Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Nonviolent Direct Action, Creative Protest and Planning Effective Campaigns Workshop

Space is limited, so register by sending an email to tasc@web.ca We will send location details (we will be in an accessible space) after you have registered. Please let us know specific issues you would like to have covered in the workshop. We’ll send some video clips to help get you prepared for the day.

We request that participants be masked to protect yourselves amidst the high rates of respiratory viruses and in support of those immunocompromised members of the community who otherwise cannot attend such indoor gatherings. HEPA filters will be running throughout the day. 

 Presented by Homes not Bombs and the Peace and Social Concerns Committee of Ottawa Quakers 

WHY THIS WORKSHOP? Protests are common in Ottawa – Gaza, climate catastrophe, anti-racism, solidarity with LGBTQ2+, anti-poverty – and while many of us are comfortable showing up as long as someone else is organizing them, we tend to forget that there is an artistry and skills set to them, especially those that may involve some level of confrontation or that turn out unexpectedly. Having those skills to fall back on can ensure your safety and keeping the message focused. Just as we wouldn't send someone into surgery without training, having training for political protests and nonviolent direct actions is critical to protect you, your message, and your community. 

The workshop will include discussion, role plays to prepare you for real-life situations, video samples, laughter and, importantly, joy, because to come together to say “NO” to the injustices of the world is an opportunity for us to live in the best of ourselves. 

QUESTIONS CONSIDERED IN THE WORKSHOP This in-depth interactive workshop, facilitated by a Homes not Bombs trainer with decades of experience conducting trainings in schools, prisons, faith groups, anti-globalization convergences, and other venues, will provide you with the knowledge, skills, and legal/political/theatrical literacy you need to carry out successful, creative nonviolent direct actions that go beyond the “Demonstrations 101" box. 

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How nonviolence? 

How has nonviolence worked against dictators and other brutal regimes? 

 How does nonviolent resistance respond to ecological and genocide grief? 

 What is the architecture of building a successful action and campaign? 

 How can we approach effective political action without us/them polarization, by naming and protesting practices which are harmful but refusing to be enemies? 

 How do we make ourselves and our messages accessible to bystanders and opponents? 

 How can we harness the fiercely compassionate power of love, joy, and beloved community even as we face some of the most difficult challenges imaginable? 

 How can humour, theatre, art, and silence be employed as tactics that draw people in and protect the integrity of your gathering? 

How do we engage those with whom we disagree as opponents and not enemies? 

How can nonviolent activists show solidarity with a people who feel they have no other choice but to take up arms? 

How do you de-escalate a tense situation? 

How have the key ideas of the civil rights, women’s liberation, LGBTQ2+, disabled rights, peace and anti-intervention, and anti-colonial mass movements speak to how we organize in Ottawa? 

What is nonviolent civil disobedience? How does it work? What are my rights and responsibilities when I take part in one? What happens if I am arrested? What is it like to be held in custody and to go to court if I am charged? 

 "When the appeal and temptation to violence is most powerful; when the suffering and oppression is greatest; when the desire for vengeance is compelling, that is when we most need to stand up and say as loudly as we can that violence is not the answer! War must stop. Occupation must cease. The siege must be lifted. The struggle for freedom, equality and self determination must continue, yes, but with different methods and without violence, destruction, or bloodshed.”– Mubarak Awad and Jonathan Kuttab, Nonviolence International, on the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Supreme Court Abandons Dozens of Detained Canadians in Syria


OTTAWA – In a hugely disappointing decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear the critical case of four men who have been arbitrarily detained without charge under conditions akin to torture – one for almost seven years –  in northeast Syria. Canada’s refusal to assist them has perpetuated their exile.


The mother of one of those men, expressed her profound frustration.


“Global Affairs won’t meet with me,” says Sally Lane, whose son Jack Letts turned 28 on Tuesday. “My own MP won’t listen to me. And now the Supreme Court has told me and the other families that we don’t have the same rights as everyone else. It is supremely contemptuous of me, the other families of loved ones held there, and the basic rights and freedoms Canada is supposedly committed to, that in refusing to hear this case, the Court has essentially said it is acceptable for Canada to engage in the illegal practices of exile, indefinite arbitrary detention, and torture.


