Tuesday, May 24, 2016
By Matthew Behrens
In a major setback to a Liberal government still refusing to repeal the repressive Bill C-51, the Federal Court has found unreasonable the secret trial security certificate against the long-suffering Mahmoud Jaballah, almost 20 years to the day that the Egyptian refugee and his family arrived in Canada seeking asylum from the Mubarak dictatorship. While the written decision for this finding has yet to be released, this hopefully brings to a close an 18-year legal fight that helped spur an international campaign of condemnation against Canada’s use of secret trials, indefinite detention, deportation to torture, and the patently illegal practices conducted by Canada’s spy agency, CSIS.
Jaballah, who was jailed without charge and tortured on many occasions in Egypt (as was his wife, Husnah, who was twice detained and tortured in front of him), was originally arrested in 1999 under the much criticized security certificate, alleging he was a threat to national security. The problem he faced? He was not allowed to see the secret case against him in a process that allowed as evidence anything not normally admissible in a court of law. CSIS had originally approached him to spy on his community, and he refused. The response of CSIS was clear: cooperate or you will be jailed and deported to torture.
CSIS CAUGHT LYING
Jaballah’s then 11-year-old son, Ahmad, was forced to translate through his own tears one very late night for the CSIS interrogators, whose own translator had fallen asleep and was snoring on the couch well after midnight. Young Ahmad could not sleep anyhow: their family of 8 lived in a small two bedroom Scarborough apartment where the noise of the interrogation kept everyone up. While CSIS agents confidently terrorized Jaballah, they were unaware that Ahmad and his mother had placed a tape recorder in the hallway, figuring it might come in useful. Sure enough, when CSIS was examined in open court much later on about whether they were in the business of extortion and threats, they of course denied that they could ever engage in such an odious practice. When the tape was produced, it went a long way towards obliterating any “credibility” CSIS may have had in the case, and in an almost unprecedented historical moment, the certificate was thrown out after Jaballah spent some 7 months in detention.
Jaballah's three youngest children at the Metro West Jail Sleepout, Summer, 2002
But the nightmare did not end there. As is standard CSIS practice, the spy agency continued asking about Jaballah in the community, putting out the word that they would get him. In August 2001, while leaving the school where he was a principal and his wife a teacher, Jaballah was surrounded by heavily armed RCMP agents whose high-risk takedown was as unnecessary as it was baseless. Once again back in jail, Jaballah was behind bars during the 9/11 attacks, and would not be able to hug his kids for another 8 years. At the first public portion of the secret trial in the fall of 2001, a CSIS agent admitted there was no new evidence against Jaballah, only a new interpretation of the old information that had already been thrown out by the Federal Court as unreliable.
Jaballah faced horrific times behind bars, with long years in solitary confinement, hunger strikes, untreated medical conditions, and the pain of a family growing up without him while fending off terror allegations that could never be disproven because they were secret.
DEPRIVATIONS OF JUSTICE
Along the way, the severe deprivations of justice that were the core of the process – originally solidified under the Trudeau government in the 1970s – produced some remarkable zingers that were accepted at face value by a series of Federal Court of Canada judges (all of whom would later learn that they were lied to behind closed doors). In one instance, a CSIS lawyer argued that Jaballah was a terrorist communications relay expert because when he came to Canada, he not only wasted no time in setting up a Bell phone account, but also carried a cell phone with him while his wife was pregnant, “procured” a fax machine (because Arab Muslims don't simply purchase, they “procure,” usually with eerie music playing in the background), and started learning to surf the internet. Readers with such skills: beware, you may be next.
In another instance, CSIS alleged without foundation that Jaballah was in touch with an overseas terrorist leader because some calls were allegedly made to a suspicious satellite phone from payphones within a 4 km radius of Jaballah’s home, which at the time was situated in the densely populated Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
BIRTHING A CAMPAIGN
I got to know the Jaballah family shortly after his second arrest, and it was here that the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada was born, still fighting 15 years later for an end to the barbaric secret trial process and deportation to torture. It has been a long journey for the men, their families, and communities that live in fear that one of their loved ones could be next. Things really began to turn around in 2003 when the secret trial families started speaking with each other and to the media about their ordeal, and the narrative changed from “terrorist threat” to “secret trial detainees who deserved due process.”
