Refusing to Hear Their Voices
October Secret Trials Update
1. Volpe refuses meeting with Secret Trial Families
2. Hassan Almrei's bid to have an hour of exercise squashed in court
3. Final Arguments in Bid for Jaballah Bail
4. Events roundup: National Film Board events, speaking before Parliament, Charkaoui challenges torture, Almrei headed to Supreme Court, Canada Gets an F from the United Nations, Harkat seeks Bail, Jaballah Wins Rosenberg Scholarship
OCTOBER 29, 2005 -- About 35 people showed up to mark United Nations Day outside the Toronto office of Immigration Minister Joe Volpe October 24. It was Mr. Volpe's delegate who determined in September that one of the Secret Trial Five, Mahmoud Jaballah, should be sent to torture or murder in Egypt.
While politicians in Ottawa made hypocritical statements about Canada, the UN, world order, etc., members of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada wanted to remind the public that Canada is acting in defiance of a UN call for Canada to end the practice of deportation to torture.
Currently, the Canadian government is attempting to deport five Arab Muslim men to torture or death based on secret evidence neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see. They represent the tip of a much larger iceberg, as over 10,000 people are annually sent through the deportation mill to an uncertain fate (this at a time when Canada says it wants more immigrants!).
But Mr. Volpe, who for two years has evaded protesters, delegations, and family members most affected by these draconian policies, continues to make himself scarce. After a small group that included Mona Elfouli, whose husband is secret trial detainee Mohammad Mahjoub, managed to gain entrance to the lobby of the Volpe office, they were told by office staff that Mr. Volpe flat out refused to meet with them or even set a date for such a meeting.
The group waited inside a tiny vestibule for half an hour, as harried office staff, alarmed that members of the community would be seeking some accountability from the government, made frantic calls to Ottawa to find out what they should do. In the end, a young man came out to inform us, through the newly installed thick glass barrier that separates the lobby from the rest of the office (making it resemble a prison meeting room instead of the constituency office that is supposed to be a symbol of the democratic process), that Mr. Volpe is not responsible for deportation decisions, and that we should contact Anne McLellan, reigning czar of the Canadian Border Services Agency.
While we acknowledged that Ms. McLellan is indeed the individual at the head of the Canadian agency that is responsible for physically rendering human beings up for torture, it is in fact Mr. Volpe's department that makes the decision on whether or not someone meets the eligibility criteria to be deported to torture.
Elfouli was disappointed. She was told directly that no one would even set up a meeting with her and her children. When she tried to stand quietly in the main office (the door to the new barracks is not yet complete), she was physically pushed away by an office staffer. She left a very large note which asked Volpe how he can sleep at night, how he can refuse to answer her directly about what he plans for her husband and the other secret trial detainees.
While the Raging Grannies sang to passersby and three very large banners were prominently displayed along Lawrence Ave. West, a constituent of Mr. Volpe's asked what was going on. When informed of the situation, he sneered at the office, and made an unprintable comment about how little Volpe does for anyone.
GOVERNMENT CONTINUES REFUSAL TO DIALOGUE
But the refusal to meet with Elfouli is typical of government behaviour. Prime Minister Paul Martin, Deputy PM McLellan, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, numerous of their antecedents, and CSIS have all refused constant invitations to dialogue with the families and friends of the Secret Trial Five. The "powerful" are afraid to hear the voices of the targetted, the persecuted, the detained, and their loved ones.
Numerous attendees at the Monday vigil came for the first time, having heard Ahmad Jaballah speak the previous week about his own father's ongoing detention. Ahmad was part of the National Film Board's Measuring Security Measures event in Toronto (see below). There was a sense that, hearing first-hand how CSIS terrorizes people, they were compelled to attend and do something about it.
This is one reason why the voices of the Secret Trial Five are not being listened to at the upper echelons. Because were they to be heard, the whole house of cards on which these secret trial cases is built would come tumbling down. The people who make the deportation decisions certainly don't interview the detainees or their families. The CSIS agents who come to court tell us all about the "mindset" of the detainees without having interviewed them or their families. And media figures, most of whom never bother to ask if they can interview them, conclude without ANY tangible evidence that the men are "terror" suspects.
When you put a distance between yourself and those you persecute, it makes it easier to believe the lies of CSIS, that these men are not human beings who have been unjustly detained, but ogres intent on blowing up the world (when in fact, if you want to find the people who DO want to blow up the world, just look up the boys in the Pentagon who reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in their global campaigns).