“We’re not giving up, but today it is difficult to maintain hope when my son, the other men, and the additional women and children who remain detained have been told their lives do not matter.”



(Sally Lane, whose book Reasonable Cause to Suspect documents a decade long journey to bring her son Jack home.)

The case raises critical questions about the government’s responsibilities towards Canadians abroad facing egregious violations of fundamental rights, especially when Canada can take positive action to end those violations. In this instance, the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria (AANES) has repeatedly requested that all countries repatriate foreign nationals held in their prisons and camps, but Canada has refused to assist any of the Canadian men. It has only repatriated some two dozen women and children when it was under threat of legal action, and has tried to forcefully separate 10 detained Canadian children from non-Canadian mothers.


“We see a disturbing trend of two-tiered citizenship in which your alleged political or religious beliefs determine whether the Canadian government will assist you in times of trouble,” explains Matthew Behrens of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, which has led a campaign for repatriation of those detained in northeast Syria. “Canada can and has assisted Canadians in trouble abroad over the past year, from Sudan to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to Northeast Syria itself, where these men are illegally held. If Canada can bring home women and kids at the request of their northeast Syrian captors, why not the men?”


Notably, almost 1,000 Iraqis were repatriated from Syria this past week, in part due to the assistance of a Global Affairs Canada $2.9 million grant to facilitate the return of Iraqi detainees. “Canada is funding the release of Iraqis, a good thing, but spending equal amounts of money to prevent the return of Canadians,” Behrens points out.  



A landmark January, 2023 Federal Court decision regarding repatriation of the Canadians declared that, as soon as reasonably possible, “Canada must make a formal request for their repatriation,” that the detainees “must be provided necessary travel documents,” and Canada be required to “appoint either a delegate or representative to accept their hand over.”


            The day before that decision, Ottawa acknowledged its legal obligation to repatriate by agreeing to bring back 19 women and children listed in the court case, but specifically and purposefully excluded the men. Ottawa then appealed the ruling, producing a dreadful Federal Court of Appeal decision that callously dismissed Canada’s domestic and international human rights and international law commitments while firing a vicious broadside at the Supreme Court.


In their joint application to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the four arbitrarily detained men – Barbara Jackman, Zoe Chong, Paul Champ, Hannah Drennan, and Lawrence Greenspon – argued that “all Canadians share an interest in the resolution of the issues in this case because international travel is common in an increasingly globalized world. When Canadian citizens travel abroad, are there any circumstances in which Canada may have a special duty to assist beyond consular inquiries and helping Canadians find a lawyer? What if the citizen is facing the death penalty or, as here, subjected to torture? Sad to say, it is an issue which has arisen in the past and will inevitably arise again.”


They also pointed out that while Ottawa concedes the detainees’ jailers will release them if Canada makes the request for and facilitates their repatriation (as it has repeatedly done for others), in this case, “Canada is picking and choosing which Canadians to help out of a hellish situation, when it knows that the cruel conditions will continue indefinitely for anyone left behind.”


In the January Federal Court decision, Judge Brown noted: “Canadians are entitled to have political opinions, no matter how abhorrent they may be to other Canadians. The limitation is when Canadian opinion holders take actions, whether inside of [or] outside of Canada, that constitute offences against Canadian law including the Criminal Code of Canada. However there is no evidence to that effect before this Court [emphasis added].”




Brown also declared that “from its antiquity I conclude the 808 year old promise to end banishment and exile illustrates how long our constitutional order has concerned itself with protecting the right to enter and return to one’s country,”  referencing the bedrock roots of Section 6(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.”). Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada has clearly defined 6(1) as a “foundational” and “fundamental” right preventing “the exclusion of membership in the national community.” The scope of this right, Brown noted, is “expansive, generous and powerful” and cannot be overridden by the Charter’s often abused notwithstanding clause.  