Jaballah's two youngest sons, marching from CSIS in Toronto, 2007
Supporters spent years in court on hard benches as heinous allegations were hurled at their loved ones in the docket, while some of Canada’s top lawyers, including Barbara Jackman, John Norris, Paul Copeland, Rocco Galati (who won the first case) and Marlys Edwardh waded through mountains of litigation trying to declare the process unconstitutional (a battle that was won with a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 2007. Celebrations were short-lived, though, as the Harper Conservatives teamed up with the Liberals to support continued use of secret trials, with some window dressing amendments). There were scores of street demonstrations, sympathy hunger strikes, long-distance walks, lobbying missions to Ottawa, jail sleepouts, and civil disobedience, all of which put a human face on one of this country’s most regressive and repressive policies. A fund started by the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (murdered by the U.S. government as Red Scare sacrifices) to aid the children of detainees contributed to the costs of Ahmad Jaballah’s tuition. With people from coast to coast writing letters to and visiting with Jaballah and other detainees known as The Secret Trial Five, it got to the point where CSIS Director Jim Judd threw up his hands in disgust, complaining these alleged threats were being treated as folk heroes.
. Along the way, any glimmer of hope was always dashed with an equal measure of judicial reticence and compliant media, who continually repeated allegations with no factual basis and refused to ever challenge the court when a judge would say “we’re going into closed session.” Yet the media would fight to open up the same court when one of the detainees asked for private details of their lives to be kept out of the public realm when they felt their lives or those of loved ones were at risk. Even when two of the cases were dismissed – one case (Adil Charkaoui) withdrawn when the government refused to comply with an order to produce some classified information, the other (Hassan Almrei) a victory in which the CSIS case was found unreasonable – the government continued its campaign of selective leaks and community innuendo against the men. In the age of google, it doesn’t matter if you win against CSIS: the taint of the allegation is forever available to anyone who opens a computer screen.
Meantime, Ottawa’s Mohamed Harkat and Toronto’s Mohammad Mahjoub, whose cases were found “reasonable” by Federal Court judges who relied in secret information that could not be challenged, are now fighting deportation to torture in Algeria and Egypt, respectively.
While the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials was ultimately successful in stopping the use of secret trial security certificates – none have been issued in over a decade – many of the court precedents in their cases have been used to insert more secrecy into refugee proceedings and other aspects of government control of targeted communities. Indeed, the process was lifted word for word into C-51 under a number of sections. But as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale considers a review of state security, he would do well to look at the weakness of these cases and the human damage they did to the detainees and their loved ones, all of whom will suffer the ill-effects of the past two decades long into the future.
JUDGE MAKES MISTAKE
In the spring of 2003, the second certificate (the one issued in 2001) was upheld against Jaballah on flimsy grounds as well as ON secret information neither he nor his lawyer ever got a chance to see, much less cross-examine. That set in motion the deportation process, in which the Liberal government of the day (with Immigration Minister Denis Coderre playing an odious role) found that Jaballah faced a substantial likelihood of torture or death if deported to Egypt, but recommended he be sent anyhow for the “safety” of Canadians. Coderre approved his department’s callous finding that "Mr. Jaballah has been detained apart from his children for some time; I cannot therefore conclude that Mr. Jaballah's removal from Canada would deprive his children of his emotional and financial support any more than his current detention has."
One of Jaballah’s legal challenges at the time focused on a section of the immigration act that made him and fellow detainees the only people in Canada who were prohibited from applying for bail. It made Federal Court Judge MacKay wonder aloud one day at the end of a long hearing whether Toronto had its own version of Guantanamo Bay.
The danger of the secret trial process, in which one side sat in secret with a judge, was revealed one day in 2006. We were shocked when, sitting in court, Judge MacKay admitted: "It looks like I made a mistake," in reference to his use of a piece of "evidence" that was one of the key reasons he employed to conclude in May, 2003 that the government's second security certificate against Jaballah was "reasonable." It turns out, in fact, that this "evidence" did not exist. Three years of Jaballah’s life were spent behind bars in part due to this “mistake.”
After the process was unanimously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2007, the Federal Court, working with an Ottawa professor, worked diligently not to abolish the practice and raise the standards, but to introduce security-cleared “special advocates” who have some access to some of the case. But the detainees had no more more clues about the reasons for their detention. While held at the notorious Guantanamo North facility in Kingston, Jaballah and his fellow detainees remained on punishing hunger strikes of between 80 and 160 days, eventually released under some of the most draconian bail conditions in Canadian history, turning families into jailers. Children needed approval from the government to have friends over to the house; a trip to the grocery store involved applying for permission a week in advance. All of this was duly recorded by the CBSA, and shared with CSIS, both agencies admitting this was necessary to continue their investigations, including the logging of solicitor client calls.
