News from ICLMG

ICLMG is happy to meet Salim Alaradi in Canada

Salim_Alradi_Amnesty_ICLMGBy Monia Mazigh – Last summer, almost a year ago, I sat down with Marwa Alaradi at the boardroom of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG). Her sister, Nour, other members of her family and some friends accompanied her. Marwa Alaradi, could have been my daughter, she was 18 years old, smart and eloquent. I felt my heart aching listening to her story. Another tragic story of another Canadian detained abroad. Salim Alaradi, a Canadian businessman of Libyan descent, was arrested by the Emirati state security agents, while vacationing with his family in Dubai. He was taken in front of his wife at the lobby of their hotel to never be seen again. Marwa Alaradi, as the eldest child of the family, felt the need to stand by her mother and to speak on behalf of her father. And she did it extremely well.

ICLMG immediately decided to take the case and started by speaking to the media, creating awareness but also putting pressure on the government. A letter to the former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was sent in joint efforts with Amnesty International and other organizations. The government remained silent. Salim Alardi remained in prison in the United Arab Emirates. But slowly, information about the torture of Salim Alaradi began to surface. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International researchers and the United Nations Human Right Commission denounced the arbitrariness of the imprisonment of Salim Alaradi. The international pressure was building but still Canada’s response was shy, almost inaudible.

After, the election of the Liberals, as a human right activist, I started perceiving some change. I received a reply to a letter I sent about Salim Alaradi, in which the newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, Stéphane Dion, promised us that the case of Salim Alaradi was one his priorities.

This is exactly what should have been done since day number one. Even more, as a country, we need to have a clear strategy whenever a Canadian is detained abroad in, caught in a political conundrum. Such a strategy was suggested by Amnesty International Canada last winter, ICLMG was one of the signatories on it. Another one was presented by the Rideau Institute, Gard Pardy a former diplomat and former Director of Consular Affairs Bureau, was one of its main instigator. Unfortunately, so far, those excellent proposals remain on the shelves of the bureaucrats and politicians and meanwhile political prisoners abroad are left to whims and moods of the politicians of other countries.

Marwa Alaradi didn’t relent in her efforts. Her father was lucky, perhaps without her perseverance; her would be still in a dark cell in Al Wathba prison in UAE.

After, almost 18 months of detention, the Emirati government decided to bring charges to Salim Alaradi, falsely accusing him of supporting terrorists groups in Libya. A trial was scheduled and kept being postponed. Canadians officials attended the trial. The voice of Canada started to emerge. Media attention grew. An article in the Washington Post about the case of an American citizen, accused and detained along with Salim Alaradi, created a big turmoil ain the US and put the Emirati Ambassador to the US on the defensive. That was exactly what was needed. Put the finger upon that “shaky image” that UAE would like to build and burst it by exposing the human rights abuses including the complicity of our own governments.

Salim Alaradi was acquitted by the Emirati court from all the charges. After, almost two years in prison, he came back home, frail and weak.

Yesterday, joined with Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International, I met Salim Alaradi as well as Marwa, Nour and his son Mohamed. They were all smiling, ready to start new beginnings.

Nevertheless, accountability, investigation of torture and lessons learned remain valid and crucial points to be addressed.

Last but not least, Canada shouldn’t forget to adopt sooner than later, a policy to help its citizens detained abroad. Leaving it up to the hard work of a family or to the good will of some politicians would never replace a clear, strong and coherent policy applied for all Canadians when they needed the most.

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. Here at ICLMG, we are working very hard to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called “war on terror” in Canada. We do not receive any financial support from any federal, provincial or municipal governments or political parties. Any donations will go a long way to support our work.

On the fence about giving? Check out our Achievements and Gains since we were created in 2002. Thank you for your generosity! 