“The primacy of the right to return to Canada is reinforced in Canadian law,” Brown wrote. “This is also a critical factor in this Judgment. Simply put, there is no known offence in Canada that carries with it exile or banishment as a penal consequence,” yet both by its actions and conscious inaction, exile or banishment were plainly the result for Canadians stuck in northeast Syria. Indeed, Brown carefully cited jurisprudence that Section 6(1) “forbids the executive from frustrating the rights of Canadians to enter and return whether by executive actions taken in Canada or abroad.” In this instance, the government’s None is Too Many Policy Framework, which he later called into question, was exactly the kind of obstacle employed to frustrate rights of the detainees.


Ironically, the Federal Court of Appeal decision was issued mere weeks after Canada deployed military personnel to assist in the airlift of Canadian citizens caught in the fighting in Sudan (when Global Affairs Minister Melanie Joly boasted that  “we will make sure that every Canadian is coming back and is safe”). While engaging in rhetoric more familiar to the right-wing judges of the U.S. Supreme Court, the appeal court sided with Joly’s argument that there is no obligation to assist the four men in Syria, even though the detainees’ captors have long begged Canada to come and repatriate them.


Last year, then UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin noted in a special report on the ongoing detention of Jack Letts, “the urgent, voluntary and human rights compliant repatriation of all the [Canadian] citizens…is the only international law-compliant response to the complex and precarious human rights, humanitarian, and security situation” of the detainees.





For more information contact Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture at tasc@web.ca or (613) 300-9536

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

I Planted a Tree on Stolen Land


I Planted a Tree on Stolen Land
I planted a tree on stolen land
I wish I had known but I didn't
A strange contradiction
That such a thing of beauty contributed to
The dispossession of a whole people
And perpetuated the lie that this was a
Land without people for a people without land
Like the Terra Nullius doctrine that justified
Genocide against Indigenous people
On Turtle Island.
A lie that has for almost a century justified
Genocide against Palestinian people
And erased the Nakba and attempted mass dispossession of Palestinian lands
Whose brutal “end game” appears to be
Playing out in Gaza
My Yiddish heritage sits heavily on my conscience
My ancestors uprooted from their homes in Eastern European pogroms
My grandparents and mother’s generation living in a land, Canada,
Where "No Dogs or Jews” signs abounded
Where their Yiddish summer camp was
Spied upon by the RCMP
And my mother had to change her name to get work.
And where I was beaten after school
As a dirty you-know-what
Invited to birthday parties
Only to be turned away at the door
As the stupid “rhymes with bike"
Subjected to a lynch mob when anti-Semitic
Neighbours accused me of killing a cat for its blood
And so they came for mine
I was nine.
For decades we were sold a pack of lies
Unthinkingly participated in feel-good ethnic cleansing
As we lost loved ones
Trees were planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF)
In the names of our loved ones on stolen Palestinian lands.
In 1948 the JNF took control of most land
Stolen from Palestinians
And developed a policy to lease land
Only to Jews on an openly discriminatory basis.
And so a tree grows on stolen land.
Should it be uprooted as a measure of justice
Or would that be a form of vengeance?
Palestinian olive trees have been uprooted by the regime
By the thousands
But it feels wrong to uproot this tree.
Instead I wish for this tree to subvert
And undermine the system of injustice that led to its planting.
May it and its fellow trees,
For there are many,
Pollinate nonviolent resistance to the
Violence of an apartheid state.
Unleash on the generals and the bombers and ground soldiers a fever
That prevents them from dropping bombs or
Reporting to missile-launching platforms
A fever that prevents planes from taking off
And warships from sailing the seas
And guns from shooting
And hate from being spread
A fever that breaks down the prison walls
And frees all the hostages everywhere
A fever of conscience and love and
Refusal to participate in the crimes of today
And those planned for tomorrow
A fever that brings people
To join hands
And cry out
"Nit mer genotsid in meyn nomen!"
No more genocide in my name.
(My heart breaks for all suffering right now in Palestine and Israel. Both peoples have suffered unspeakable grief and suffering during the explosion of violence this past week. May we add our voices to those, especially inside Israel and Palestine, calling for a ceasefire, for humanitarian aid corridors in Gaza, and for supports for all those who have been traumatized. And may we recognize our common humanity and, in doing so, undo the structures of oppression that have led us to here)