Jaballah is now a grandfather many times over. His remarkably resilient family has seen the worst of Egypt and of Canada. Last week, they celebrated the good news, which still felt like a dream. While it is a major stake in the heart of the secret trial process, it is not the end of the line. Mohammad Mahjoub of Toronto and Mohamed Harkat of Ottawa continue fighting deportation to torture after their cases were upheld based on secret information that is not normally admissible in a court of law that they were never allowed to see, much less contest.
We have much work still to do on these and so many other cases, but for now, a brief pause, and a celebration. At long last.
Monday, May 16, 2016
"On May 25 and 26, we will be well-dressed and business-like, indistinguishable from the weapons merchants and the warriors of the Liberal Trudeau government who will be perusing the massive weapons on display and hob-nobbing with some of the world's worst human rights violators," says the communique. "With an ID pass that is a virtual replica of those being used for CANSEC2016, our entry should not be a problem. We will be absolutely peaceful, engaging in dialogue about the Nuremberg Principles, which prohibit wars of aggression. Nuremberg, among many other international laws, is daily violated by the countries visiting this weapons fair, as well as the weapons dealers themselves. By sharing with the CANSEC attendees the international laws that they are violating, we hope to engage in a dialogue about how we can transform our global war economy of $1.5 trillion annually into a caring economy in which we make sure all of our needs are met while caring for the planet."
SNAG2 members say they may also bring in the occasional banner, as well as recordings of the sounds of the victims of CANSEC products, from the crying of children and the wailing of mothers after their homes and schools have been bombed to the screams of those tortured in dungeons around the globe run by the majority of countries represented at CANSEC.
They call the CANSEC gathering an illegal conspiracy that contravenes the Canadian (in)Justice Dept.'s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program, "A person is considered complicit if, while aware of the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the person contributes directly or indirectly to their occurrence. Membership in an organization responsible for committing the atrocities can be sufficient to establish complicity if the organization in question is one with a single brutal purpose, e.g. a death squad." They note this applies to U.S., Israeli, Saudi, British, and other human rights violators who will be in attendance at CANSEC.
SNAG2 also notes CANSEC is an illegal gathering because "it is being held on traditional, unceded Algonquin territory, and it appears the war show organizers have not sought permission from the Algonquin nation for this exhibit.... This is a criminal gathering, a celebration of terrorism, and we plan to be a life-affirming antidote to this disgusting display of the tools of mass murder," the communique notes. "So arms dealers and buyers should not be surprised when they turn around to see someone who looks just like them opening a suitcase with a beautiful banner celebrating peace and justice. If they're not careful, they might even get a hug. Sometimes weapons dealers just need to be loved out of the very bad place that they find themselves in to sell such horrifying machinery of murder."
While Homes not Bombs is not familiar with who may be members of the nonviolent SNAG2, the communique states: "We are the children of The Spring Nuremberg Action Group, which in the spring of 2003 shut down Canadian Forces Base Downsview because the Canadian military, while participating in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, refused to allow copies of the Nuremberg Principles onto their base." SNAG2 notes that in 2011, an attempt to present Nuremberg principles at the CANSEC weapons fair, then held at Lansdowne Park, met with 12 foot high fences and heavy security.
The SNAG2 communique concludes: "There may be massive delays as a result of our appearance at CANSEC, because everyone's ID will no doubt have to be double and triple checked, and there are so many ways of getting in that they may have to erect a massive fence around the perimeter. But these are minor inconveniences compared to the real, terminal damage done by CANSEC and its buyers. We believe our unarmed agents of love and compassion being onsite over those two days might change some hearts, minds, and spirits."
While Homes not Bombs is not sure who SNAG2 might be, they wish them well in their nonviolent efforts.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The Faces of War Will Return to the CANSEC entrance on May 25, 2016
Canada's largest annual weapons bazaar opens on May 25 in Ottawa.
The world's worst human rights violators, including the U.S., U.K., and the beheading regime of Saudi Arabia, will be there.
In addition to welcoming the world's leading weapons manufacturers, CANSEC will also host companies that profit from border controls, militarization of police forces, refugee interdiction, the prison-industrial complex, and mass surveillance. It's a toxic gathering celebrating repression, racism, and war.
Join us for a day of nonviolent action to close the most violent annual gathering in Canada.