Despite all this, the campaign to end secret trials in Canada and stop deportations to torture is progressing. CSIS has not issued a secret trial security certificate in more than two years (this after nabbing between two and three people a year for over a decade), largely because their use has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with politics.
While the head of CSIS, Jim Judd, explains to a willingly scared group of Parliamentarians that CSIS is tracking between 99 and 1,000 "persons of interest", the question arises: if these folks are the threats CSIS alleges them to be, why aren't they arrested and charged under anti-terror statutes? Or is it more to do with the fact that CSIS, enjoying a huge largesse post 9/11/2001, needs to keep us scared so they can maintain their bloated budget?
Needless to say, CSIS is running scared. In the past few months, they have undertaken unprecedented steps, responding publicly to the allegation that their agents manhandled a Muslim woman in Toronto, and sending their PR person to the Parliamentary subcommittee hearing from advocates for the Secret Trial Five in September (see below for link to transcripts of the hearing) and at the Charkaoui anti-torture hearing in early October (see http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/csisenemy.htm).
Inside the closed world of CSIS, there is clearly a siege mentality, and they are trying to combat the bad press created by their own misbehaviour by offering up their new director, Jim Judd, for puff pieces in the daily press that warn us about hordes of veterans of the Iraqi resistance eventually settling, like pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, here in the wheat fields of Canada. We are told that CSIS daily foils terrorist plots, but they can't explain what they were or how they were foiled because that would get into national security matters. It's so, well, convenient!
In a stunning example of the use of propaganda and fear, the city of Toronto undertook an early Sunday morning terrorist response exercise in mid-September. The exercise was designed to train emergency workers for a situation which we are constantly told is not a question of if, but when, and so you would think that the event would have been off-limits to anyone but participants so that those with evil intent might not get a hint of how to foil such measures. But the media were invited to cover the event and thus remind Torontonians of the threat lurking out there, somewhere, all the while showing the bad guys what city officials were doing in preparation. As stated above, these are ultimately issues of politics, not security.
HASSAN ALMREI TURNED DOWN AT ONTARIO COURT
Despite the small steps forward, the men subject to security certificates and their families continue to face an always uphill battle. This was well illustrated in the Ontario Court hearing for Hassan Almrei that began October 11. Indeed, in another case of "we do not want to hear from you," seven government lawyers lined up in a ridiculous display of governmental fear to fight Hassan's habeas corpus application, heard the same week he marked four years in solitary confinement.
What was so dangerous about Hassan's application to be heard that all these lawyers needed to spend three days hiding behind huge stacks of paper? He had been on a 73-day hunger strike for an hour of exercise, and was seeking a radio or TV in his cell, and an end to interference with his mail. Not much to ask for someone who has been held in barbaric conditions for so long.
Yet government lawyers said allowing Hassan to be heard would violate fundamental principles of justice. In a decision handed down October 18, Judge Jarvis of Ontario Court agreed with the seven lawyers that Hassan should not be allowed to go forward with his application. Hassan should have thought of this two years ago when he was in court fighting to have the heat turned on, we were told. But how could Hassan have known that he would still be in jail without charge two years later? How could he have known a doctor would recommend that he get an hour of exercise to save his ailing knee?
The seven lawyers congratulated themselves on their victory, but their violent job was not yet done. Having denied voice to one of the Secret Trial Five, they had to switch gears as five of them went into Federal Court the next morning to begin their arguments to deny Mahmoud Jaballah the right to apply for bail after being held over four years without charge.
JABALLAH: LEFT IN INDEFINITE DETENTION
That hearing begins with the bizarre announcement from a self-important government lawyer that the federal government has decided to assume custody of the Ontario secret trial detainees, planning in the next four to six months to move them to a federal facility 3 hours from Toronto. While the judge seemed to buy into this cynical propaganda move, it was more appropriately seen as a calculating political move by the federal government to interfere with the bail process, essentially telling judges hearing these cases that they need not release the men because now, they might have curtains on their new penitentiary cell windows. The slim details note that the men will not be in with other convicted prisoners, so, essentially, they will be in solitary confinement, their families three hours away. It is another form of punishment. Rather than meeting what are clearly easily enough met changes to their current circumstances (or, better yet, release), they want to remove them from their families and communities of support. It's another way of silencing their voices (see more at http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/fedsham.htm)
John Norris begins the process of arguing for Jaballah's release. He notes that under the current legislative scheme, detention is mandatory for Mr. Jaballah, since he is not a permanent resident (permanent residents are eligible for detention reviews 48 hours after arrest and every six months afterwards. Foreign nationals and refugees are not allowed access to bail until 120 days after a certificate has been upheld). Norris notes that on a number of grounds, Jaballah's rights are clearly violated. His detention is grossly disproportionate to whatever objective is sought, and there is an air of "unreality" to it all because "no one ever needs to look at whether the detention is necessary."
