judges hearing secret hearings in the absence of the detainees who are subject to those hearings.
Today's proceeding begs the much larger question: how can ANY judge be impartial when presiding over a star chamber process? How can ANY judge claim to be impartial, all the while relying on the unreliable word of CSIS, and then proceed with a secret trial in the absence of the detainee when Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and three separate committees of the United Nations, in addition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the British House of Lords, have condemned such a practice?
The judge in this case, who last week denied bail to Jaballah, came to the remarkable conclusion that even though "only foreign nationals of Arabic descent, and presumably of Muslim faith, are currently held in detention...[this is not] evidence that CSIS' work is concerned only or primarily with persons with those qualities" [ie, racial profiling].
There are certain state-mandated "truths" which segments of the Canadian population must cling to in order to ensure the smooth and efficient running of the country. One is that there is no racism in the judicial system, and that we do not engage in racial profiling. Another is that Canada is a model of the rule of law, both at home and overseas. We are so in love with these concepts that we fail to see the brutal reality that the pleasant window-dressing covers up.
As with the occupation of Afghanistan, there has been no national debate about the suspension of civil liberties for Canada's Arabic Muslim community. Both of these things, we are told, are necessary for our national security, which always trumps democracy. Try and have a dialogue with Canada's military about an illegal invasion and occupation, and you face down major police presence and the threat of a pair of handcuffs. Refuse to spy for CSIS, and you end up detained indefinitely.
Homes not Bombs will hold its next monthly vigil the first Tuesday of March. Check our website for the location (www.homesnotbombs.ca). Meanwhile, we will hear about whether the judge in Jaballah's case will excuse himself in a decision to be handed down Friday at 10:30 am.
For those concerned about ending secret trials in Canada, a Freedom Caravan from Toronto to Ottawa (June 3-16) will end up at the three days of Supreme Court hearings on secret trials. The caravan will close out with the construction of a human rights summer school for CSIS officers who could really use the tutoring. It is as yet unclear whether their response to free classes will be the same as that for those wishing to discuss Nuremberg!
Homes not Bombs, PO Box 73620, 509 St Clair. Ave West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.homesnotbombs.ca
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