Wednesday, May 25, 7:30 am to 1 pm, EY Centre, 4899 Uplands Drive, Ottawa
*****Also, join us the night before at the War Criminals Welcoming Walk, May 24, 5-7 pm.
Starting at 5 pm at York and Sussex (Ottawa, Byward Market area) on Tuesday, May 24, General Chaos, the much decorated man of colonial adventure, imperial hubris, and high-priced weapons industry consultation, will lead a walk to welcome delegates to CANSEC16 (aka TerrorismFest16), one of the largest weapons bazaars in North America, and host to an international array of guests from Saudi Arabia, Israel, United Arab Emirates, the UK, the USA, and multitudes of other human rights violating nations. Won't you join the General as he welcomes his brother war-criminals-in-arms? Being a Canadian, he may allow a few speeches about human rights and ending violence, but he knows the score. As a Trudeau appointee to a new panel advising the government on how best to smooth over the unsavoury elements of sales like the $15 billion blockbuster to the world's leading beheading regime, Saudi Arabia, General Chaos "gets" that he must spout the usual euphemisms about human rights while supplying those who would violate them.
So stretch your legs, bring your noisemakers and musical instruments, and "welcome" the weapons buyers who will swarm over the CANSEC16 site at the EY Centre the following day. And if you can join us for some of the May 25 protest, running 7:30 am to 1 pm, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or (613) 267-3998.
General Chaos, who will welcome his war criminal friends on May 24 from 5-7 pm.
"We are determined to revitalize Canada’s role in peace-keeping." Justin Trudeau at the UN, March 16, 2016
"Dion quietly approved $15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia in April." Globe and Mail, April 12, 2016
Despite a change in government, the Canadian warfare state continues undisturbed, and even better served by the Liberals, who have signed off on a $15 billion sale of killer armoured brigade vehicles to the leading beheading regime of the world, Saudi Arabia (which is also committing horrific war crimes against the people of Yemen). Meantime, the Canadian weapons industry continues to supply the world's leading sponsor of state terrorism, the U.S., to the tune of billions annually. Justin Trudeau and Stéphane Dion have sent a clear message to the death merchants of Canada: carry on as you did under Harper, and don't mind our occasional human rights rhetoric. It won't apply to Canadian weapons dealers whose bottom line relies on the overseas market of supplying the tools of torture and terrorism to dictatorships and juntas, as well as those "democracies" that support them.
And so it falls once again to people like us to say NO to the weapons trade. That NO must NOT be a call for "export controls" or "arms control" or "weapons limitations," but a clear and precise demand for the only thing that makes sense: disarmament. One way to stop mass murder, carpet bombing, and other atrocities is for Canada to stop producing the tools of terrorism. In addition, anyone concerned with climate change recognizes that one of the world's worst emissions producers are global military forces, which remain exempt from climate change agreements.
PROTESTING CANSEC: WHAT IT WILL LOOK LIKE
We will be organizing transportation to and from the site, so consider how long you can stay (with that in mind, pack a lunch, bring snacks and water)
We will be hanging lots of banners on the fences. Consider making some artwork that is representative of resistance to war.
We will read aloud the reports of human rights groups, the testimonies of the disappeared and detained, the stories of survivors who have lived in terror under the bombs that come from Canada. We will nonviolently, lovingly lay siege to CANSEC16 by telling our own stories and refusing to buy the myths of militarism and CANSEC’s glorification of terrorism and barbaric cultural practices. We will build a large graveyard to commemorate victims of CANSEC’s exhibitors, guests, and hosts. We will sing. We will speak our truth. At the same time, we will refuse to engage in any acts of violence, whether physical or verbal, and will not seek to humiliate CANSEC16 attendees or those hired hands patrolling the vicinity.
1. Coming from out of town? Let us know if you need billeting.
2. Can you provide transportation to help people get to the EY Centre (next to Ottawa airport)? Can you put up out-of-town visitors in your Ottawa home? Can you help provide food and water on the day of the event? Contact email@example.com or call 613-267-3998
3. Can you donate to help us meet our costs? Cheques can be made out to Homes not Bombs and mailed to PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0
4. Can’t make it? Send us a poem, an essay, something that you want shared at our day-long speakers’ platform. Let us know if you would be able to organize a vigil in your community art a weapons manufacturer, a federal office, etc.
5. Consider endorsing our event.
More information: Homes not Bombs, firstname.lastname@example.org, 613-267-3998, http://
Sponsored by: Homes not Bombs, Nowar/Paix, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, Raging Grannies, and Country Music Fans Against War and Repression.