News from ICLMG

Arriving to the wrong conclusion: ICLMG’s response to ex-CSIS analyst PR piece

by Anne Dagenais Guertin, Communications and Research Coordinator, ICLMG, and Matthew Behrens, Coordinator of Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. This op-ed was published in the Hill Times on March 11, 2019.

In his February 25, 2019 op-ed in the Hill Times entitled “Security certificate cases and Canada’s failure to use the intelligence it collects”, author and former CSIS employee, Phil Gurski, is advocating for an “intelligence culture” in Canada.

In a moment of self-awareness, Gurski admits that he has “an extreme bias in this regard and many will take issue with my remarks.” This is a clumsy attempt to get ahead of the criticism, and his extreme bias could suffice to discredit his piece, but let’s dig deeper.

Gurski uses the notorious security certicate cases of Mohamed Harkat, Hassan Almrei, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Adil Charkaoui to make his first bizarre point: “these cases should never have gone to court” because “intelligence in Canada is not collected to evidentiary standards”.

The solution to the mess of the security certificate regime is not to forego our courts and use secret, unsourced allegations to throw people out of Canada to face the substantial risk of persecution and torture if returned to their home country. Instead, the use of evidence that meets the rigorous standards of criminal court proceedings is paramount in a country that purports to be a democracy respectful of due process and the rule of law. If a compelling case exists against anyone, charge them.

Gurski also fails to mention that the cards are stacked in CSIS’s favour in such cases: indeed, the legislation specifically declares that a judge can receive into evidence – and base their decision – on anything, “even if it is inadmissible in a court of law.”

The perverse claim that the only reason these men were able to enter Canada is because the intelligence used to subject them to security certificates was made available too late is not supported by factual history. In reality, four of the men were accepted as refugees because of the risk they faced back home, while another was a permanent resident by the time his certificate was issued. In the meantime, after lives ruined by indefinite detention without charge, years in solitary confinement and brutal house arrest, and being tarred by state security allegations, 3 of the 5 security certificates have been thrown out by the Federal court. The intelligence in question – and the conclusions drawn from them – were simply not up to snuff, even under a CSIS-friendly regime.

In one of the two remaining security certificate cases, Mohamed (Moe) Harkat is fighting deportation to the substantial likelihood of torture in Algeria. (Toronto’s Mahjoub faces similar proceedings to send him to Egypt). As in all security certificate cases, neither Harkat nor his lawyer were able to see the “evidence” against him — a fundamental right in democratic system – and instead were forced to rely on redacted summaries of secret allegations. Moreover, key conclusions in Harkat’s case had previously been soundly rejected by another judge in a parallel case.

Additionally, both the Federal and Supreme Courts found that Harkat’s rights had been violated because all the original “evidence” against him had been illegally destroyed by CSIS. The Federal Court also expressed dismay that the spy agency had purposely withheld critical information that called into question the credibility of two secret informants at the heart of the allegations: one had failed a lie detector test, while another had had an affair with his CSIS agent handler. Inexplicably, the court refused to allow either informant to be cross-examined in either a public or secret court.

Again, despite having the cards stacked in their favour in such cases, Gurski portrays CSIS as a victim and, in a strange line of thought, suggests that maybe intelligence should be used as evidence. But that would then “call into question why CSIS exists”, and he doesn’t want CSIS to close down.

In its three decades of practice, CSIS has faced, and continues to face, well-documented criticism by its watchdog, high-profile judicial inquiries, the courts, human rights lawyers and advocates, for threat inflation, racial and religious profiling, complicity in torture, and poor management of sensitive files. Although questioning its existence is a healthy and important exercise, there is a much more immediate solution to the problems raised here. Intelligence is not used as evidence because it doesn’t meet the judicial standards which exist to prevent innocent people from being wrongfully convicted by the state.

If solid evidence existed in the security certificate cases above, these men should have been tried in a criminal court of law in the same system they would face if charged with any criminal offence. Instead, reliance on the low threshold of proof in security certificate cases where no charge is ever laid left them open to dire consequences based on a secretive system in which true accountability is absent.

That is why the immediate solution here is to get rid of the security certificate regime and insist that anyone subjected to such serious allegations be provided an open and transparent hearing marked by the more robust protections and standards afforded by criminal law. That is, if Canada wants to continue calling itself a democracy.

