A Flowering of Resistance
Cross-Country Days of Action Call for Closing of Guantanamo North
Punishing Hunger Strike Continues
PLEASE Call Stockwell Day and Diane Finley (numbers below)
JANUARY 17, 2007 -- Demonstrators wearing orange jump suits with black hoods have increasingly become the international symbol of protest against indefinite detention and torture. Such images sprouted across Canada January 11-15 as people from Penticton to St., John's called for an end to secret trial security certificates and the closure of the Kingston-area facility holding 3 certificate detainees, dubbed Guantanamo North. Other demands included calling on the Canadian government to condemn the illegal detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in U.S.-occupied Cuba, and to either charge and provide a fair and open trial for the Secret Trial Five, or to release them immediately to their families.
It was a response beyond the wildest dreams of the three men currently detained without charge at Millhaven Penitentiary, held on secret evidence neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see. On a lengthy hunger strike protesting their conditions of detention, including the denial of medical care, the men greeted 2007 with an open appeal to Canadian supporters to demonstrate on their behalf. That letter can be found at www.homesnotbombs.ca/openletter.htm
In response, almost 20 film screenings, public events, vigils, and delegations to MPs' offices took place between the dates marking the 5th anniversary of the opening of the notorious U.S.-run detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Martin Luther King's birthday.
In the meantime, the hunger strike continues, and the federal government is saying the hunger strike is a "choice," a "voluntary fast," and they are refusing to negotiate with the men. Unlike at Metro West Detention Centre, where the men, even in solitary confinement, had their vital signs checked on a daily basis during such hunger strikes, there has been no such care offered to the men in their "living unit" since the hunger strike began.
We understand that the offices of Stockwell Day and Diane Finley are getting quite a few calls and letters. Even if you have called once or twice already, please check in with those offices again and ask:
1. Why can't the men be provided with medical
2. Why can't the federal government appoint a neutral mediator to immediately deal with the problems, and set up a system to deal with ongoing issues that is balanced and fair?
3. Will the men (now on day 54 for Mahjoub, 43 for Jaballah and Almrei) have to die for a little bit of dignity?
4. If the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre will not send in health care staff (something they did before September), will the government allow an independent outside doctor in to check on the men?
Until the hunger strike is over, please try and call these offices when you can. Since he controls his caucus tightly, it would be good to start bringing the Prime minister's office into this as well.
NUMBERS TO CALL
(In dealing with the staff, who are no doubt swamped as it is, please try and be polite-- badmouthing of staff not only hurts the staff, it can also hurt the detainees)
1. Stockwell Day, "Public Safety
Phone: (613) 995-1702
Fax: (613) 995.1154
2. Diane Finley, Immigration Minister, (866) 496-3400
3. PM Stephen Harper
Fax: 613-941-6900, firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are brief roundups of what took place, chronologically arranged:
BELLEVILLE, ON -- Not Everyone Has the Same Rights - By David Milne. At 11 a.m. on Thursday, January 11, five members of Amnesty International (AI) and one of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) met outside the constituency office of Daryl Kramp, Conservative M.P. for Prince Edward-Hastings riding. They draped a large banner with Amnesty International written on it over the lower part of the wall and then began to walk up and down the sidewalk with placards. The placards read: "Close Guantanamo Bay," "Stop Torture," "Justice for All" and "No Deportation to Torture."
Amnesty International had called on local groups to hold events on the fifth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay. Local members held a two hour vigil to protest the fact that the Canadian government had been silent as regards Guantanamo Bay, unlike other countries who had condemned what is happening there. Amnesty members and David Milne felt an affinity with three Muslim men, detained on security certificates for more than five years. They are presently on a hunger strike. Some of the protesters carried photos of the three Muslim men. Motorists passing by slowed down to read the signs and a few pulled in to ask questions.
Mr. Kramp came out of his office to go to his car for a moment. Mieke Thorne and David Milne, in the company of a student reporter from the Loyalist College Pioneer, engaged him in a discussion. Mr. Kramp listened to their concerns about the silence of the Canadian government as regards Guantanamo Bay and for the imprisoned men. He asserted that he "will move the file forward." It's not clear, however, what this means. In response to Milne's statement that the imprisoned men hadn't received due process under recognized legal standards, Mr. Kramp asserted that they had. When it was pointed out that no Canadian could be held without a hearing and testing the evidence against him, Mr. Kramp replied "I don't know that I can agree that non-Canadians should expect the same rights as Canadian citizens." Thorne pointed out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in fact sets the standard of equality before the law..
The demonstrators delivered a letter to Mr. Kramp and copies to be forwarded to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety and left at 1 p.m.