Our Analysis of C-22: An Inadequate and Worrisome Bill

Dominic LeBlanc; Ralph GoodaleBy Anne Dagenais Guertin – The Liberal government has recently tabled Bill C-22, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act, in order to create the long-awaited committee to look over Canada’s national security activities. As all the other Five Eyes already have such a committee, it is, in theory, a welcome addition to our inadequate national security oversight and review apparatus. Unfortunately, on paper, it falls short in many respects and we have several concerns to raise.

It is also important to keep in mind that this Committee will not be enough. As recommended by Justice O’Connor who presided the Arar Commission from 2004 to 2006 – and as you can see from our analysis of the deficiencies of the current review system – there is an urgent need to implement a strong, integrated and overarching expert review mechanism, separate from Parliament, to examine Canada’s national security activities. But that is for another editorial.

After carefully reading the tabled legislation, here is our analysis.

Oversight or review mandate?

The mandate of the Committee needs to be clarified. The Committee’s mandate as defined in Bill C-22 is to “review” legislation and activities. However, the review bodies’ mandate is to review (as their name suggests), the Committee is supposed to be an oversight committee which is able to scrutinize national security operations and activities before, during and after the fact to ensure that they are not only carried out according to the law but also respectful of human rights. Review bodies only look at national security activities after the fact. Therefore this feature of our accountability system that is severely lacking will not be fulfilled by the present legislation. We have contacted the office of Public Safety and are still waiting for a clarification on this question. We believe a law should be explicit and exact, therefore the mandate of the Committee should be defined as the “oversight of any activities before, during and after the fact”.

Unspecified powers

We are concerned that the legislation does not specify the powers the Committee – and its Secretariat/staff – will have to get the answers they need in the conduct of their “reviews”. Will they be able to subpoena individuals? Will they be able to inspect sites and offices? We do not wish the powers to be narrowly defined but we would expect some clarity on what their powers are at a minimum.

For “national security reasons”

After being broad in the scope of what the Committee can “review”, the bill considerably narrows that scope by adding that the Minister responsible for the department that the Committee wants to review can refuse to provide information or refuse to be reviewed altogether if they determine that it would be “injurious to national security”. We believe that this effectively removes a lot of the Committee’s power and capabilities. Its members will be sworn to secrecy and will have top level security clearance, therefore they should be able to see sensitive information they believe they need to conduct an investigation into national security activities.

Furthermore, section 31 states that a Minister’s decision to stop a review for national security reasons is final and if the Committee is dissatisfied with the decision, it cannot bring the matter before the courts. This is a problematic feature as we have seen the national security excuse being used many times in order to hide embarrassing actions, use secret evidence against an accused individual, and avoid accountability. As it was suggested by many UK human rights organizations for their country’s parliamentary oversight committee, there should be a mechanism in place so the Committee can appeal this decision and effectively fulfill its mandate of oversight. It is worth noting that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale knew this as he met with those very organizations during his visit to the UK. Quite frankly, the fact that Minister Goodale has not taken these criticisms into account is worrisome as we are approaching the public consultations on national security reforms in Canada.

The Committee’s reports are submitted to the Prime Minister –  not Parliament – who can censor them

Each year the Committee must submit to the Prime Minister a report of the reviews it conducted during the preceding year, containing the Committee’s findings and its recommendations, “if any”. The Committee can write special reports if necessary which will only be submitted to the Prime Minister or the Minister concerned.
Even more troubling, section 21.5 states that the Prime Minister can direct the Committee to submit a revised version of a report that does not contain “information the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations” according to the Prime Minister.

9 members for 20 departments and agencies?

Although the UK parliamentary oversight committee is also composed of 9 members, it only oversees 3 agencies. The US House Committee on Intelligence is composed of 21 members, and the Senate Committee on Intelligence has 15 members. As investigative journalist and national security oversight expert, Andrew Mitrovica, has pointed out, 9 members seems insufficient to oversee the activities of about 20 departments and agencies. We also do not know yet how often the members will meet and how many staff and how much expert help they will have. Like Mitrovica, we expect the Committee to have the staff and financial resources proportional to the ones allotted to the national security entities it is mandated to oversee in order to be able to truly fulfill its duties. As a reminder, CSE, CSIS and the RCMP together have a budget of nearly 4 billion dollars and employ just under 34 000 people.

