Saturday, October 11, 2008

Democracy Broke Out

When Democracy Broke out at Carolyn Bennett’s Election office:
Tiny Vigil at office of Secret-Trials-and-Deportations-to -Torture Supporter Bennett Draws Angry Office Response

Toronto, October, 2008 -- One would have hoped that the sick individual or individuals who have been going through the ridings of Toronto Liberals, spray-painting homes and slicing brake lines, could have found another way to express displeasure with the Liberals that did not involve putting people’s lives at risk.

One of the ridings subject to this horrifying hooliganism was that of Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett who, along with her “leader” Stephane Dion, rightly condemned the physical attacks as undemocratic and dangerous -- cutting brake lines gets into an area where people’s lives are at very real risk.

While most would certainly agree with their sentiment and concern, one has to wonder what kind of country we would live in if such sentiments were equally applied to all people in Canada (and around the world), and not simply to those who, because of their support for the Liberals, have been targetted.

Indeed, these Liberals have shown little concern for the people of Afghanistan, whose lives they agreed would have to be put at continued risk of torture and murder at the hands of Canadian troops when they voted to extend the occupation until at least 2011. These sacrifices of the Afghan people were necessary to prevent what the Liberals perceived as their own drubbing at the polls had they decided to show some backbone and call for the earlier withdrawal of Canadian troops.

Nor did the Liberals show any concern for individuals who continue to face indefinite detention without charge based on secret evidence and two-tier justice when, earlier this year, they fell in with the Tories and voted in favour of new security certificate legislation that, in the end result, will produce legally-sanctioned renditions to torture.

Some Liberals abstained from voting on the legislation (hardly an honourable neutrality. As Desmond Tutu reminds us, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”)

But numerous Liberals, including Carolyn Bennett (a physician), voted FOR it, despite the human rights abuses associated with it, depsite the medical consequences of torture and prolonged detention without charge. Bennett was one of numerous Liberal MPs who met with our campaign during the run-up to the vote on the bill, and expressed her concerns at the unfairness of the legislation. Yet she went ahead and voted for it anyway (full list of shame of all MPs who voted yes to secret trials appears at the bottom of this posting)

To protest such cowardice, and the Liberals’ role in not only putting lives at risk, but putting democracy at risk (how can it not be when there is two-tier justice?), two members of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada held a noon-hour vigil recently at Ms. Bennett’s campaign office at Eglinton and Bathurst.

(The vigil took place long before the cut brake lines and graffitti incidents marred the campaign. )

What was most interesting about the day was the horrified reaction of her election staff and volunteers when a little bit of democracy broke out on the sidewalk in front of their office. Holding a banner that read “Stop Secret Trials in Canada: End Deportations to Torture,” the two individuals were fairly dwarfed by the massive windows filled with Bennett signs and gaudy paeans to the greatness of Liberals.

Office staff curious about the banner were informed why we had chosen to be there, but refused to allow that what we were doing was in any way acceptable.

“You must be working for Stephen Harper,” one agitated staffer declared.

“Does it not concern you that Carolyn Bennett voted for secret trials and deportations to torture,” we ask.

“No she didn’t.”

“We can show you the Hansard record of Parliament that shows she clearly did.”

They try and change the subject.

“Well, she had no choice, there could have been an election” if she actually voted against the bill.

“Well, we have an election right now, what’s the difference? She and the Liberals caved on everything Harper wanted to do, they didn’t force the election, Harper chose it. If anything, the Liberals are the Harper supporters.”

We continue handing out flyers and speaking with passersby as agitated staff continue ranting inside, pointing accusatory fingers at us. The individual who appears to be the lead staffer takes time out from calling potential voters to make up a placard of her own. “These people are supporting Harper!” the sign reads, with two arrows pointing left and right. She takes time out of her busy schedule and comes outside to paste the sign on the office window.

“Don’t you see what you’re doing?” she demands. “You’re trying to get Harper elected!”

As more volunteers filter into the office, few stop to discuss the issue with us. Many carry with them that sick sense of entitlement that only the Liberals should be allowed to govern Canada, and no one seems concerned that their candidate, the one they spend hours knocking on doors for, supports secret trials and deportations to torture.

No one, that is, until two young volunteers come out and ask what this is about.

“I have an uncle who spent nine years in an Albanian jail without ever being charged,” says one of the volunteers, noting that what we are talking about sounds a lot like whather uncle went through. She takes our flyers, and as we discuss the issue, the agitated staffer comes out again and yells at us to stop “harassing” her staff.