Monday, June 26, 2023

Canada Issues Third Forcible Child Separation Ultimatum to Mothers Detained in NE Syria Prison Camps


On June 22, two hours after Senator Kim Pate announced a civil initiative that seeks to open negotiations on the repatriation of Canadians held in NE Syria, Global Affairs Canada issued its third forcible separation ultimatum to a number of mothers who have been illegally detained over four years in Northeast Syrian prison camps.
In a letter to two of the mothers’ legal counsel, Asiya Hirji, Department of Justice lawyers declared that the children could come to Canada on a flight expected to leave in early July, but only if they left their mothers behind, go into provincial care and possibly never see their mothers again. In late January, Global Affairs officials directly contacted the detained mothers with the ultimatum that if they did not give up their children within 10 days, there would be no more flights for Canadians out of the region, and the families would remain indefinitely detained. A second ultimatum was delivered to lawyers for the mothers in late March.
“With this third ultimatum, we have been informed that another Canadian repatriation flight is expected to leave in early July. These mothers have until June 26 to make an impossible choice with respect to their children: keep them imprisoned with their mothers, or free in Canada without their moms, and with virtually no prospect of reunification” Hirji says. “It is truly disheartening to witness Canada's unyielding cruelty in its refusal to display any compassion towards these women and children who have endured prolonged suffering. The actions taken by Global Affairs in maintaining their initial ultimatum are particularly distressing for these mothers and their children. The international community has rightfully criticized the extreme cruelty embedded in this approach, as it directly contradicts Global Affairs' own policy framework. This framework explicitly asserts that children should not be separated from their parents unless truly exceptional circumstances arise. Canada, however, has failed to present any such extraordinary circumstances that would justify pressuring these mothers into effectively rendering their children as orphans”
Hirji filed Temporary Resident Permit applications for two mothers in February, noting that the average processing time for such a permit to come to Canada from Syria is 60 days, and it’s now double that time. As a result, she has filed an emergency mandamus court application seeking a positive decision on the permits so that the mothers and children could remain together.
“I am so tired and drained from this emotional rollercoaster of being asked every two months whether I would be OK to never see my children again as the price of their getting out of this horrible place,” says “Zahra,” a mother of three children in the camps, who issued a statement through Hirji. “What is the Canadian government thinking? Are the Global Affairs officials issuing us this ultimatum parents themselves? What would they do in this situation? It’s an impossible choice. The only adult these children have known all their lives, both in a war zone and in prison camps, is me. All of us will fall apart without each other.”
Hirji points out that the United Nations, Save the Children, Medicines Sans Frontieres and other international aid organizations report that conditions in the prison camps are akin to torture, and they have been consistently described as one of the worst places in the world for children to endure. She also notes: “Global Affairs is violating domestic and international human rights commitments to these children and their mothers.”
In another statement released through lawyer Hirji, long-time camp detainee “Asiya,” an engineer and mother of three children who all require medical assistance, said: “In January, I was told I have a week and a half to decide whether I give up my children forever or keep them here where life is like a prolonged death sentence. I was also told I could not change my mind at a later date because, in their words, ‘Canada will not be coming here again.’”

“Asiya” asks, “Other countries have taken back mixed-nationality mothers and children, so why not Canada, which everyone knows has a reputation for supporting families? I also question why I am being asked by Global Affairs to not only give up my children, but also to return to my country of birth despite the obvious risk that I would face detention, torture or worse.”
Indeed, it is not uncommon for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to issue permits to allow mixed nationality families to remain together. It’s also part of IRCC’s mandate according to its own domestic legislation and its commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Advocates for the detainees are calling on Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to immediately issue temporary resident permits so the mothers can come to Canada with their kids.

“Canada led a 57-nation effort to denounce and end arbitrary detention, and yet its policy regarding these Muslim women, kids, and men in northeast Syria has perpetuated that very human rights violation,” explains Matthew Behrens of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, an organization which has led a campaign for repatriation. “Canada has fought for years to prevent their return, despite knowing the brutality of their conditions as well as the long-standing Syrian Kurdish authorities’ request to come and collect their citizens. This is child abuse and woman abuse all rolled into one, the very crimes this government repeatedly says must be ended."