HALIFAX, NS There was a well-attended screening of The Road to Guantanamo along with Speaking Out: Voices of Canada's Secret Trial Detainees, sponsored by Amnesty International, No One is Illegal, the Halifax Peace Coalition, the Student Coalition Against War, and the NDP Socialist Caucus.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 12
PENTICTON, BC. About 25 members of the Kelowna Peace Group and the Raging Grannies demonstrated in front of Stockwell Day's constituency office, fighting bitter cold. Day responded to questions from the Kelowna Daily Courier by stating with respect to secret trials in Canada, "Our government has no intention of changing this process." A number of people from the demonstration met with Day's assistant to express their concerns, passing on the open letter from the detainees at Gitmo North. Day showed how little he knows about the process by claiming the men subject to the certificate "have the opportunity to immediately return to their country of origin," despite the fact that all face torture if deported.
Day went off into outer space with his next comments: "They can appeal the process and apply for refugee status, but that can take up to seven years. These people are put in a detention centre until the appeal is completed. We can't allow people who are deemed dangerous to the safety and security of our citizens to be wandering around the country." Day forgets that there is no appeal of an upheld security certificate, and that an upheld certificate is NOT a determination of danger, but only of whether the ministers had reasonable grounds to sign the certificate (and this on the lowest standard of proof of any court in Canada). He also seems not to know that three of the men were already granted refugee status and one is a permanent resident. Day also claimed "their lawyer(s) gets to look at all the documentation," which comes as a surprise to all of their lawyers, who get to see nothing of substance in the public record.
Organizer David Jefferess stated, ""We are asking the Conservative government to end the use of security certificates, to release these men or try them. If there is evidence against them, give them a fair trial. As it is they are being imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial. We feel if there is credible evidence showing these men are a threat to Canadian society, it should be used in an open and transparent trial so the lawyers for the men can mount a reasonable defense. We are hoping that Mr. Day will live up to Canada's image of a just society."
VANCOUVER, BC People gathered from 4-7 pm at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the heart of downtown. We did multimedia projection at the art gallery where we set up a screen and projector and showed a short film ("Whose Rights Anyway?" by Anice Wong) and also played a slideshow on security certificates that we made last December. Also played were previous audio interviews with families of detainees.
We did street theatre as well: five people crouched at a major street intersection as detainees (in orange jumpsuits and black hoods) and prison guard attempted to mimic some of the mistreatment directed at detainees (using chains, noose around neck, etc.) At the end of the street theatre skit, detainees stood up and read statements of the five men (we read the hunger strike statement, previous statements from hunger strikes, Adil Charkaoui's poetry, etc.) It was a very interactive event that drew in hundreds of people and we gave out all 500 informational flyers... Images are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/noiivancouver/
FREDERICTON, NB, Members of Women in Black and Fredericton Peace Coalition gathered at City Hall to vigil and hand out flyers.
LONDON, ON. We had 60 people come to a showing of Road to Guantanamo and Speaking Out: Voices of Canada's Secret Trial Detainees and Their Families. Sponsored by People for Peace
SATURDAY, JAUARY 13
HALIFAX, NS, A well-attended march and rally with more than 50 participants was led by hooded individuals in orange jumpsuits carrying large placards that read "Scapegoat." A large banner reading "Close Guantanamo North and South" followed close behind. Organized by the Halifax Peace Coalition, No One Is Illegal, NSPIRG, Student Coalition Against War, and Amnesty International.
PETERBOROUGH, ON, People gathered at the offices of local MP Dean Del Mastro for a public vigil. "We believe that the very existence of this unit (Gitmo North) supports the erosion of human rights and civil liberties that our federal government has accepted in the name of the 'war on terror,'" read a statement from Kawartha Ploughshares."
LONDON, ON, Saturday morning a small group turned up at the London Market. George Bush, the puppet master, and Stephen Harper the puppet, led leafleters through the market where we raised smiles on the faces of all and sundry. However, we were quickly evicted by security guards with no sense of humour. This city owned market is "private property" according to some rules that we fail to understand!
After a march to the Federal Building on Queen St. we returned to the neighbourhood of the Market, where we were met by a television news journalist. This resulted in a 2 minute clip, the second item, on the evening news. (The first item that evening was really disturbing, about a Baptist church in Windsor that is running a 3 week series entitled "The Deadly Threat of Islam" and the preacher there was given the opportunity to deliver his hate on the evening news.) Another demonstration is scheduled for February 3, along with meetings with MPs.
