News from ICLMG

Mohamed Harkat’s deportation should be stopped immediately

The ICLMG read the following statement today at a press conference on Parliament Hill alongside Mohamed Harkat and his lawyer, the Justice for Mohamed Harkat collective, and two of our member organizations, Amnesty International and the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Last August 2015, the federal government launched deportation proceedings against Mohamed Harkat, exactly 20 years after he first arrived to Canada and claimed the refugee status.

Mohamed Harkat was arrested on December 10, 2002 – exactly 13 years ago – under a security certificate, and since he has been in a legal limbo. He stayed three years in jail, some of them in Guantanamo North, the 3.2 million dollar prison built specially for Muslim detainees. After he was released, he was subjected to the strictest conditions of house arrest. His wife, Sophie Lamarche, became his “unofficial” jailer at home, thus losing what remained of their privacy. For many years, he had to wear an electronic tracking bracelet to monitor all his movements.

In May 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the government security certificate regime and found that the security certificate against Mohamed Harkat was reasonable.

However, the Supreme Court reminded the judges operating under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that they should be “interventionist”, and clearly stated that the government couldn’t proceed with a security certificate case unless the suspect is reasonably informed of the case against them to ensure their defence.

Unfortunately, today, we haven’t seen any steps taken by the government towards allowing suspects to access the secret evidence, if any, against them. On the contrary, Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act passed in June 2015, reinforced the use of secrecy even in the cases involving Canadian citizens and has lowered the threshold and expanded the grounds for preventative arrest.

This deportation decision would be the first step towards the removal of Mohamed Harkat from his peaceful life in Canada to torture and very likely disappearance and execution.

Before being sent to torture, an assessment of the potential danger to Canadians posed by Harkat needs to be done. But realistically, what is the threat posed today by Mohamed Harkat?

The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that terror suspects can only be deported in “exceptional circumstances” to countries where they face a substantial risk of torture, but it has not defined the full meaning of that concept.

According to many human right organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Algeria is still considered to be a country where grave violations of human rights are common. Can Canada really accept in good conscience the diplomatic assurances that would be given to deport Mohamed Harkat to Algeria? We do not believe it can.

Today, we ask the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, to immediately stop the deportation procedures against Mohamed Harkat. And we add: does this government want to be remembered for sending a refugee back to torture or execution?

ICLMG believes that Mohamed Harkat should be allowed to stay in Canada with his wife. After more than a decade of legal fights, secrecy, physical and emotional distress, it is time to give Mohamed his rights and his life back.

Thank you.

What is the Impact of Fundamentalism on the Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly?

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By Monia Mazigh, National Coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

Florence, Italy – What is the impact of fundamentalism on the freedom of association and peaceful assembly? That is the question that the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly is trying to answer in his next report. Mr. Maina Kiai organized an expert meeting in Florence, Italy to reflect on that particular issue and suggest some answers. The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group is the organization representing Canada.

The discussion will start around the word “fundamentalism”. Even if the intent of the discussion isn’t to coin a definition of the word, it is important to examine it from different perspectives. Are we talking about religious fundamentalism? Political fundamentalism? Racial? Nationalistic? Certainly all of these forms are to be considered.

But beyond the type of fundamentalism, we will be more interested in the “perpetrators” side rather than the victims’ side of the question. It is the actions of the groups who are espousing and practicing the ideology of fundamentalism that will require our attention.

It should be mentioned that two stakeholders of fundamentalism will be examined:

  • The State
  • The non-state actors.

So as far as we are concerned in Canada, does the State practice or practiced any form of fundamentalism and if yes, what was its impact on the freedom of association and peaceful assembly?

In Canada and for the past decade, the former Harper government played a main and predominant role in violating and abusing rights of individuals and civil society groups basing its approach mainly on neoconservative neoliberal economic views and thus targeting environmental activists, anti-petroleum protesters, union activists, pro-Palestinian activists and anti-austerity groups, combined with a xenophobic ideology where Muslims, refugees and immigrants have been demonized.

Non-state actors:

Non-state groups have also been flourishing and thriving in this context of normalization and institutionalization of attacks on the rights of association and peaceful assembly.

These non-state actors can be divided in two categories. The lines between the two categories cannot always be easily drawn.

  • Right wing extremists
  • Anti-Muslim groups or websites

Just remember, last September 19, 2015 the first protest of PEGIDA held in Canada (in front of the Ontario legislature). Even if the protest was not a huge success, as the Anti-Racism protesters outnumbered the PEGIDA protesters, we saw in that event a troubling incident. The movement was encouraged in its fundamentalist rhetoric by the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean that has brought hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other refugees into the European Union and by the xenophobic discourse increasingly adopted by the Harper government in the last past years, which culminated during the election.