Jaballah, he notes, is in poor mental health and, according to a doctor's report, in a process of decline.
Barbara Jackman argues that the equality guarantees of the Charter are violated here, comparing the way in which citizens versus non-citizens are treated. She notes that six individuals, non-citizens, are currently subject to security certificate, yet CSIS acknowledges there are many Canadian citizens who are persons of interest whose background very much resembles that of those detained with one exception: they are citizens, and this seems to have made the difference between whether or not they are in jail. She summarizes CSIS Director Jim Judd's criteria for being on a watch list, which includes training, participation, or affiliations. "So if a friend of yours became a terrorist you could fit the profile," she tells the judge.
Jackman notes that the Canadian nation-state has a long and shameful history of discrimination and stereotyping, and that testimony earlier in Jaballah's hearing from a CSIS agent was pure stereotyping.
"There is a presumption here that detention must continue without regard to individual circumstances because he's not a citizen. Mr. Almalki and Mr. El-Maati would be here before you today if they were not citizens, since the accusations against them are equally 'serious' in the eyes of CSIS, but they're not because they're citizens," Jackman says.
Norris then lays out to the court its options. If the court finds that Jaballah's continued detention violates sections 12 (cruel and unusual punishment) or 7 (life, liberty, security of the person) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, "then detention must be brought to an end. That's the only appropriate remedy. It should not merely be an opportunity to apply for bail. If it's cruel and unusual, then it must come to an end."
Norris also reminds the court that there is no evidence that after Mr. Jaballah's release in 1999 following his detention on the first security certificate (from which he was cleared) that he was involved in any suspicious activities. The weight given to current CSIS allegations should also be carefully questioned.
"The CSIS position [about never releasing security certificate detainees] goes even beyond that of the U.S. government," he says, noting that Americans have released hundreds of people from Guantanamo Bay, but "if CSIS were in charge of Guantanamo Bay no one would be released."
"Please," the judge uncomfortably begins, hearing a truth that simply cannot stand without his belittling comment.
"P.G. [the CSIS agent] said as much," Norris counters.
The government's day-long slander fest is the usual collection of scandalous claims based on secret evidence. "These people", we are told, have no right to enter and remain in Canada, and "these people" are afforded the option at all times to leave, we are told, and to a degree, they are correct. Anytime the secret trial detainees DO want to leave, they can have the Canadian prison doors opened, and within hours be in a torture chamber in Syria, Algeria, Egypt or Morocco. A real freedom of choice.
Government lawyer Donald McIntosh pleads with the court, like a southern segregationist going after troublemakers like Rosa Parks, that "they [the defence] are trying to get (the court) to comply with international law rather than just interpret it," even though Canada IS bound to comply with international agreements it has entered into regarding things like arbitrary detention and deportation to torture.
Ontario government lawyers who likely have never experienced a day behind bars then do their best to find court cases which have found that miserable prison conditions do not amount to cruel and unusual treatment.
On reply, Norris reminds the court that "mandatory, unreviewable detention is anathema to our legal system." He questions the way in which the government suddenly introduced new "evidence" against Mr. Jaballah during cross-examination in the bail hearing. The new "evidence," phone records which the government had in its possession since December, 2001, were not released until Mr. Jaballah was on the stand at the fall, 2005 bail application hearing. The government alleges that Mr. Jaballah is not credible because he cannot remember all the calls he made in 1996. "I would be hard pressed to remember calls I made last week, much less 10 years ago," Norris says. "We know all too well about miscarriages of justice when the government plays fast and loose with disclosure."
Jaballah is then returned to Metro West Detention Centre, awaiting a court hearing November 30-December 2 which will review the lawfulness of the immigration decision to torture and murder him through deportation to Egypt. His security certificate hearing will begin the following week, December 7-9.
