Two Guantanamo prisoners, a Mauritanian and an Algerian, who once lived for a short time in Montreal, are taking the RCMP and Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency (CSIS) to court to force them to provide details of interrogations. Mohamedou Ould Slahi and Ahcene Zemiri were interrogated at Guantanamo by agents of the RCMP and CSIS in 2003 and 2004. They claim that confessions that they made about their relationship to al-Qaeda were made under torture. American authorities confirm that they were subjected to a “special interrogation plan.”
The case raises a number of issues. Do they have a right to protection under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even though they lived only briefly in Canada? Did Canada knowingly assist American officials who were using torture to elicit information? Is this another nail in the coffin of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s broken record that Canada has been assured by Washington that Omar Khadr is being treated humanely? And if Canada is forced by the courts to comply with the men’s request, what impact will that compliance have on intelligence sharing between Washington and Ottawa?
The niqab saga at the polling station
Prior to the September, 2007, by-elections in Quebec, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was under considerable pressure from all parties in Parliament to issue regulations preventing people from voting without showing their faces. The concern was that women wearing niqabs would be able to cast their ballots, providing a possibility for voter fraud. He stood his ground in refusing, pointing out that the Elections Act did not give him that authority.
Canadian Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand
Well, on October 14, Canada had a general election. Lo and behold, Mayrand made a slight concession to his political persecutors. The Manual for Deputy Returning Officers and Poll Clerks now has a section to voting while “wearing a face covering.”
The person will be asked to show his or her face. If the person refuses, then the requirement is to take an “oath of qualification to vote.” Big deal? There hasn’t been a peep in the media this time about anyone voting with a face covering. Were there any such instances? Who knows and who cares? It is hard to believe that the concern that has been raised is anything other than veiled bigotry.
Socialist leader feted
Audrey McLaughlin, a one-time leader of the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP), was honored at a dinner in Ottawa by the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations on October 21. The honor was in recognition of her defense of the rights of Arab Canadians, on the occasion of her departure from federal politics. She did not run for re-election.
Former leader of the socialist New Democratic Party Audrey McLaughlin
During her talk, she pointed to the NDP’s constant support for human rights, and its constant opposition to Islamophobia and the “draconian measures after 9/11.” She told the meeting that if we don’t exercise the political power which we have, others will impose their will.
McLaughlin decried the decline of Canada’s reputation in the world because of its eroding commitment to multilateralism and to the UN. She declared that solutions to the world’s problems need to be found in accordance with the rule of law, not through military means. Dire poverty, she said, leads to instability.
“Canadian Arabs and Muslims have shown leadership in dispelling misinformation about the role of Islam,” she said, as a result of which there are now more Canadians who have a greater understanding of the religion.
McLaughlin took inspiration from the words of U.S. Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, who, in speaking after 9/11, said, “In the attempt to defeat terrorism, let us not become the evil we deplore.” She cautioned that the politics of demonization means the loss of rights in the name of security.
Two young Arab-Canadian women who served as interns in her office acknowledged her commitment and help and her openness to opinions of others. The National Council on Arab-Canadian Relations announced the creation of the Audrey McLaughlin Internship Award, to establish young Arab-Canadian women in parliamentary internships.
Canada held partly responsible for torture
Judge Frank Iacobucci released his report on October 21 on Canadian involvement in the imprisonment and torture of three Canadian Muslim men. He found that Canadian officials were “indirectly” responsible for their plight. By “indirectly,” he meant that Canada did not seek their torture but that it provided unreliable information and questions to be asked of the men, which Syria and Egypt could well have taken as an invitation to the kind of interrogation and mistreatment to which they were subjected.
The three men, Abdullah Almalki, Muayyaad Nureddin, and Ahmad El-Maati, were arrested and tortured in Syria. El-Maati was transferred by Syria to Egypt, where, he says, the torture was even more cruel.
Among the facts Iacobucci uncovered were that the RCMP told Syria (and Egypt as well, in El-Maati’s case) that El-Maati and Almalki presented an “imminent threat” and sent questions to these governments to be posed to the two. He also noted the limited interest that the Canadian government had shown in the welfare of the men. In Almalki’s case, the ambassador presented only one note to Syria during the first 18 months of his imprisonment. He was never visited by any Canadian official during his 22 months in detention. In Nureddin’s case, Canada also shared information “with several foreign agencies.”
Iacobucci did not formally clear the three, as Justice Dennis O’Connor cleared Maher Arar, saying that such determination was beyond the scope of his mandate. That scope was set by the Conservative government, which is also responsible for the suppression of 20% of Iacobucci’s report on grounds of national security.
The judge brushed aside government lawyers’ contentions that the men were exaggerating their experiences. What he found makes it clear that Canadian officials showed serious lack of concern for the welfare of the three. They passed on seriously deficient information without regard to its possible misuse. And when El-Maati told a Canadian official visiting him in an Egyptian prison about being tortured in Syria—he did not dare talk about his treatment in Egypt because of the presence of Egyptian guards—Canada nevertheless sent questions to the Syrians to be put to Almalki.
Iacobucci did not put any blame on individual Canadian officials, saying that they acted in good faith but that the system is deficient and needs improvement to provide better protection for Canadians, more care in verification of information, and better control of how information is shared with and used by other countries.
The three men and others complained about the secretive nature of the inquiry, but Justice Dennis O’Connor, who conducted the Arar inquiry, suggested a closed proceeding because of the length and cost of the Arar proceedings. In any case, there are problems with certain aspects of the Iacobucci report. For example, he may be too generous in letting some officials off the hook by putting all the blame on “the system.” It seems clear that there were individuals who were carelessly unconcerned with the welfare of Canadian citizens in custody abroad and who were certainly aware of what would happen to people in Syrian and Egyptian prisons.
Tarek Fatah blasts victims of torture
Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, has now turned his poison pen against Ahmad El-Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Abdullah Almalki, the three Muslim men whose cases were reviewed by Justice Frank Iacobucci. It is unclear why he did not make the same arguments against Maher Arar, as he is equally “guilty” of the same offense.
Founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress Tarek Fatah
Well, Judge Iacobucci found that, by sharing false information about the three and sending questions to be used in their interrogation, Canadian authorities shared in the responsibility for their mistreatment. That is why the three are seeking redress from Canada. As for the suggestion that they should seek financial redress from Syria and Egypt—what planet is Fatah living on?
Justice Frank Iacobucci
We owe these three men and Maher Arar a great debt. Their complaints about Canadian government officials’ malfeasance, misfeasance, and non-feasance have caused a bright light to be shined in the dark corners of government agencies who have failed in their duty to protect all of us. Fatah’s outburst could only serve the perpetuation of monkey business as usual.
I wonder what the Muslim Canadian Congress thinks of Fatah’s latest diatribe.
Judge Frank Iacobucci