It’s been a long time since Momin Khawaja was arrested by the RCMP back on March 29, 2004, but his trial finally got off the ground in Ottawa on June 23, after years of legal wrangling, mainly over what evidence the prosecution could withhold from the defense on grounds of national security. He is charged with taking part in a terrorist group, helping by developing a trigger to be used in setting off a fertilizer bomb.
The allegation is that he aided a group of British Muslims who were planning to bomb a London nightclub, a shopping complex, and electrical and natural gas facilities. Five of the men were convicted in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. The British named Khawaja as an unindicted co-conspirator. This group was also tied to the suicide bombers who attacked a bus and the London underground on July 7, 2005.
Evidence against Khawaja will include e-mail messages allegedly from him to the leader of the British group, Omar Khyam, about the slow progress he was having in making the trigger mechanism operational. As well, the prosecution will likely produce the guns, ammunition, and military and extremist literature that the RCMP found in his home at the time of the arrest, electrical equipment discovered there, and conversations about the trigger surreptitiously recorded by the British authorities when Khawaja visited London.
It is alleged that he went to Pakistan, as did the convicted Brits, to take part in an al-Qaeda training camp. A key witness in the case, Mohammed Janaid Babar, an al-Qaeda agent who turned state’s evidence in the British case and who pled guilty to providing aid to al-Qaeda in 2004 at his New York trial, made an appearance to begin his testimony on the first day. He claims to have arranged for Khawaja to go to the training camp and to have aided the London conspirators, evidence he provided to the London trial as well. He hopes that his cooperation with the authorities will lead to a reduced sentence in the United States.
Tories oppose Khadr return
While the majority report of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee calls for Canada to demand the return of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo, the Conservative members are firmly opposed. Although Conservatives are a minority, they are the governing minority in Parliament because they are the largest bloc.
Conservatives in their report oppose repatriation because they believe that Khadr would likely be reunited with his openly pro-bin Laden family. As well, according to the Tories, “Mr. Khadr could become a litmus test on Canada’s commitment to impeding global terrorism, and the results of our actions today could result in consequences that are not in the long-term interest of the country.”
The Conservatives do not address the fact that he has been brutally treated both physically and emotionally and deprived of his rights as a child, including a right to an education.
In other news, Khadr recently revealed a bit about himself. Omar Khadr’s mail from Guantanamo is censored, and he cannot write about matters related to charges against him or about conditions at the base. However, CBC put some questions to him, and he was able to answer these queries, through his Canadian lawyer Dennis Edney. Spelling was erratic, but it should be remembered that he has been deprived of education since he was arrested at age 15. He is now 21.
In his responses, he clearly identifies with Canada and wants to return. He feels “his soul connected to it.” With regard to his predicament, he told the CBC, “I never had a choice in my past life, but I will build my future with the right bricks, and that Islam is a peaceful, multicultural and anti-racism religion for all.” This statement may be an oblique reference to his al-Qaeda-oriented family and his combat role with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Embassy prevents signing of fax
Sudanese-Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik, currently housed in the Canadian embassy in Kahrtoum, is not being allowed to sign an affidavit to fax to Canada so that his lawyer can file it in court. His lawyer has, instead, filed it as an unsigned exhibit.
Abdelrazik was imprisoned in Sudan in 2003 at Canada’s request. He was there to visit his sick mother. Imprisoned, he was beaten repeatedly but finally released by Sudan because they found no reason to keep him. Canadian officials questioned him in prison, and according to Abdelrazik they appeared unconcerned about his complaints of torture.
Efforts by Abdelrazik to return to Canada have been thwarted. His name is on an international list of al-Qaeda suspects, which prevents him from using commercial airlines, and Canadian government officials visiting Kartoum would not take him back with them. He is now suing Canada to compel them to return him.
Conditions in Sudanese jails, as described by Abdelrazik, have been confirmed in reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Statistics Canada reports on hate crime
Less than one percent of crime in Canada is hate related, according to Statistics Canada. On June 1, Statistics Canada released a report on hate crimes for the years 2001 and 2002. It reported that of hate crimes identified half were property offenses and a third involved violence. A quarter of the victims of violence suffered an injury, of whom two were killed. Of homosexuals targeted, almost half were physically assaulted.
The group most commonly attacked was Jews, 25%. Next came blacks, 17%, and Muslims, 11%. South Asians were at 10% and gays and lesbians 9%. Eight per cent of the victims were Arab or West Asian. Over all, the study reported 794 victims, two-thirds male. There were 928 incidents listed.
Of those who were identified, most offenders, over 80%, were male. Fewer than 10% had previous criminal activity.
While hate propaganda is for the most part protected as free speech in the United States, such is not the case in Canada, where hate propaganda is a crime. Thirteen per cent of the incidents reported were cases of hate propaganda. In Canada, if prejudice is a factor in a crime, the court is compelled to judge the offense more severely.
These statistics for hate crimes in Canada are somewhat dicey. Only twelve Canadian police forces reported, though they do cover 87% of the population. An additional factor that may lead to distortion is the diligence with which police forces identify hate crimes and promote reporting. Ottawa, for instance, had a relatively high level of incidents (6.6 per 100,000 population compared to 5.5 for Toronto), but it has a Hate Crimes Unit in the police force which goes out actively to encourage reporting and which investigates instances aggressively. As a result, its rate will show higher than that of forces that do not put the same effort into hate crime.
The 1999 General Social Survey, a different Statistics Canada report, found that self-reported victims of hate crimes reported these to police 45% of the time. Where prejudice was not identified as a factor, only 37% did so.
Christians in Iraq and Egypt
Canadian parliamentarians on the Human Rights Committee heard testimony at a June 17 hearing that Christians in Iraq and Egypt are suffering extreme persecution. Filham Isaac, representing the Nineveh Advisory Committee, an organization favoring creation of an independent Christian state in the Nineveh Valley of Iraq, spoke of killings of children and clergy, burning of churches, and rape and acid-burning of unveiled women as deeds perpetrated to drive Christians out. He said that 300,000 Iraqi Christians are refugees, about a third of the Christian population.
Sam Fanous, of the Canadian Coptic Association, alleged that Coptic girls in Egypt are raped, kidnapped, and forced to marry Muslim men. Earlier this year, MP’s Jim Karygiannis and Raymonde Folco visited Egypt to examine discrimination against Copts. They reported that Copts in Egypt are highly educated and are among the most successful businessmen. They also said that some Copts convert to Islam because Coptic Christianity is very strict. Yet, they interviewed some parents of girls who disappeared and the fiancé of a young woman who was allegedly abducted. These females are said to have been forcibly converted. While the MPs reached no conclusions about allegations made of mistreatment of Copts, they suggested a follow-up by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Copts in Egypt have at times been victims of hate crimes, some resulting in a number of deaths.
Suzy Greiss is an anthropologist, a Copt, and an appointed member of the Egyptian parliament, who worked for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) from 1993 to 2005. In a Canadian government publication, she stated that “We are very much integrated. We Copts and Muslims live side by side, there is no separation … We all think of ourselves as Egyptians first. . . .”
Reacting to the hearing, Samah Sabawi, Executive Director of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, argued that not just religious minorities are victims of authoritarian régimes. She referred to Egypt and Pakistan. She said that Muslims are also raped and imprisoned, especially if they are political dissidents. Commenting on Iraq, especially since the invasion, she charged that “kidnapping and torture as well as lawlessness and corruption are part of the new Iraq and touch people of all faiths.”