CSIS endangering `lives of my sons’

Posted by admin on Feb 21st, 2009

February 21, 2009. Lesley Ciarula Taylor. Toronto Star

The case of a 53-year-old Colombian refugee fighting deportation on evidence she is forbidden to read has taken a chilling turn with something she can read. A Colombian newspaper, citing Canada’s security service as the source, printed her sons’ names and locations, making them targets in the country’s bloody civil war. “This was shocking to me,” said Amparo Torres. “This puts in danger the lives of my sons. If they are killed, the responsibility belongs to CSIS.”

Torres survived a wave of bloodshed that left 3,000 Patriotic Union members dead and destroyed the movement in Colombia. “But I have no defence against this.”

Torres, a well-known trade union activist, has been through years of deportation hearings and Federal Court challenges, most recently invoking the Supreme Court of Canada decision that security certificates used to invoke secret evidence to try to deport non-citizens as security threats were unconstitutional.

Neither she nor her lawyer, Raoul Boulakia, is allowed to see the evidence against her.

Torres had fled Colombia for Mexico and then Canada in 1996, a political refugee who had survived a kidnapping. Canada gave her refugee status and permanent residence. At the time, she admitted her brother and former husband were leaders of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and that she helped create Colombia’s Patriotic Union Movement, a consortium of left-wing political parties.

When she applied for citizenship in 2000, the government asked CSIS for a formal security clearance. CSIS countered that Torres herself belonged to FARC but refused to give her more than a summary of its evidence.

“We came to Canada to protect our lives,” said Torres, who lives in Etobicoke with her second husband, a retired University of Toronto professor. “It is very surprising to me that Canada would do this because it is famous for respecting human rights. That is the reason I am in Canada.”

Torres’s first deportation hearing went on for a few years, said Boulakia, but just as a decision was due, the Immigration and Refugee Board official retired. “We had to start all over again a year ago.”

This time, because the Supreme Court in February 2007 had struck down a law allowing the government to use secret evidence, Torres could name a special advocate to examine and challenge the classified documents on her behalf.

Her special advocate, Lorne Waldman, has himself represented the last of the five men held in prison on security certificates as part of the government’s anti-terrorism campaign. A legal challenge to those certificates led to the high court ruling allowing special advocates.

Waldman said he expects to soon have a date to review the evidence.

In three interviews, Torres said, CSIS asked about her brother, her sons, her politics. “They talked to me very ruthlessly, with shouts and insults and accusations.” She denied belonging to FARC, which Canada declared a terrorist organization in 2003, and denies it still.

A summary of one interview said she “argued for violence.” Her friends in Canada have been questioned. But late last year, “they did the worst that they have done, something very dangerous.”

The largest newspaper in Colombia, El Tiempo, published an article about what it called the children of FARC living in comfort while Colombians were being killed. The article named Torres’s two sons, Canadian citizens previously unknown to the Colombian media and university graduates, ages 24 and 26, and described where they were working and studying.

A spokesperson for CSIS, Manon Bérubé, said yesterday, “CSIS does not provide such information to any news media outlet.” As to whether the information came via CSIS to Colombian security, she said, “CIS does not divulge details of information shared with any foreign entity.”


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