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Federal Court of Appeal Perpetuates Torture and Arbitrary Detention of Four Canadians in NE Syria



OTTAWA, May 31, 2023 – In a decision that could have been written by the right-wing US Supreme Court majority, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal today overturned a repatriation order for 4 Canadian men who have been arbitrarily detained without charges for as long as 6 years under conditions akin to torture in Northeast Syria. 

In addition to today's reactionary decision, it was revealed in an Orwellian statement that Canada is refusing to take any further steps towards repatriation because – without providing any evidence for this proposition – Ottawa has determined that "to request the voluntary repatriation of the [detainees] would be detrimental to them."  


Mere weeks after Canada deployed military personnel to assist in the airlift of Canadian citizens caught in the fighting in Sudan (when Global Affairs Minister Melanie Joly boasted that  “we will make sure that every Canadian is coming back and is safe”), the appeal court sided with Joly’s argument that there is no obligation to assist the four men, even though the detainees’ captors have long begged Canada to come and repatriate them from a region that is far safer than the streets of Khartoum.


"The Federal Court of Appeal made a clear choice to perpetuate the arbitrary detention and torture of my son and the other Canadian detainees,” said Sally Lane, whose son Jack Letts is the longest held detainee in Kurdish custody (over six years). 


“The decision is nothing but victim blaming and narrow legalese that stands in utter contempt of human rights law and fails to rise to the challenge of the moment. The Canadian government was able to deploy massive resources to repatriate hundreds of citizens from the middle of the street fighting in Sudan. It makes no sense whatsoever that they cannot bring home four Canadian men who are detained in Northeast Syria a short ten minute walk from the very safe handover location that they have visited repeatedly in prior repatriations of Canadians. From the very start, Canada has held the key to their release, and it refuses to unlock the prison doors that the Kurds are willing to hold open for them."


In a bizarre postscript to the decision, “Justice” Dave Stratas noted that “In a number of other cases, the Government of Canada has surmounted the practical and legal obstacles and has successfully repatriated Canadian citizens from camps in northeastern Syria. As mentioned, these reasons stand for the proposition that the Government of Canada is not constitutionally obligated or otherwise obligated at law to repatriate the respondents. However, these reasons should not be taken to discourage the Government of Canada from making efforts on its own to bring about that result.”


The problem with Stratas’ “reasoning” is that it actually will discourage a government that has already fought tooth and nail against repatriation of Canadians detained under appalling conditions. Ottawa has only brought women and children home because of legal action undertaken by families and advocates.


Sounding for all the world like a backwoods 1950s Alabama judge about to sentence Rosa Parks for sitting in the whites-only section of the segregated bus, Stratas – the apotheosis of today’s angry white man in a robe – seeks to undermine the value of international treaty bodies and United Nations special rapporteurs, and bemoans what he believes was an allegedly sorry state of the law in which judges were apparently too liberal in upholding the Charter rights of Canadian citizens.       


Indeed, much of the decision involves Stratas’s fire and brimstone disapproval of what he calls the Supreme Court of Canada’s reference to “sometimes new unwritten constitutional rights,” which he claims are based on “some vague feel, spirit or vibe,” almost but not exactly accusing judges at the higher court of being “woke.” 


Yet as former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin noted in a considered and thoughtful 2005 discussion from which Stratas obviously failed to benefit, “a judge, if he or she is to take seriously the duties of the office, must apply his or her judicial conscience and reason, and that this may at times mean making decisions that are difficult or unpopular….let me say again that the principles that guide these difficult decisions are not those of individual judges, but those implicit in the very system that gives the judges their authority. Ignoring one’s judicial conscience is not about staying within one’s role, but instead about abdicating one’s responsibility to the law. There do indeed exist unwritten principles without which the law would become contradictory and self-defeating, and it is the duty of judges not only to discover them, but also to apply them. To forsake them, in Robert Bolt’s phrase, is indeed to take the short route to chaos.”


Instead, Stratas chose the short route to the chaos of perpetuating arbitrary detention and torture based on incorrect interpretation of the factual reality and the preponderance of international humanitarian law.