KITCHENER, ON, We had about 25 people come out to downtown Kitchener. We distributed over 200 leaflets and talked to lots of people. Also, the event was the lead story on the CKCO 6:00 news (it was good coverage). The response from people was very encouraging. Images at : http://picasaweb.google.com/kevedsmith/SecretTrialProtestJan2007
MIDLAND, ON, Members of Peaceworks set up a community information table in a major shopping area to hand out flyers and cards urging an end to deportation to torture. Response was good.
MONDAY, JANUARY 15
ST. JOHN'S NEWFOUNDLAND. We had about 25 people out on a very cold day, holding big colourful posters in front of the federal government building in downtown St. John's, a fairly high traffic area. We handed out about 80 information pamphlets to passers-by that included details on how to act (eg. writing Stockwell Day, etc.). Lorraine Michael, the leader of the provincial NDP party, was part of the vigil.
We had coverage on the 6 pm provincial news (NTV), on a provincial radio station (VOCM), and it was covered by the university newspaper (The Muse - MUN). The basic information about the hunger strike and security certificates was also circulated widely on various progressive listservs.
OWEN SOUND, ON. The Owen Sound Sun Times reprinted the open letter from the detainees at Gitmo North with a big picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the quote: "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The letter was prefaced with a brief note from tireless campaigners Liz and Barney Barningham.
MONTREAL, QC: Around forty people - including the father of security certificate victim Adil Charkaoui - gathered this morning outside a building which co-houses offices of Immigration Canada, the Canadian Border Services Agency and CSIS in Montreal. Several journalists from radio, tv and print media came out to cover the picket and were handed copies of an open letter written by the hunger-strikers as well as an in-depth information package on security certificates.
As a blizzard got underway, banners reading "Dignity for security detainees: Close Guantanamo North" and "Security Certificates violate human rights" were unfurled. Other banners, from past hunger-strikes of Mr. Mahjoub and Mr. Almrei, attested to the duration of the struggle mounted by these men and their families, and to their inspiring strength in the face of such injustice and abuse. An open letter from the hunger-strikers to the people of Canada was read aloud, detailing their simple demand to be treated with dignity. A speaker pointed out that while CSIS has failed to provide us with any evidence that the three men currently starving themselves in prison constitute any threat whatsoever to others in Canada, we have all too much proof that the racism inherent in the Canadian political system poses a very serious threat to many. Despite the snowstorm, hundreds of flyers about "Guantanamo North" were distributed to passers-by.
Dozens of solidarity postcards for the detainees were also distributed to participants in the rally, and participants were urged to send their messages of solidarity to the hunger strikers and to make follow up calls to Stockwell Day, the man responsible for conditions at the prison. All speakers expressed their intent to keep returning until each of the five victims was released without condition, deportation proceedings against them halted, security certificates abolished, the policy of deporting people to torture ended, and the Guantanamo north refugee prison closed. As the crowd disbursed, Mrs. Charkaoui, Adil Charkaoui's mother, arrived in the snowstorm to show her support. She had been obliged - by the draconian conditions that have been imposed on the entire family, without Charkaoui's having been accused, let alone tried or convicted of any crime - to accompany her son to his workplace before coming to the rally. A larger rally to close Guantanamo North will take place 17 February 2007 in Montreal. Images from Montreal: http://gallery.cmaq.net/hungerstrike
WINNIPEG, MB, In -25 degree chill, five of us held a colorful vigil organized by the Student Christian Movement (Manitoba) outside the Citizenship & Immigration Offices in downtown Winnipeg. It was small (likely because of the temperature!), but we attracted attention with our bright orange shirts, prison bars and signs saying "No Secret Evidence," "Justice for Ontario Detainees," and "Christians cry: Set the captives FREE!" We handed out 200 pamphlets to passers-by, mostly workers in the federal office building, and three newspapers covered the event. Two participants launched a 24-hour fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers.
Next stop: the suburban University of Manitoba, where another 180 pamphlets were distributed by a "prisoner" behind bars in a full orange outfit. Most students were shocked by the information and eager to learn more about secret trials and Canada's "Guantanamo North" prison.
NANAIMO, BC, The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) reports "we had really good newspaper coverage of our letter writing event. The Nanaimo News Bulletin put in a piece before the event and then came today to take photos for a follow up. The Nanaimo Daily News phoned and interviewed two of us in our WILPF group about our peace group and mentioned the event and said it was taking place on Wednesday, so we are going to do it all over again on Wednesday. We had ten people come and write several letters each and others phoned to say they would write letters at home.
TORONTO, ON The annual King Day demo organized by Toronto Action for Social Change brought together some two dozen people -- many in jumpsuits, hoods and holding jail bars with the names of Canadian detainees emblazoned on them -- at the airport offices of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), a building that processes thousands of deportations annually.
