"Twenty years ago, my husband, Maher Arar, was also detained in Syria. He was never charged with any crime and still the Canadian government didn’t help him to come back, and similarly they put all the obstacles to stop his repatriation. If it wasn’t for the will, determination and activism of people like the ones who are standing here, my husband would have died in his Syrian prison." – Dr. Monia Mazigh, May 19, 2022
Text of a speech by Dr. Monia Mazigh in support of repatriation for Canadian Jack Letts and 43 other Canadian men, women and children arbitrarily detained in Northeast Syria.
May 19, 2022
Today I am standing here in the stairs of the Prime Minister office with a group of Canadian citizens who are worried about the rights of other Canadian citizens.
We are worried to see the rights of Jack Letts and 43 other Canadians being disregarded ignored and abandoned.
Since 2017, there are 44 Canadian citizens who are held in Northern Syria by the Kurdish forces. They are held in conditions similar to torture. It is estimated that there are two dozen Canadian children, most age 7 and under, unlawfully detained in these camps and prisons.
This is what Human Rights Watch said in their report: “Canada has an obligation under international law to take necessary and reasonable steps to assist nationals abroad facing serious abuses including risks to life, torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment. International law also grants everyone the right to return to their country of nationality, without their government throwing up direct or indirect barriers.”
Why is the government of Canada doing nothing to bring back its own citizens home? Worse, why is Canada putting obstacles for families of Canadians who are trying to bring their loved ones back home?
Where is Madame Mélanie Joly, Canadian foreign affairs minister? Why doesn’t she stand up for the rights of Canadian children?
Where is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who once declared “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”? Why doesn’t he stand up to bring home Jack Letts and 43 other Canadians detained in Northern Syria?
Twenty years ago, my husband, Maher Arar, was also detained in Syria. He was never charged with any crime and still the Canadian government didn’t help him to come back, and similarly they put all the obstacles to stop his repatriation. If it wasn’t for the will, determination and activism of people like the ones who are standing here, my husband would have died in his Syrian prison.
In the last twenty years, Canadians Muslims have been surveilled, spied upon, harassed in their workplaces and campuses, put under house arrest, had to wear electronic bracelets in their ankles to watch their movements, rendered to torture, kept for more than 10 years in Guantanamo, sent to prisons to disappear.
Canadian legislation was brought to criminalize Canadian Muslims. Very few courageous politicians and engaged citizens stood up against this systemic Islamophobia.
Today, we have 44 Muslim Canadians detained in Northern Syria. They were never charged with any crimes. Their Canadian families want them back home but the Canadian government is stopping them.
How come an American former diplomat, Peter Galbraith, is able to do more than the whole Canadian government? And still the Canadian government refuse to cooperate with him?
Today as a Canadian Muslim woman who went through Islamophobia and still suffer from what the Canadian government did to my husband, my children and myself, I am asking Prime Minister Trudeau to walk the talk and fulfill his promises of fighting hate and Islamophobia:
- Bring Jack Letts home to his mother Sally Lane and his family.
- Bring all the 43 other Canadians detained abroad including the children who can’t go to school, learn and live in healthy and safe environment.
- Listen to what organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had mentioned in their report about the urgent need to provide consular services and repatriation assistance to these Canadians detained abroad.
- Listen to Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism, who put Canada on a "list of shame" because it won't take active steps to repatriate its foreign nationals trapped in Kurdish-controlled camps in northern Syria.
As a country, we have no credibility when on one hand we champion the rights of Uyghurs detained in Chinese concentration camps but on the other hand we leave other Canadians detained by Kurdish forces.
Prime Minister Trudeau is probably scared of losing any political capital in returning home Muslim Canadians.
But this is not leadership.
Leadership isn’t a popularity contest.
It is about applying the laws and stopping the arbitrary detention and the abuse of human rights of ALL Canadians.
Free Jack Letts, free all the 44 Canadian detained in Northern Syria.
Dr. Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. She speaks Arabic, French, and English fluently and holds a Ph.D. in finance from McGill University. Dr. Mazigh has worked at the University of Ottawa and taught at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. In 2004, she ran in the federal election as a candidate for the NDP, gaining the most votes for her riding in the history of the NDP.
Dr. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. During that time, Dr. Mazigh campaigned vigorously for her husband’s release and later fought to re-establish his reputation and sought reparations. In January 2007, after a lengthy inquiry, her husband finally received an apology from the Canadian government and was offered compensation for the “terrible ordeal” his family had suffered.
Dr. Mazigh has since authored a book called Hope and Despair, published with McClelland and Stewart in 2008. The memoir documents her ordeal after her husband was arrested and how she campaigned to clear his name. Hope and Despair was shortlisted for the Book Award of the City of Ottawa. In 2014, her first novel, Mirrors and Mirages was published by House of Anansi. It was the finalist of the City of Ottawa Book Award and of the Trillium Award in its original French version. In 2017, Dr. Mazigh published at House of Anansi, her second novel, Hope Has Two Daughters. It was the finalist for the Champlain Book award. Dr. Mazigh presently lives in Ottawa with her husband and two children.