Stratas repeatedly blames the detained individuals detained for their plight, even though many of those held in NE Syria are trafficked women, and in the case of Jack Letts, he traveled there as a humanitarian volunteer wanting to assist the people of Syria who were (then, as now) under the barrel bombs and industrial scale torture of the Assad regime. 


Despite his crusading role as a stickler for legal discipline, Stratas plays fast and loose with the facts, noting “On its own accord, the Government of Canada has successfully repatriated some of its citizens from camps.” This completely disregards the record before the court, which shows that in all instances, repatriations have occurred despite Canadian actions, not because of them, and only when compelled to do so by legal action.


Stratas also pulls his own Forrest Gump moment, claiming “International law is not a box of chocolates from which one can take what one wants, leaving the rest in the box. Instead, international law is a specialized field calling for discipline, intellectual rigour and careful judgment when applying it to domestic issues.” Yet that is exactly what his decision engages in, refusing to recognize  the positive obligations on governments not to be involved, directly or indirectly, in arbitrary detention and torture.


Indeed, as UN Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin noted one year ago in a special report on the ongoing detention of Jack Letts, “the urgent, voluntary and human rights compliant repatriation of all the [Canadian] citizens…is the only international law-compliant response to the complex and precarious human rights, humanitarian, and security situation” of the detainees.


While Stratas claims Canada “did not cause or continue their plight” and “is not responsible for the respondents’ inability to enter Canada,” this ignores the fact that Canada still holds the key to resolving this crisis. As the Rapporteur noted, “it appears that none of the conditions to prevent arbitrary detention – a right so fundamental that it remains applicable even in the most extreme situations – are respected, and that no steps towards terminating or reviewing the legality of the detention have been taken, despite Mr. Letts having been detained for five years, which in practice amounts to the possibility of indefinite detention.”


In addressing the unending detention of Jack Letts, the Rapporteurs wrote that, as with the no-exceptions ban on torture, the prohibition on arbitrary detention is a peremptory norm of international treaty and customary law from which no one is ever allowed to derogate. Indeed, “arbitrary deprivation of liberty can never be a necessary or proportionate measure,” and no country can ever claim that “illegal, unjust or unpredictable deprivation of liberty is necessary for the protection of a vital security or other interest proportionate to that end.”


From the very start of these legal proceedings, the case has been clear and simple, far from the “complexity” claimed by Ottawa. The Kurds who hold the Canadians have asked for them to be repatriated with three conditions: that a formal request be made to them; that travel documents be issued; and that a Canadian official or someone delegated by the Canadian government be present for an official signing and handover. 


In the absence of positive government action, a citizen’s initiative has sprung up with plans for a delegation of “parliamentarians, former diplomats, human rights experts and lawyers” to travel directly to NE Syria to seek a negotiated release of the men. In one more instance of its refusal to abide by domestic and international law, Global Affairs Canada has informed the delegation that it will not appoint them to receive the Canadian detainees.


As Canada seeks a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, today’s judgment – and Canada’s ongoing refusal in these cases to uncouple itself from complicity in arbitrary detention and torture – speaks volumes. 


Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture will continue its efforts to seek repatriations of all Canadians illegally detained in NE Syria as well as non-Canadian mothers of Canadian children. 


Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Advocates Welcome Expected Partial Repatriations, Reiterate Demand that All Be Brought Home from Syrian Prison Camps and Jails

Lawyer for 2 non-Canadian Moms To File Emergency Court Motion

 OTTAWA, April 5, 2023
 As some of the long-detained Canadian women and children are expected to be repatriated shortly from Syrian prison camps where conditions are akin to torture, advocates are demanding immediate action for repatriation of the remaining Canadians, including the detained men and four non-citizen mothers of ten Canadian children, still illegally held there.

            “Joe Biden recently applauded Canada for its stand against arbitrary detention when the Two Michaels were detained in China, yet by its actions Canada has perpetuated the arbitrary detention of the Canadian Muslim men still held without charge in northeast Syria,” says Matthew Behrens of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, which has led a campaign for repatriation that includes a petition that’s generated tens of thousands of signatures (https://www.change.org/p/canadians-are-dying-free-jack-letts-43-canadian-kids-women-men-in-syria/)

            “Canada is also refusing to bring four moms who are not Canadians but who have Canadian children, one of whom urgently requires emergency brain surgery,” Behrens continued. “This despite the fact that applications to allow them entry to Canada have been on the immigration minister’s desk for close to 2 months. Does Canada want these kids and their moms to die?”