Despite the ice storm and miserable conditions, demonstrators joyously read quotes and sang anthems from the civil rights movement while Mona Elfouli, whose husband Mohammad Mahjoub has been detained since June 2000, tried to arrange a meeting with someone from CBSA, which has jurisdiction over Gitmo North.
In the ground floor intake area of the deportation centre, a stern-faced CBSA official tells Elfouli and some supporters, "You can only stay if you're here on business."
"We are here on business," explains protester Kirsten Romaine. "It's human rights business."
Elfouli, concerned that her husband has gone without food for 51 days, tries to explain the urgency of the situation.
"Leave the building now," the CBSA official demands.
"But we only want to have a meeting," Elfouli says.
"Leave the building now," he repeats.
Elfouli patiently asks why a simple meeting cannot be arranged, why her husband continues to be held on secret evidence, and what she's supposed to tell her two young sons who long for their father's return.
To each question and comment, the response is as singular as it is cold. "Leave the building now."
The scene of a tall white man trying to evict a polite Muslim woman on Martin Luther King Day is eerily reminiscent of what it may have sounded like when a white bus driver commanded Rosa Parks to leave her bus seat, sparking the bus boycott that catapulted the civil rights movement to the international stage. We tell the official that he sounds a lot like that bus driver, to which he again responds, "LEAVE THE BUILDING NOW," and simply withdraws.
Disappointed, Elfouli joins the rest of the group out front, noting this is yet another in a string of rejections that she and other family members of the detainees have faced in the past five years. To this date, not a single representative of the Canadian government that holds her husband, and two other men, Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, have met with her or any other family members.
"The security certificate doesn't just affect these men and their families," she explains. "It is affecting Canadian democracy."
A candlelight vigil in support of the detainees and their families takes place in downtown Toronto at Spadina and Bloor on Monday, January 22 at 6 pm.
ENTRANCE TO MILLHAVEN, ON ("GITMO NORTH") "A Small But Determined" By David Milne,
"Bad weather didn't stop a small but determined group of protesters from gathering at the entrance to Millhaven prison." The newscaster opened CKWS's (Kingston) evening television coverage of the demonstration on January 15 with this statement. The camera focused for a moment on a banner reading "Justice for All, End Secret Trials, Charge Them or Free Them," and panned back to include the four area residents who had gathered behind and beside it. On camera a spokesperson for the group explained that the three Muslim men being held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre on the grounds of Millhaven prison were into the second month of a hunger strike and weren't receiving medical care because of what seemed to be petty excuses from prison authorities .
During the demonstration reporters from the Kingston Whig Standard, the Napanee Beaver and CBC French language television interviewed different members of the group. The journalists drew out the different strands of mistreatment and injustice which had brought the protesters to this place on a day which had closed schools and kept many people at home. Ed File, a retired United Church minister who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Alabama, said "People think the struggle for civil rights ended forty years ago but abuses are happening today, right here in Canada!"
Though the sleet had stopped by noon when the demonstration began, the wind tore at the banner steadily and chilled demonstrators and journalists.
Drivers going by or into the prison slowed to read the banner. Every fifteen minutes a Correctional Services van crept down the hill to within fifty metres of the gathering, paused a moment, then turned and went back out of sight. A huge snow plough rumbled down the hill pushing a snow pile and forced the group to scramble up the hill to get out of the way. This had the felicitous effect of placing them so that cameras captured them with the banner under the Corrections Canada-Millhaven sign. Demonstrators held on until 3:30 p.m., displaying the banner's message to employees changing shifts.
Each participant had questioned the wisdom of undertaking this action before he or she left home that morning, asking themselves, "Will anyone else be there?" or "Will it be worthwhile?" or "Will I even get there?" When they left, each one had answered those questions with a thundering "Yes!", reflecting the spirit of the man whose memory this day honours.
FREDERICTON, NB: A small group gathered to hold placards, hand out information, and provide street talks on the ongoing crisis.
Thursday and Friday, January 18-19--Information leafletting at Carleton University, Ottawa
Monday, January 22, 6 pm, Toronto, Spadina and Bloor, A candlelight vigil in support of the detainees and their families
Saturday, February 17, 1 pm, Montreal: Major rally to close Guantanamo North and South, meeting at Berri Square (parc Émilie-Gamelin, in front of Berri Metro)
Sometime in the next month or two, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether secret trials violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the meantime, as the hunger strike continues, another threat hangs over the head of the detainees: deportation to torture. Just last month, the Federal Court ruled that detainee Jaballah could not be deported to face torture; that decision has been appealed by Ottawa.
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