"We are slowly dying in here..."
Weekend Scare Underscores Very Real Danger of Sudden Death for Hunger Striking Detainees at Canada's Guantanamo North
Still No Medical Monitoring After Two Months Without Food
JANUARY 30, 2007 -- "We are slowly dying in here," Mohammad Mahjoub says over the phone on day 67 of his hunger strike, day 56 for Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei. "Our situation is very bad."
The three men, held indefinitely under the much-criticized security certificate regime of secret evidence and deportation to torture, are kept at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC), dubbed Guantanamo North. Despite last Thursday's visit by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who did not meet with the detainees, there has been no negotiation with the men, and no effort to end a critical situation that could turn deadly at any time.
NO MEDICAL MONITORING
Indeed, the detainees' lives are on the line as staff at the facility play a dangerous game of roulette: despite considerable medical literature spelling out the need for daily medical checks of hunger strikers who have passed day 10 without food, medical staff have NOT conducted a single physical check on any of the detainees, who are subsisting on water and juice. The need to check weight, pulse, blood pressure, respiration, electrolytes, and sodium and potassium levels, among other standards, is essential in preventing the kind of traumatic incident that occurred this past weekend.
On Saturday, January 27, Mr. Jaballah reports that he felt dizziness at about 3:15 pm, pressed the emergency button, and someone finally saw him at approximately 4 pm. He was very weak and unable to walk, and requested that if he needed to be taken to another area for medical help, that this be done with a wheelchair or cart. He was informed that a cart would arrive at 6 pm. He again felt quite ill, pressed the emergency button, fell down, and was rendered unconscious, only waking up in another section of the KIHC. He reports experiencing great pain that left him screaming, and a complete lack of control over his body, with uncontrollable shivering and shaking.
"Because there has been no daily monitoring of blood, pulse, weight, or other vital signs, it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of this incident, but our consultation with a Toronto-area physician who has attended to one of the men during a prior hunger strike says that low potassium or sodium could be one cause, coupled with dehydration and possible heart arrhythmia," says Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. "Needless to say, all of these can lead to a sudden life-threatening drop in blood pressure that could place any of the men in a coma."
DETAINEES VERY WEAK
Daily calls from the detainees indicate they are so weak that they spend most of the day lying down. One has blood in his urine. Another is suffering the severe effects of high blood pressure. Another has broken out in severe skin rashes causing incessant itching, while a severely swollen tongue has not been dealt with either. All are weak and dizzy from two months without food. And there is no end in sight.
The detainees, their families, and friends and supporters are concerned that Stockwell Day used his trip to KIHC to justify his preconceived notion of the situation, rather than use the occasion as an opportunity to actually learn the real reasons behind the hunger strike.
STOCKWELL DAY NOT GETTING FULL
Stockwell Day did not get a full picture when he visited Guantanamo North. He was unable to taste the daily humiliation the men face at the hands of guards, nor to hear what it is like to be denied medical treatment for things like Hepatitis C, blood in the urine, or a double hernia. Day needed to hear what it is like to be held indefinitely, without charge, on secret evidence, for upwards of seven years, as these men are living through, to understand that having a microwave and a TV in your facility does nothing to ease the pain of lengthy separation from families, the mental torture of being held on secret 'evidence' neither you nor your lawyer will ever get to challenge, and the daily fear of deportation to torture in Syria or Egypt.
PROBLEM ALREADY FLAGGED BY CORRECTIONAL
Day also did not get a taste of what it's like when there is no oversight agency or ombudsperson to deal fairly with complaints, a key reason for the hunger strike that was in fact flagged by the federal government's 2005/2006 Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, which concluded "The transfer of detainees from Ontario facilities to the Kingston holding centre means that the detainees will lose the benefit of a rigorous ombudsman's legislative framework to file complaints about their care and humane treatment while in custody. The Office of the Correctional Investigator is concerned that the detainees will no longer have the benefits and legal protections afforded by ombudsman legislation. Pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, a non-profit organization with no legislative framework, such as the Red Cross, is unlikely to meet the protocol's requirement for domestic oversight." (See below for full text of relevant section of the report)
INITIAL HOPES DASHED
Mahmoud Jaballah explains that despite initial hope that things might be better at KIHC than they were at Metro West Detention in Toronto, the punitive, mean-spirited atmosphere that has taken hold of the facility, especially after they initially raised minor complaints about guards' behaviour, has become intolerable. Guards are regularly slamming cell doors, making rude comments, and making daily life difficult for the men, who are not allowed to speak to pre-approved media without those same guards present.