The Government appointing the members to oversee… the Government

The Committee will have no more than 2 Senators and 7 members of the House of  Commons, including no more than 4 members from the governing party. Therefore, when/if the Committee has 9 members, the members from the government party will be in minority. However, the Committee who will be charged with overseeing federal departments and national security agencies for which the governenment is politically responsible will be composed of members appointed by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Chair is also selected by the Prime Minister rather than elected by the other members. In the UK, the Prime Minister nominates the parliamentary oversight members, and although Parliament is able to approve or reject these nominations – which is not the case in Bill C-22 – UK human rights organizations have pointed out that members are often too closely aligned with government and too close to those it is charged with scrutinizing, which has the potential to damage public confidence in its independence and the reliability of its reports.

Are the Committee’s recommendations binding?

Nowhere in the legislation is it specified if the Committee’s recommendations are binding or not. We fear this means they are not, just like all the recommendations from the review bodies. It goes without saying that they should be binding if we are to have real accountability.

What can the Committee members disclose?

Bill C-22 is very confusing or intimidating when it comes to what the members can disclose while exercising their powers or performing their duties. The bill states that members cannot disclose anything except for the purpose of their oversight work, however we find this to be very vague and we worry that the line will most likely be drawn by the government and the agencies either through pressure by members from the government party and/or after the fact causing the members to censor themselves by fear of crossing that line. Moreover, members have to take an oath of secrecy, they will be permanently bound to secrecy, and they cannot rely on their parliamentary privilege to protect them if they disclose something the government or the departments didn’t want them to disclose. In an interview with CTV News, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale stated that any issues or abuses detected using classified information will be disclosed to the Prime Minister and no one else and this should be enough to fix the situation. We are skeptical that this will the case. What happens if nothing is changed? What is the Committee’s recourse to put pressure on the government to correct and repair the abuses if the members cannot disclose them to Parliament and the public for fear of reprisal. This could lead to serious gaps in oversight.

There are a few more worrisome aspects but we will leave it at that for now. We will be keeping a close eye on parliamentary debates in the fall and urge the Opposition to ask questions and propose amendments to strenghten the bill and national security accountability.

For more details, read Our brief on Bill C-22 submitted to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

Read our press release published after the adoption of Bill C-22: Fundamental Flaws Will Hinder the Work of National Security Committee of Parliamentarians.

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. Here at ICLMG, we are working very hard to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called “war on terror” in Canada. We do not receive any financial support from any federal, provincial or municipal governments or political parties. Any donations will go a long way to support our work.

On the fence about giving? Check out our Achievements and Gains since we were created in 2002. Thank you for your generosity! 

Our letter to Minister Stephane Dion about Homa Hoodfar


Dear Minister Dion,

We are aware and appreciative that you and your parliamentary secretary, Mr. Omar Alghabra, are following the case very closely. Nevertheless, we strongly believe that following the case and monitoring it will not be enough to obtain the release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar.

Unfortunately, we are concerned that since Dr. Homa Hoodfar is a dual-citizen, she is being used as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations with Canada on other cases and other issues. This is why Canada should speak at the very highest levels with Iranian officials and explicitly demand the release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be speaking with his Iranian counterpart and demanding the release of Dr. Homa Hoodfar while pushing for reestablishing the diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran.

Read the full letter here

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. Here at ICLMG, we are working very hard to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called “war on terror” in Canada. We do not receive any financial support from any federal, provincial or municipal governments or political parties. Any donations will go a long way to support our work.

On the fence about giving? Check out our Achievements and Gains since we were created in 2002. Thank you for your generosity! 
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