So much for all the Liberal rhetoric about how elections should be about issues. We show up to discuss an issue and, rather than looking at the facts of the situation, we are dismissed as Harper supporters who have no right to protest.

Bennett will likely win in her riding, where she’s been a shoo-in for the past decade. But democracy lost that January day when she and fellow Liberals voted to put lives at risk by voting for secret trials and deportations to torture.

The Secret Trials List of Shame:

Below is a list of shame, individuals who voted in Parliament on 6 February 2008 for secret trials, two-tier justice, indefinite detention without charge, invasive surveillance and control orders, and deportation to torture. The NDP is the only party whose members all stood against the bill.

Bell (North Vancouver)
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Barrie)
Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country)
Cannon (Pontiac)
Cullen (Etobicoke North)
Del Mastro
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca)
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe)
Murphy (Charlottetown)
St. Amand
St. Denis
Thibault (West Nova)
Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest)
Thompson (Wild Rose)
Van Kesteren
Van Loan

Don't Deport Ivan to Torture


Deportation in one week unless Federal Court grants stay

:::: Renewed call for support, 10 October 2008 ::::

Basque refugee Ivan Apaolaza Sancho yesterday ended a week-long hungerstrike - which included three days complete fast (without water). The authorities of Montreal's Rivière des prairies prison, where he has been held for over 15 months without trial, had responded to the hungerstrike by putting Ivan in isolation, removing his clothes, glasses and books, and
severely limiting his telephone access. Ivan is now out of isolation; his clothes, glasses, books and telephone access have been restored.

In a call to one of his supporters, Ivan explained that he had ended his hungerstrike in order to better prepare psychologically for the possibility of being deported and facing torture. In isolation, cut off from the outside world, stripped of clothing and glasses, he felt that he was being broken down mentally so that the physical torture later would be easier.

Last week Ivan was told that he would be deported to Spain on Friday, 17 October. The Ligue des droits et libertés stated that they are "greatly concerned about several aspects of the treatment Mr. Apaolaza Sancho will face in Spain: on top of secret or incommunicado detention, and on top of the practise of dispersal or continual transfer of prisoners detained for
terrorism by the Spanish authorities, there is the fact that this person strongly risks being perceived by Spanish authorities as an important source of information ..." (Denis Barrette, 7 October) Spain has been criticized for its use of torture by Amnesty International, as well as European Union and United Nations human rights bodies.

Ivan's lawyers have filed for a Federal Court review of Immigration Canada's negative Pre-removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) decision, and will ask for a stay of deportation, but there is no guarantee that the Federal Court will accept the appeal or grant the stay. If the Federal Court refuses to review the PRRA, there is nothing to prevent the deportation save a direct
intervention by federal ministers.

Interviewed on 30 September, Ivan explained what he is facing, "I have experience of friends, family members that have been tortured. One of the first things that I remember when I was a kid is seeing my uncle in bed after being tortured for ten days. And I have a lot of friends who have been tortured and after - because of the declarations under torture - they spend eight, ten years in jail."

He continued, "It is not only the torture. It is also the conditions that Basque prisoners have in Spain. It is the big sentences that they are given for - whatever, even if you don't commit a crime, even if they didn't prove anything, they say that you are a member of a political party that is illegal now and you can face 10 years. I could face 20 years in jail."

In May 2008, the Commissioner Louis Dubé of the Immigration and Refugee Board ordered Ivan deported from Canada on the basis of allegations against Ivan made by the Spanish state. Contrary to mainstream media reports, the government has produced NO evidence to support those allegations which would link Ivan to any crime or to the ETA (a Basque armed militant group considered by Canada to be a 'terrorist organization'). The ONLY information the government has supplied to make its case consists of unproven Spanish police warrants. And the only piece of information in these unproven warrants which could link Ivan to the ETA comes from the confession of a Basque activist which a Canadian tribunal recognized was probably obtained under torture. This is the basis on which Ivan has been imprisoned for 15
months, stripped of his right to apply for asylum in Canada, and faces deportation to possible torture and abuse.

Full interview with Ivan linked at:

Background information on Ivan:


1. Please stay in touch with us to learn about public actions in the coming days and weeks. Join the support list for Ivan to learn of any developments or emergency actions: send an email to

2. Have your organization write a statement protesting Canada's violation of Ivan's rights and calling on Stockwell Day to intervene (details at, in the 'What you can do' section).

