The Canadian government recently removed references to torture by the United States from a training manual for diplomats posted abroad. How inconvenient, then, that Benamar Benatta and his lawyer Nicole Chrolavicius came to the nation’s capital to tell of his experience of being tortured in the United States.
In a public forum held in the auditorium of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Benatta told his story, the tale of Canada’s first rendition to torture. His story begins in Algeria, where he was an aeronautical engineer in the military. Because he refused to take part in brutal repression of his fellow citizens, he was thrown in jail for five months. Little did he realize that this was training for five years in American jails.
Incongruously, after his stint in an Algerian prison, he was sent to the United States for training. That was his chance to escape. He left the training camp and went to New York City. His situation as an illegal alien was tenuous, and he was advised by people to seek refugee status in Canada. On September 5, 2001, he presented himself at the Canadian border. They held him in custody while trying to decide how to proceed with him, but on September 12, right after 9/11, they bundled him into a car and drove him over the border in New York state, a rendition that was, as Chrolavicius pointed out, not a legal extradition. “It was outside the law, Canadian law and international law, the Geneva Convention.”
Once back in the United States, he was put into detention, constantly questioned and accused of being a terrorist. He was threatened with execution if he did not tell all, but of course he had nothing to tell. While in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, he was thrown against the wall and had his head slammed into the wall on more than one occasion. During detention, he was subjected to sensory deprivation conditions such as 24-hour-a-day bright lights. He was also put outside in the cold without shoes or warm clothing.
As early as November, 2001, American authorities were satisfied that there was no evidence of a terrorist connection, but he was still not released. Instead, they accused him, falsely, of having false ID. Only in the following year did he have the opportunity to meet a lawyer, when he was transferred to the Federal Detention Center in Buffalo.
When the matter came before U.S. Federal Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder in 2003, the judge decried the fact that he had been “held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be ‘oppressive’.” In 2004, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticized Benatta’s treatment “involving impositions that could be described as torture.”
In 2006, the Canadian Council for Refugees became involved and convinced the government to seek his return to Canada. Back in Canada, he is now attempting to sue the government for his illegal expulsion, but, complains Chrolavicius, the government is stalling with a variety of procedural roadblocks. In the meantime, no one has been held accountable for Benatta’s mistreatment, no one in Canada and no one in the United States. His lawyer attributes his mistreatment to 9/11, as a result of which “the laws of Canada went out the window.” After all, while he is not trained as a pilot, he is a Muslim man whose field of work has something to do with airplanes.
Imam Syed Soharwardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, has withdrawn his complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission against Ezra Levant, former publisher of the Western Standard, for reprinting the notorious Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Soharwardy explained that he had changed his mind because freedom of speech “is sacred and holy in our society.”
Meanwhile, Levant is threatening to sue Soharwardy for expenses he has incurred in defense against the charge. Levant notes that the complaint is still active because it was also made by the Edmonton Muslim Council.
On an ironic note, three Muslim women have charged Soharwardy with discrimination for how they were treated when they wanted to raise questions about finances at an open house at the Al-Madina Calgary Islamic Center. Their complaint was addressed to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Soharwardy denies their charges.
Controversy over sharia mortgages
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is reviewing a number of proposals to offer sharia-compliant mortgages, but the liberal Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) has come out strongly against such mortgages and calls on the CMHC to cancel its study of the practice. The CMHC is putting out a tender seeking an organization to carry out a review of the matter.
The key to an Islamic mortgage is that interest is not charged. Instead, the lender purchases the property and sells it to a buyer on a rent-to-own basis, with profit, replacing interest, tucked into the sale price.
Farzana Hassan, president of MCC, complains that such mortgages are significantly more expensive than conventional ones. They also, she contends, victimize Muslims by religious pressure to buy into the more expensive system. Instead, she argues, Muslims should integrate into the general market.
CMHC does not plan to offer sharia-compliant mortgages but wants to understand their implications and how they work. The study to be commissioned will look at how they pan out in various countries. As well, it will try to guage the potential demand in Canada and the effect of such mortgages on the housing market.
Omar Kalazir, CEO of UM Financial, which offers sharia-compliant mortgages in Canada, argues that the extra cost is legitimate, just as buying kosher foods can be more expensive.
Canadian Guantanamo in Afghanistan?
The Montreal newspaper La Presse reports that Canada plans to build a wing onto a jail in Kabul to house prisoners captured by Canadian forces. While Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier denied the allegations, the prison director confirmed that Canadian officials visited a couple weeks ago to establish where such a wing might be installed.
Recent information verifying torture of prisoners in Afghan custody is clearly the motivating factor in such exploratory moves on the part of the Canadian government.
Harkat back home
Mohamed Harkat, one of the five Muslim men under security certificates, has been released from jail. He was jailed as he and his wife were to live with her mother and her mother’s partner, but that couple broke up and she moved out, sleeping in the house only some evenings. The government said that the mother-in-law’s moving out meant that Harkat was in violation of bail conditions. A final decision on the bail question is still awaiting the judge’s decision. The government wants bail revoked.
Welcome to the USA
Matt Murray, a student in the School of Social Work at Ottawa’s Carleton University, was driving to Buffalo last October with his classmate Anuprya, a woman from India. She needed to go to the Canadian Consulate in Buffalo to take care of some immigration matters.
When they got to the border, the guard began a hostile questioning.
“Why are you coming here?”
They gave the reason.
“How do I know you’re not terrorists?”
Matt replied that they were classmates at Carleton.
“How do I know you didn’t go to the school of Taliban?”
Anuprya was questioned, fingerprinted, and made to show identification, a process that took about half an hour. Then they were allowed to proceed. She was clearly the wrong color.
Homosexuals in danger in Iran
Arsham Parsi, Executive Director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), spoke recently in Ottawa at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship about the persecution of homosexuals in Iran. IRQO is based in Toronto. He cited one source that reported 4,000 homosexuals executed between the revolution in 1979 and 2000, but the figure, he said, may be too high, as other people may well have been falsely accused and killed for other reasons.
|Arsham Parsi, Executive Director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) fled his homeland in 2005 because of his sexual orientation|
Male homosexuality in Iran can be severely punished: 60 lashes for kissing, death for penetration, and so on. Lesbian acts can be punished with 100 lashes, death for a fourth offense.
Because of his sexual orientation, Parsi was forced to flee his homeland in 2005. However, it is not only the law that is the source of persecution. Homophobia is deeply rooted in the culture, and there is no avenue to dispel myths and stereotypes. Hence, in the public mind homosexuality is identified with pedophilia. Some gays and lesbians are driven to drug abuse and suicide because of family and social pressures and negative self-image.
IRQO acts to help Iranian gays and lesbians who flee the country. Last year, it dealt with 65 claims for asylum, 80% being recognized by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and European courts, with the rest pending. Of those processed, 70% will come to Canada, 10% the U.S., and the rest Europe.
The organization is in contact with some 50 gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered refugees in Turkey who live in miserable conditions, in need of the basics. Unfortunately, IRQO lacks the financial resources to be of much help.
While people naturally look to family to help in troubled situations, homosexuals and the other sexual minorities cannot count on such support. First of all, frequently the family itself is a major source of the persecution. And in any case, it could be dangerous for a family to speak too loudly in their defense.