Federal Transfer of Secret Trial Detainees a Dangerous Sham Which Deflects Attention from Issue of Release from Arbitrary Detention

TORONTO, OCTOBER 20, 2005 -- In what can only be described as a cynical move to deflect criticism from its inhumane secret trial policies, the Government of Canada issued a short directive in the middle of a bail hearing for detainee Mahmoud Jaballah yesterday stating that all secret trial detainees would be moved to federal facilities within 4-6 months. The move comes as bail decisions are expected in two of the cases, and two other detainees are in the process of seeking release.

"This is awful news, and further punishment to the men and their families," says Matthew Behrens, spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. "Rather than deal with the unjust nature of the detention, rather than grant release to men who have been held as long as five years without charge, they are trying to put a happy face on a very dire situation. The government pretends like it's no big deal that these men have collectively been jailed 223 months without charge, with no end to their arbitrary detention in sight. What they need is not a bigger jail cell with nice curtains, what they need is to be returned to their loved ones.

"But CSIS wants to keep them in jail to justify their paranoid theories and their bloated budget. If these men are released from detention and allowed go about their normal lives, it will give the lie to all the ridiculous slanders they have made up about these men. The United States has released hundreds of people from Guantanamo Bay, yet CSIS says none of these men can or should ever be released."

The move by the government of Canada comes on the heels of two internationally covered hunger strikes by solitary confinement detainees Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee who yesterday marked four years in the hole, and Mohammad Mahjoub, an Egyptian refugee held since June, 2000. Both are held on secret evidence neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see, and are threatened with deportation to torture or death. They had been seeking minimal improvements to their conditions of detention while awaiting bail decisions.

Father of six Mahmoud Jaballah, held over four years in Toronto, and Mohamed Harkat, married, held almost three years in Ottawa, are currently seeking release on bail while fighting deportation to torture or death, while a fifth man, Adil Charkaoui, was released on strict bail conditions in February and is fighting deportation to torture or death in Morocco.

The federal decision, made without consulting the men, their families, their lawyers, or their communities of support, says "these persons will be detained in a federal detention facility" in order to "ameliorate conditions of detention." The statement also says they will not "be housed with the general convicted population," so they will be isolated, in a glorified solitary confinement.

Given that federal facilities are all located at least three hours drive from Toronto, this would make contact with families very expensive (all are on social assistance). Receiving collect long-distance phone calls could run into thousands of dollars each month, compared to the one-time 75 cent charges they currently pay on local collect calls.

"Is the government going to pay our costs of travel, the long-distance phone bills, all this without ever asking us if we are okay with this?" asks Mona Elfouli, who is married to Mohammad Mahjoub. She currently lives about a ten-minute drive from the detention centre where her husband is held.

The decision lists a series of "rights and privileges" that make it look like the men will enjoy their new detention quarters, yet there is literally nothing on that list that is not currently being met or could be met in the provincial facilities in Toronto. For example, the decision states the men will be allowed to purchase personal hygiene products, subscribe to print material, make phone calls, have religious visits, and access to essential medical or dental care. These things are already available to them at Metro West Detention Centre (though not always granted, such as the medical care which was the focus of Mahjoub's 79-day hunger strike).

The new items on the list (wearing their own clothing, having access to books, and contact visits) are all possible at Metro West as well, at little or no cost compared to the likely cost of retrofitting units at a federal facility.

The decision also states that the men would be allowed outdoor exercise that "meets the standards for federal inmates, to be reviewed as circumstances permit, but not to be less than an hour." The province currently guarantees detainees at provincial remand centres the same amount of outdoor time, but what looks good on paper is rarely translated into reality.

"The detainees are allowed contact visits with media and with lawyers in Toronto, there's no reason to deny them a monthly contact visit with their kids. The Federal Court even allows contact visits with the families when the men are in court, and the world as we know it has not ended," says Behrens.

Lawyer John Norris, who represents three of the detainees, told Canadian Press, "We are very concerned that this is simply a way of short-circuiting the very legitimate complaints that these detainees have. They [the federal government] know there are good arguments for release and they are pulling out all the stops to prevent people from being released."

For more information contact the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, (416) 651-5800, tasc@web.ca