Freedom for Ivan Committee
tel. 514 848 7583

Secrets and Lies

Report for Bail Hearing of Hassan Almrei

Toronto, October 5, 2008 -- In the middle of what we are often told is the signal moment of democracy – a federal election campaign – none of the national party leaders has found time to comment on the fact that during the past month, a series of secret rendition-to-torture hearings have been occurring at undisclosed locations in Ottawa. Neither the detainees affected, nor their lawyers, has been allowed to attend these hearings or contest the allegations that could wind them up in Syrian, Egyptian, Algerian, and Moroccan torture chambers.

All this is possible because of security certificate legislation that was passed earlier this year with the Tories and Liberals voting hand in hand. The purpose of these hearings is to forcibly remove those subject to certificates from Canada, and in the five cases currently pending, all face torture if deported.

As a symbolic sop to those who are concerned about civil rights in Canada, the legislation does allow the detainee a show hearing that is held in public, yet the core of the matter -- if indeed such a “core” does exist, and that’s doubtful at best -- will be heard in secret.

This past week in Toronto, detainee Hassan Almrei, who on October 19 will mark seven years of indefinite detention without charge, began the public portion of his bail hearing, his fourth effort to get out from behind bars at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (aka Gitmo North), where he remains the last of the secret trial detainees to be in a physical jail. The other four are suffering, along with their families, under a pernicious regime of house arrest that is having devastating consequences, especially on their wives, parents, and children.

Almrei, who spent his first four years and three months in solitary confinement, again finds himself in the most expensive solitary confinement cell in Canada, a $3.2 million facility with a staff of 21, often described as a maximum security jail inside a maximum security jail.

In the open portion of the secret hearing this past week, two witnesses for the government addressed both the ongoing efforts to deport Hassan as well as the unsubstantiated reasons why he should not be transferred to house arrest. In many respects, the hearings were depressing not only for their patent injustice, but also for the repetitive nature of the story that repeatedly gets told in such settings, despite the passage of time and the fact that the certificate process was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2007. Notably, the “replacement” model was condemned as unconstitutional by leading law associations across the land, but passed by both the House and Senate with no serious review.

Hassan’s hearing came on the heels of a constitutional challenge (see a report on the challenge at It begins with a chilling report from the Federal Court judge who says, with no particular sense of horror, that the court has begun secret hearings in Ottawa in the absence of Mr. Almrei, and that the secret hearings would continue next week.

The government’s first witness is Marc Towaij, the Acting Director of Enforcement in the National Security Division of the Canadian Border Services Agency. A man who has worked as an “immigration escort” for deportees and as a “senior removals officer”, Towaij had been asked to assist in preparations to “remove” Mr. Almrei to torture in Syria in 2003. This was around the same time an internal government document (later released at the Arar Inquiry) was being written, conceding that the Canadian government did not have enough information against Almrei to lay a criminal charge against him. The memo, written for then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham, was more concerned with the media fallout from such a deportation than the risk to Almrei himself. The conclusion: this could affect our ability to deport other detainees. it may give Canada a black eye on the world stage, so develop media lines.

Towaij testifies about the lengthy process that would follow a finding that a certificate is reasonable, discussing how a danger opinion is formulated (no need to go through the lengthy process here; suffice it to say that in all of these cases, the conclusion is always the same: deportation regardless of the substantial risk of torture, a conclusion based on secret information).

Like his government colleagues in such hearings, Towaij speaks in that bizarre language of looking out for the rights of the individual he seeks to deport to torture. These cases are a priority and must move quickly, he says, for after all, “Mr. Almrei is detained.”

Towaij says such cases require a charter aircraft (but fails to mention that the go-to company in this case is Skyservice Business Aviation (for background on this area of complicity in torture, see

Under cross examination, Towaij is asked whether he had any concerns -- especially following the return to Canada of Maher Arar, who spoke publicly about his year of torture in a Syrian hellhole -- that Mr. Almrei might face a similar risk of torture. He is asked this because, on his deportation papers, Almrei was listed at the time as a “terrorist suspect,” a tag that surely would have wound him up in a torture chamber.

“That is our standard procedure for a removal order,” Towaij explains.

“Are there no exceptions” when it comes to concerns that such standard procedure might place someone at risk of torture, he’s asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Towaij replies.

Did Towaij check with someone else to see whether this standard procedure might place Almrei at risk? Were any precautions taken?

“No,” comes the terse reply.

Was Towaij familiar with Maher Arar’s torture in Syria? He says he was.