The hearing to determine the lawfulness of the decision to torture and kill Mr. Jaballah via deportation takes place after comments made by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who told the Globe and Mail October 21 that "it is appalling that even now we are entering an era where we are even revisiting this [legal and moral] terrain. There are no circumstances where recourse to torture can ever be justified. End of debate."
ADDITIONAL SECRET TRIALS IN BRIEF:
TESTIFYING BEFORE THE PARLIAMENTARY SUBCOMMITTEE
As part of a Parliamentary subcommittee's review of the so-called "anti-terror" legislation, members of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, Amnesty International, Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, and Canadian Council for Refugees along with former Solicitor General Warren Allmand and lawyer Paul Copeland made presentations and answered questions September 21 in Ottawa. What is remarkable is the complete fear the committee members generally showed in contemplating use of the criminal code rather than secret trials. Also interesting are the kernels of the government's developing position to "save" its draconian system, by simply "improving" conditions of detention rather than providing release on bail. While members of the support committees urged that the subcommittee visit the men held in detention and their families, it does not appear that the Parliamentarians as a whole see that as worth their while, despite having a mandate to explore the effects of security certificates.
A transcript of that morning is available at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/committee/CommitteePublication.aspx?SourceId=128793
MEASURING SECURITY MEASURES
The National Film Board of Canada's Citizenshift program along with uberculture collective, organized with local committees a series of 10 cross-Canada screenings of films on national security, immigration, media, and law the last two weeks of October. They have drawn packed houses, followed by panel discussions with activists, legal experts, and media professionals involved in these issues. For those who missed the screenings, selections of the films are available to be viewed at the NFB website by going to http://citizen.nfb.ca/msm/
CHARKAOUI CHALLENGES THE TORTURE OF THREATENING TORTURE
Adil Charkaoui and his legal team went to court in early October to try and have his security certificate quashed. He argued that the threat of deportation to torture hanging over his head represents a form of torture in and of itself. A representative of CSIS showed up at that hearing top be available to the media. A report on that hearing is available at: http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/csisenemy.htm
CANADA NAILED AT THE UNITED NATIONS
2005 has been a bad year for Canada at the United Nations. In May, the Committee Against Torture rapped Canada for its refusal to abide by international law and never deport someone to torture. In June, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited the five secret trial detainees, issuing a strong preliminary opinion expressing grave concern that the men are detained on mere suspicion. A full report is due in mid-November. And in mid-October, the UN's human rights committee heard further damning testimony about Canada's secret trial process as part of Amnesty International Canada's presentation to the group. A copy of their report on Canada is available at http://www.amnesty.ca/english/main_article_home/HRC_brief_Oct17-18_2005.pdf?ref=11
ALMREI HEADED TO THE SUPREME COURT
Hassan Almrei's appeal for bail will be going to the Supreme Court, read more at http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/hassansupreme.htm
HARKAT SEEKS BAIL
In Ottawa, Mohamed Harkat is currently seeking bail, and his support team has put together an impressive list of sureties and bail supporters that numbers in the scores. The first two days of the hearings featured a particularly racist question from the government, which demanded to know much bail money has come from Muslims. Sophie Harkat was quoted as saying, "We're still in the dark and we still don't know the charges, and we still don't have access to the evidence. The thing about today is that we might be able to get him home, that's the only difference, and we're still going to go through hell whether he's inside or outside." Mohamed Harkat has been diagnosed with depression, given the indefinite nature of his detention. The hearing continues this week.
JABALLAH WINS ROSENBERG GRANT
Ahmad Jaballah, eldest son of secret trial detainee Mahmoud Jaballah, has won significant political and financial support from the Rosenberg Fund for Children. The Fund bears the name of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed because they refused to implicate others by falsely confessing to giving the "secret" of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. In a letter they wrote to their sons, Michael and Robert Meeropol, just before they were killed, the Rosenbergs said they died, "[C]omforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us." The Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC) carries that trust forward, and ensures future generations will do so as well. Jaballah will receive support from the Canadian arm of the Fund, known as the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, named in honor of Mary Pitawanakwat, an indigenous Canadian activist who died in 1995, one year after winning a ten-year legal struggle against the Canadian government over sexual harassment and racial discrimination. The RFC first provided support to her children, Brock and Robyn, in the early 1990s.
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