The threat they feel to their personal safety, and the even greater fear of false allegations being made against them, means they are now trapped in an Orwellian nightmare that could cause them their lives.
The men are told that health care, which used to be available to them in their living unit, can now only be delivered in the next building. The men say they do not feel safe going to the next building without a supervisor present so there is a witness to possible false allegations that could harm their chances for bail. [The facility is top-heavy with staff, including two directors, two secretaries, seven supervisors, 12 guards -- all for the three men] So unless they comply with petty and unreasonable prison rules, they are denied a basic human right.
MEDICAL STAFF AND DUTY TO
Last week, a group of some 70 health workers across Canada challenged the lack of ethical standards at KIHC, and campaign representatives point out that the World Medical Association Declaration on Hunger Strikers (adopted by the 43rd World Medical Assembly Malta, November 1991 and editorially revised by the WMA General Assembly, Pilanesberg, South Africa, October 2006) states at point #5 that "Physicians attending hunger strikers can experience a conflict between their loyalty to the employing authority (such as prison management) and their loyalty to patients. Physicians with dual loyalties are bound by the same ethical principles as other physicians, that is to say that their primary obligation is to the individual patient."
As each minute ticks by, the spectre of the Criminal Code of Canada looms larger, which defines as criminally negligent anyone who "in doing anything or, in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons."
1. WRITE /CALL/FAX Day, Finley and Harper. It is crucial that public pressure continue to be felt in Ottawa. It is such pressure that forced Day to go to KIHC; such pressure will be required to get negotiations going.
Specific points to raise:
a. The men be should provided with immediate
and daily medical care in their living unit.
b. If the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre will not send in health care staff (something they did before September), the government must allow an independent outside doctor in to check on the men.
c. The federal government must immediately appoint a neutral mediator to deal with the problems, and set up a system to deal with ongoing issues that is balanced and fair (as per the concerns raised by the federal government's own Office of the Correctional Investigator)
d. The men should not have to die for a little bit of dignity.
*Stockwell Day, MP
House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Phone: (613) 995-1702
Fax: (613) 995.1154
NOTE: Stockwell Day is the Minister responsible for the Canadian Border Services Agency (which runs the KIHC). Demand that he meet immediately with the detainees or appoint a neutral party to immediately resolve the crisis at KIHC.
*Diane Finley, MP
Phone (866) 496-3400 (Simcoe constituency office).
NOTE: Finley is the new immigration minister. Ask that, as one of the two ministers responsible for signing security certificates, she meet with the families of the detainees (who have requested a meeting) and that she also take action to meet the reasonable demands of the detainees.
* Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of
Phone: (613) 992-4211
2. SOLIDARITY LETTERS
Write a support card to the detainees (let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have so we can monitor if mail is getting through). Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Hassan Almrei can be reached:
Kingston Immigration Holding
c/o CSC RHQ Ontario Region
440 King Street West
PO Box 1174
Kingston, Ontario K7L 4Y8
Further info: Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, (416) 651-5800, email@example.com, www.homesnotbombs.ca
Annual Report of the Correctional Investigator, 2005/06 (with respect to Kingston Immigration Holding Centre)
The second policy issue that concerns my Office is the situation of individuals detained pursuant to national security certificates. A national security certificate is a removal order issued by the Government of Canada against permanent residents and foreign nationals who are inadmissible to Canada on grounds of national security. A recent decision has been made by the federal government to transfer security certificate detainees held under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from Ontario facilities to a federal facility, pending their removal from Canada.
In Ontario facilities, the detainees could legally file complaints regarding conditions of confinement with the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman. That Office had the jurisdiction to investigate complaints filed by the detainees pursuant to the Ontario Ombudsman Act.
The Immigration Holding Centre has been built in Kingston within the perimeter fence of Millhaven Penitentiary. The Canadian Border Service Agency entered into a service contract with the Correctional Service to provide the Border Service Agency with the physical detention facility and with security staff. The Border Service Agency has a contract in place with the Red Cross to monitor the care and treatment of detainees in immigration holding centres, including the new Kingston holding centre. The Red Cross, a non-government organization, has no enabling legislation to carry out a role as an oversight agency. The transfer of detainees from Ontario facilities to the Kingston holding centre means that the detainees will lose the benefit of a rigorous ombudsman's legislative framework to file complaints about their care and humane treatment while in custody. The Office of the Correctional Investigator is concerned that the detainees will no longer have the benefits and legal protections afforded by ombudsman legislation. Pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, a non-profit organization with no legislative framework, such as the Red Cross, is unlikely to meet the protocol's requirement for domestic oversight. (full report available at http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/reports/AR200506_e.asp)
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