“As a removals officer shouldn’t you consider whether your actions place [Hassan] at risk?” he’s asked again.

“My requirement is to enforce the order,” Towaij states blankly, causing what’s known as “the Nuremberg ripple” in the viewing gallery (at Nuremberg, Nazi officers tried to use the “just following orders” defence for their participation in torture, among other atrocities).

“That was our practice. No, I was not concerned. My job was not to worry about risk.”

And so it goes, one of the reasons there will be another Caravan to End Canadian Involvement in Torture this October (for more info see

The next day, the government presents a CSIS witness who is only identified as “Sukhvindar,” who says he cannot provide his full name for national security reasons. A former military intelligence officer (pardon the oxymoron), he has been at CSIS since 1991, where he is now a chief of intelligence. He claims that “Sunni Muslim extremism represents a continuing threat to our national security”, and says that Hassan Almrei “adheres to a violent philosophy that relies on the use of force.”

Almrei has always flatly denied any support for violence, but the basis for this opinion of his beliefs is wholly secret evidence that he cannot see. Sukhvindar, like previous CSIS agents who have testified against Almrei, has never met or interviewed Hassan, and bases his opinion solely on what he has read in the public record and, one can assume, an extreme case of racist profiling. (One courtroom observer says that the description wrongfully assigned to Almrei -- “adheres to a violent philosophy that relies on the use of force” -- sounds a lot like former Canadian warlord General Rick Hillier, who earlier this year abandoned his troops in Afghanistan for the prettier pastures of the private sector. Hillier is famous for noting that the job of the Canadian Forces is to be able to kill people.)

Sukhvindar repeats the unsubstantiated theory (popular in CSIS circles) that Almrei would be a threat because, even though under house arrest, surrounded by surveillance cameras, his phone tapped, and a GPS device attached to his ankle, Hassan would remain someone with the “pedigree” that would constitute the kind of star power that would influence others.

This fantasy world theory, dreamed up in the CSIS world of tunnel vision, has been applied to other detainees who were subsequently released (though CSIS continues to disagree with the soundness of such decisions!)

CSIS admits that Hassan is not a member of Al Qaeda nor does it believe he will engage in violence in Canada. But what the agent DOES believe is that Hassan has “the background, training, experience, willingness, and commitment” to help those who would do evil. CSIS is concerned he might counsel others on the nefarious art of terror support (something about which Almrei knows absolutely nothing), even though every visitor to his house arrest scene would have to be government approved, and only outings that are approved far in advance with approved individuals, an approved route, and agent surveillance would be allowed.

Playing the game of guilt by 18 degrees of separation, Sukhvindar says that Hassan once knew a man in Afghanistan who went on to fight in Chechnya (and was killed in 2002). The danger here is that Chechan rebels (who have never committed actions outside of Chechnya or Russia) might want to strike at Russian targets anywhere in the world, perhaps, he says with a suggestiveness that seems painfully and awkwardly planned, the Russian embassy in Ottawa. If you can’t follow that, welcome to the club.

He also says Hassan might engage in the use of clandestine methodologies, such as making three way calls (on his tapped phone).

Then again, he might take a cue from Maxwell Smart and use code words.

“Language is a key. You might say the coffee is good at Starbucks,” Sukhvindar says, which could be code for a jihadist call to action.

Sukhvindar is asked whether CSIS has a relationship with Syrian Military Intelligence, an agency with a horrific record of human rights abuses. He says he is not allowed to speak to that (national security), even though this was part of the public record at the Arar Inquiry. “I’m not aware of that section of the Arar Report,” he says. Sukhvindar also says he has visited the Middle East but cannot say where. This answer seems like a result of CSIS analysis of previous testimony, where agents who have admitted to travelling in certain parts of the world open themselves up to questions they’d rather not answer because it would prove politically embarrassing. For example, one agent testified he took training in Egypt, another country with a rather awful human rights record.

Sukhvindar does not speak or read Arabic, has never met Almrei, has only seen the public allegations, and does not even know whether CSIS ever interviewed Hassan.

He also says he has no understanding of the current situation in Syria and, like past CSIS witnesses, refuses to agree that torture is commonplace there, stating only that he is aware of such “accusations.”

Like all CSIS employees, Sukhvindar, though under oath, regularly withholds information that would provide a more complete picture on Hassan. The concept of the whole truth and nothing but the truth escapes him, and so he uses his platform to throw in scary-sounding allegations, without being questioned about him. His favourite, repeated twice, is that Hassan once had access to a “secure area” of a major Canadian airport.