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Canada must act now for the release and return of Yasser Ahmed Albaz

On behalf of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and our 45 member organizations across Canada, we are calling for Mr. Yasser Ahmed Albaz’s immediate release from Tora prison in Egypt and his return to Canada.

The ICLMG is deeply concerned about Mr. Albaz welfare. In the past, our organization has supported and spoken out for others who have been arrested and imprisoned in Tora. We know how important it is in these situations that immediate action be taken at the upper levels of the Canadian government to ensure that Mr. Albaz’s rights are protected, to avoid grave mistreatment and to secure his release.

We are pleased and thankful that Canadian consular officials have met with Mr. Albaz, and that he has been able to meet with his legal counsel. We urge the Canadian government to use all possible channels to ensure Mr. Albaz is able to return home to his family, friends and colleagues in Oakville, Ontario, as soon as possible.

All too often we see state security around the world, including in Egypt, arresting individuals without charge, as in the case of Mr. Albaz. In this case, neither he nor his legal counsel have even been informed of what he is charged with. This lack of due process seriously hinders any ability to defend oneself, and raises serious concerns about the respect of Mr. Albaz’s other fundamental freedoms or protection from mistreatment. It is the duty of the Canadian government to protect the rights of its citizens, and to defend human rights internationally.

It is of the utmost importance that Canadian officials, including MPs and members of government, take immediate action to ensure Mr. Ahmed’s safety and to bring him home. We are asking them to take action today.

More details:

Press Conference at Canadian Parliament Calling for Release of Yasser Albaz (video)

‘I want my father home’: Family of man detained in Egypt calls on Canada to intervene

Detained Canadian thrown in notorious Cairo prison without charge: family

Canadian Public Deserves Answers and Action Over Troubling New National Security Report

December 18, 2018, OTTAWA—Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and the Canadian government must go further than simply reviewing the wording of the 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada, and take action to address the unfounded allegations and stigmatization of Muslim and Sikh communities in the report.

“When the most lethal acts of politically-inspired violence of the past decade in Canada come from individuals espousing extreme right, misogynistic and racist ideologies, how is it that this threat continues to be minimized by state security agencies?” said Tim McSorley, national coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG). “The public, and especially the Muslim and Sikh communities, deserve clear answers, and not just an internal review of the wording of the report.”

The ICLMG shares the concerns of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the World Sikh Organization, and the Canadian Anti-Hate Coalition, all of whom raised the alarm last week over the stigmatization of Muslims and Sikhs, and the downplaying of right-wing violence in the latest threat assessment report.

While Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said that officials will review the inclusion of Shia, Sunni and Sikh as qualifiers in the text, the ICLMG says the problem runs deeper.

“There is no doubt that Canada faces threats from those inspired by violent groups like Daesh. But the use of vague qualifiers like ‘Islamist extremism’ and the refusal to acknowledge the real threat posed by white supremacists and their organizations, which already led to tragedy in Quebec City in 2017, continues to frame Canada’s Muslim communities as a threat, and not one of the primary targets, of hatred and violence,” said McSorley.

It is also highly troubling to see, without evidence or justification, the sudden inclusion of Sikh (Khalistani) extremism as a threat to Canada’s national security. “For the first time, Canada has included ‘Sikh extremism’ in a terrorism assessment report, without any evidence of recent violence or credible threats in Canada. While the tragedy of the Air India bombing still weighs heavy in Canada, it cannot be used to tarnish a community decades later,” McSorley added.

This report fits a troubling trend that the ICLMG has observed over the past 15 years, where vague security concerns with little transparency or clear basis have been used to increase police and security powers, and to place greater limitations and restraints on civil liberties. When compared to the scope of reported national security threats, these measures are disproportionate. For example, in the 2018 threat assessment, one of the “plots” used to support the report’s focus is the so-called “Canada Day” bomb plot from 2013. However, both accused in the case have been released after an appeals judge found they had been entrapped by the RCMP. While the government continues to appeal the case, it is questionable that this would be cited – without clarification – as one of only nine key events from the past 12 years.

The ICLMG is calling on the government to take immediate action to revise the 2018 threat assessment report, and to meet with concerned civil society groups to form a process of greater clarity, transparency and accountability in its national security operations and assessments.


More information:

Tim McSorley
National Coordinator
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group

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