Canada Holds Muslims in Detention

by Judy Koch / October 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

A number of Muslim men in Canada have been detained on ‘security certificates’ since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. A ‘security certificate’ allows the Canadian government to hold people in jail as alleged terrorists without revealing any evidence, and
to eventually deport them.

Neither the jailed men—Mohammed Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat, and Adil Charkaoui—nor their lawyers have been told what charges they face.

Hearings are held behind closed doors, where they are not allowed to be present. The reason given is “concerns about national security”. These men are fighting their unjust detention, which could happen to anyone identified as a member of a group targeted by the establishment.

Maher Arar’s ‘extraordinary rendition’

Maher Arar, a Canadian and Muslim man, is currently free. He is now living in Ottawa. An official government inquiry into Arar’s detention and torture in Syria just completed months of hearings. He also is suing the U.S. government for the role it played in his detention and deportation.

On Sept. 26, 2002, Maher Arar, who is a dual citizen of Canada and Syria, was on his way home from a vacation in Tunisia with his family when he was detained at JFK airport in New York City. He asked to speak to a lawyer, but this was denied.

He was deported to Syria, where he was jailed for over a year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) followed its practice of “extraordinary rendition” (sending people to foreign countries known to violate human rights, to be interrogated in ways officially not allowed in the U.S.).

Arar was a suspect to the cops because he had contact with another man considered a “terrorist”. The latter is Abdullah Almalki, a man who co-signed a rental application for Arar. Almalki is the brother of an acquaintance of Arar, who signed as a favour for his brother who was busy at the time. The FBI obtained a copy of the rental agreement from Canadian sources and held him on that basis.

This was the only shred of ‘evidence’ they had against Maher—other than the fact that he is a Muslim and all Muslims are suspect.

While in Syria, Arar was tortured in an attempt to get a confession. He was beaten several times. They forced Arar to ‘confess’ that he had been in Afghanistan. On Oct. 7, 2002, American officials deported him to Syria. Canadian authorities were only allowed to visit
him in the presence of Syrian jail guards, so Arar could not speak freely. The consular official who saw him said he saw no signs of torture.

After Arar was freed (Oct. 5, 2003), Prime Minister Jean Chretien said there was no need for an inquiry, but the Paul Martin-led regime relented, and an inquiry began its work on June 21, 2004, and concluded testimony on Sept. 16, 2005. A report is due in November.

Mahar’s wife, Monia Masigh, ran as a candidate for the labour-based New Democratic Party in the 2004 federal election. This exemplified the politicizing effect of the case on her and a section of the Muslim community, and helped to raise the profile of the on-going cause.

Mahjoub’s and Almrei’s hunger strike

Mohamed Mahjoub, an Egyptian held since June 2000, decided to fight his detention under the ‘security certificate’, and his horrible mistreatment, with a hunger strike. He got hepatitis C while in jail and has not obtained medical treatment for it. He also suffered a knee injury, which has been neglected.

He was on hunger strike for 77 days and was close to death. He was hospitalized briefly in September. According to an independent physician, Dr. Pritchard, Mahjoub has to be connected to a heart machine to prevent cardiac problems.

Mahjoub won the right to decent medical care on Sept. 24 and ended his hunger strike. Via a cell phone, with prisoners’ rights activist Matthew Behrens relaying his words, Mahjoub addressed the crowd at Toronto’s antiwar rally that day.

Hassan Almrei was also on hunger strike for 70 days. There was a vigil for Almrei on Sept. 3 at the Metro West Detention Centre, organized by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials.

Almrei was starting to have problems with his heart muscles and was near death when he quit his hunger strike. His demand is for one-hour exercise outdoors per day. He has been held since October 2001.

Mahmoud Jaballah has been held since August 2001. Mohammed Harkat has been held since December 2002. Adil Charkaoui was held between May 2003 and February 2005, and was released with severe bail conditions.

Support for all of these men is critical if human rights and human dignity are to be upheld, and if the tide of anti-Muslim hysteria and racial profiling is to be stopped and reversed. End secret trials and detention on the basis of ‘security certificates’! Release the remaining victims now!

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