Canada’s shameful security legacy

Posted by admin on Jan 12th, 2009

Toronto Star. Jan 12, 2009. Monia Mazigh

Last week, the last person held under a security certificate in Canada was ordered released by an Ontario judge under strict conditions. Hassan Almrei, a Syrian national, was held in solitary confinement for almost eight years under the controversial security certificate process. He protested the conditions of his incarceration with the only tool that he had, launching several hunger strikes in an attempt to have his most basic rights respected.

He is suspected of terrorism but was never charged with any crime and was never given the opportunity to defend himself in an open trial.

Two years ago, the federal government decided to build a facility segregated from other inmates on the grounds of Millhaven penitentiary in Kingston, Ont.

This small maximum-security prison for foreign terror suspects detained in Canada cost $3.2 million to build and millions more to run.

It was there that Almrei, Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohamed Mahjoub, Mohamed Harkat – all the other suspects held under the security certificates – were kept in what is being called “Guantanamo North” by many human rights activists.

The emptiness of this expensive facility is a reminder to many Canadians of how poorly conceived the security certificate process was and how badly it has been handled by the government.

What was intended to be a speedy, streamlined procedure to arrest and deport to their countries of origin non-citizens who allegedly represented a national security threat to Canada, has instead turned out to be a lengthy, controversial and unconstitutional process, as determined by a unanimous 9-0 ruling in February 2007 by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Today, after this recent release of the final detainee, we have strong and clear evidence that the security certificate process is deeply flawed, resulting at times in two options: the indefinite detention of individuals, or their deportation to counties where they may face torture or even death.

It is unfortunate that the Canadian government didn’t listen to the early protests of members of the legal community, activists and NGOs who raised red flags about the use of the certificates for terrorism suspects. They proposed, instead, an open and transparent trial for all suspects who could see the evidence against them.

We must learn from our mistakes. We now know that the outcome of the security certificate exercise is an expensive and lengthy (if not indefinite) detention, with the suspension of basic civil rights for the individual involved – including the right to defend himself against his accusers.

We now have an excellent opportunity to call clearly and unambiguously for the closing of another shameful legacy of the “war on terror,” namely the Guantanamo Bay prison where a young Canadian man, Omar Khadr, is still being held and faces the prospects of a shadowy trial.

While the American government is in negotiations with some European countries to accept some of the Guantanamo prisoners as asylum seekers because they may face torture or death if they are sent to their countries of origin , the Canadian government behaves as if it is not aware that Khadr is a Canadian citizen.

Canada made a terrible mistake in building its own “Guantanamo Bay North,” proceeding despite vocal opposition from credible voices within legal and human rights circles.

Today, our government can, to some degree, redeem itself by adding its voice to the countless others who are calling for the closing of Guantanamo, and the repatriation of Khadr to Canada.

Monia Mazigh is a human rights activist and author of Hope and Despair: My struggle to free my husband Maher Arar. She lives in Ottawa with her family.

Comments are closed.