            In a statement released through her lawyer, Asiya Hirji, one of those mothers, Zahra, explained: “I’m not able to articulate how unsettling it is to wake up to the sequestration of my Canadian children from the repatriation process. They have the right to be in Canada with their primary caregiver, their mother. Family separation isn’t a collateral consequence of a policy, one that ironically states that ‘no child will be separated from their mother’. Rather, it’s explicitly intentional. To give up children, who are already distraught and extraordinarily traumatised, is NO choice. Besides, leaving our kids to face inhumane conditions, which is the choice made by the Canadian government itself, is a stark contrast. Our kids are in tears, heartbroken. It’s like Canada has told them their lives are not worth saving unless they give up their mothers. This could happen to any Canadian detained abroad.”

            Sally Lane, mother of the longest held detainee, Jack Letts (marking 6 years in May), has mixed feelings. “We have campaigned for so many years to bring everyone home, and while it is wonderful to know that some of the children and their moms will no longer be forced to endure conditions the UN calls akin to torture, my son is still held without charge over there along with other mothers’ sons,” she says. “It is infuriating to me that Canadian officials can be in the exact same city as the prison that illegally holds Jack, yet they refused to take a 10-minute cab ride from where the handover ceremony takes place to pick him up and bring him home.”

            Lane believes the men are being discriminated against by Canadian officials, a point made January 20 in the Federal Court decision ordering the repatriation of Jack Letts and three other men. “Judge Brown said there was no evidence that Jack or the other men posed a threat, that their conditions were worse than those for the children and women, that everyone was either dying or at risk of dying, and yet my taxpayer dollars were used to pay government lawyers who last week tried to appeal the repatriation decision and exile my son and the other Canadians forever. What will it take to end this horror show? Do I have to go over there and rescue Jack myself?”

            The lawyer for two of the non-Canadian mothers similarly expressed outrage over the failure of Canada to bring everyone home.

             "While we are happy for anyone who can get out of those nightmarish prison camps, we are horrified both that Canada took years to do this and that this country has failed to prioritize the lives and basic human rights of Canadian children whose mothers are not citizens, and therefore all of them have been left behind," says lawyer Asiya Hirji. As counsel for two of those mothers, Hirji will file an emergency mandamus application in the Federal Court seeking the immediate granting of Temporary Resident Permits to allow those moms to come to Canada with their children. "On March 31, United Nations experts marked the beginning of the 5th year of detention for thousands of children in these awful places. We are talking about children with severe health problems who require immediate care. Canada knows this yet drags its feet. Does one of these kids have to die before they get repatriated?"

            The late night removal of some of the women and children from the prison camps came as one mother was still awaiting a response from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) regarding how her special needs Canadian citizen child would be cared for if he were repatriated without his mother. GAC failed to respond.

             Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture will continue its campaign to compel the Canadian government to honour the rights of its citizens to come home from dire conditions, as well as to approve the temporary resident permits that would allow four moms to arrive with their Canadian children. That campaign was recently boosted by a letter (https://iclmg.ca/northeast-syria-repatriation-open-letter-to-pm/)  initiated by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and signed by over 110 members of the Canadian legal community, including former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Allan Rock, demanding repatriation for everyone as the only legally compliant response to the humanitarian crisis.

            “It has been maddening to watch Justin Trudeau and his ministers mark the intersection of three religious holidays whose faiths are rooted in stories of exile and banishment, even as they perpetuate the very crimes that gave rise to these important occasions,” Behrens concluded. “At the core of the Islamic faith is a very basic precept: Free the Captives. In this case, Canadians are captives, and Canadian government officials hold the key to their release.”


Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture 

2583 Carling Ave., Unit M052, Ottawa, ON K2B 7H7 

(613) 300-9536, tasc@web.ca