As for the State actions, we just need to look at all the systematic criminalization of dissent that occurred since 2006 and that took multiple forms: intimidation, harassment by spying and surveillance, verbal attacks on Indigenous groups, environmentalist activists and trade union activists, political profiling, student arrests, demonization of Muslims groups and individuals, etc.

Freedom of association and freedom of assembly are pillars of a democratic society. Attacking them or trying to restrict them or limit them can have a counterproductive effect on individual rights but also on the civil society as a whole. Many studies suggest that criminalizing the “promotion of terrorism”, for instance as it is included in Bill C-51, is not the right direction to take to fight fundamentalism. By allowing, these “fundamentalist groups” to operate in the light, while having them under control, is crucial to detect what are the messages being circulated among the actors, as long as the messages are not explicitly calling for hate or violence. Governments can’t allow some groups to express themselves, such as right wing extremists, and still criminalize individuals or groups who are opposing the Western policies in the Middle East. Freedom of expression should be for all.

Internet and the social media play a huge role in spreading all sorts of messages: recruiting new members for fundamentalists groups, spreading hateful and xenophobic messages, but also disseminating useful information to dissuade young people from joining the fundamentalist groups, educating people, calling and informing people about peaceful gathering, public campaigns, etc.

Keeping the good side of the Internet and social media without allowing some hateful and fundamental groups to use it for their own purpose is extremely hard if not impossible.

It is not by banning the Internet or limiting the freedom of expression that we will get rid of fundamentalist ideas or ideology. Fundamentalism always existed and we can’t eliminate it. However, we can be more vigilant. The government has a role here to play in the education system. Kids should learn about the Internet from kindergarten: what is appropriate, what is not. What is violent, what is not. What is respectful, what is not. The work should definitely start there.

Why did Americans care about Khadr’s rights more than Canadians?

OmarBy Monia Mazigh – So it is official: the emails of Hilary Clinton started flowing in the public arena. Today, the Globe and Mail reported the content of some of these emails and the discovery is shocking. Well not really! Shameful to be accurate!

Many human rights groups and activists knew that the Canadian government was preventing Omar Khadr from being repatriated to Canada but it was not known that the Americans at some point were very enthusiastic and excited about his return to Canada. One of the US officials, the State Department legal adviser, Harod Koh, exclaimed:

“So glad we got this done”. “After spending the last 10 years on GTMO (Guantanamo), at least this young man finally has another chance.”

This is in total contradiction with what Canadian officials tried so hard to make us believe. For instance compare that American reaction to the Canadian Justice Minister Vic Toews’s at the time Omar Khadr was brought back to Canada:

“I don’t agree he was a child soldier in the sense that he was somehow misled… the evidence is very clear. He was a convicted murderer, he’s a terrorist and that’s the basis I brought him back on.”

Even if it was the US officials who, at first instance, arrested Omar Khadr in Afghanistan, kept him in Bagram Base and later transferred him to Guantanamo, the Canadian position was never clear or principled. First the Canadian officials went to interrogate him, trying to “bribe” him to speak out with a burger in a Guantanamo room. Then the politicians, first under the liberal government and later under the conservative, have refused flatly to repatriate him. Canada became the only western country that didn’t repatriate its own citizen.

On March 24, 2012, The New York Times reported on the continued delays in Khadr’s repatriation, attributing them to the Canadian government. The petition initiated by Senator Dallaire gathered 35,000 signatures. Khadr was transferred into Canadian custody on September 29, 2012 to serve the remainder of his sentence in Canada. Corrections Canada repeatedly refused to let journalists interview Khadr in prison. Toews justified this by claiming an interview could interfere with Khadr’s treatment plan, pose a security risk, or be otherwise disruptive.

Then former Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept launching one legal battle after another trying to keep Omar Khadr in prison and wishing him to be tried as an adult as opposed to a teenager, which he was at the time of his arrest.

So the question today is: why this vindictive attitude to prevent a child soldier from getting a “second chance”? Was Canada trying to please its US ally, even though they didn’t want Omar Khadr in Guantanamo prison anymore, or were they rather trying to please their political base and reinforcing their law and order agenda at the expense of Omar Khadr?

Today, Omar Khadr is a free man studying at university and trying to get that “second chance”. Meanwhile Vic Toews and Stephen Harper were never held accountable for their actions of political interference and perhaps obstructing or delaying the process of Khadr’s repatriation.

They should be held accountable. Canadians have the right to get answers!

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