“Did you know Mr. Almrei was employed at the airport?’ he is asked.

“No,” he replies. (Cleaners and many other airport staff work in “secure areas” at Pearson!!!)

Hastening back to the world of scare mongering, the CSIS man opines, “I could speculate for hours and hours about how [Almrei] could promote violent jihad.” Of course, he neglects to see the weak limb he has crawled out on: it would only be that, speculation, since he has failed to present anything other than low-rent spy theories that have no basis in fact.

Sukhvindar is asked whether any of those released on control orders in Canada have breached their conditions.

“I cannot answer that,” he says, implying they have but he cannot get into how.

“So if you knew a detainee was breaching the release conditions you wouldn’t bring it to the attention of the court?” he is asked.

“We don’t monitor them in that way.”

“Do you have any information on breaches that have occurred?”

“That would be getting into classified information.”

(Notably, none of those currently on control orders have been returned to jail, though in one instance last January, Ottawa’s Mohamed Harkat was pulled out of the shower by state agents a few days before a review of his conditions for rather ridiculous reasons that, again, had everything to do with politics, and nothing to do with “security”. After a few days in jail he was returned to house arrest).

And so it goes. As Sukhvindar leaves the court, his briefcase’s security key dangling on top (maybe there’s important information in there!), the judge announces he will retire for more secret hearings in the absence of Mr. Almrei and his lawyers.

Meanwhile, political party leaders and media pundits prepare for their “democracy is working in Canada” lines as election day approaches. Hassan will no doubt read about the returns from his solitary confinement cell at Canada’s Guantanamo North.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Where are Canada's Judicial Whistleblowers? Secret Trial Dispatches

Dispatches from the Land of Secret Trials where: Hassan Almrei marks seven years of indefinite detention without charge; Federal Court Chief Justice Alan Lutfy wonders why people are demanding the highest level of fundamental justice for secret trials cases; Secret Rendition-to-Torture Hearings Are Now Ongoing at Undisclosed locations in Ottawa

TORONTO, OCTOBER 1, 2008 – Last week, a U.S. military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay exhibited a quality that appears wholly lacking in Canada’s own Justice Department. Call it conscience, call it courage, call it a career-ender, but Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld rediscovered something called ethics when he realized that his own office was failing to turn over exculpatory material to lawyers for an Afghan detainee (ie, materials that would work in favour of the detainee).

Mr. Vandeveld is not the first to desert Gitmo’s rigged process, which he described as “slipshod.” Numerous others -- Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr and Capt. Carrie Wolf, as well as Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantanamo’s military commissions -- also asked to be relieved of their Gitmo duties for similar reasons, with one of them explaining that “he had been assured he didn’t need to worry about building a proper case; convictions were assured.” (as reported by Scott Horton, “The Great Guantanamo Puppet Theater,” Harper’s Magazine).

One wonders what’s taking so long for Canadian Justice Department lawyers to show a similar amount of courage. After all, just as detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are denied access to the secret case against them (one often built on information gleaned from torture), so detainees under Canada’s security certificate procedure are similarly denied the right to know why they have been detained indefinitely, without charge, based on secret information that is likely to have been derived from torture. (Canadian spy agency CSIS’s own oversight body, SIRC, produced a report last February confirming Canada’s scandal-plagued spy agency does use information gleaned from torture. As usual, Canadian media outlets failed to make much of it.)

After the secret hearing procedure was declared unconstitutional by Canada’s Supreme Court in February, 2007, Bill C-3, designed to replace the old law, was born eight months later, essentially a carbon copy with a couple of window dressing changes. Rushed through Parliament at the speed of light, with barely a hint of consultation, MPs and Senators nonetheless heard a litany of complaint from leading law associations across this land that declared it would not pass a Charter challenge. How, one wonders, did the Justice Dept. lawyers who must have screened the bill before it was tabled last fall, perform the ethical calisthenics required to hold their noses and look the other way as this juridical disaster was readied for public presentation?

As was predicted at the time, the new bill would only create further legal challenges and result in nothing but further misery for the detainees and their families, who continue to live with the fear of deportation to torture.

As for those Justice Department lawyers who continue to prosecute these cases, one wonders if they breathe a C-3 sigh of relief that, as with their brethren at Gitmo, they can rest assured they don’t need to worry about building a proper case, as convictions are assured under a process so terminally biased against a detainee. (Technically, there is no conviction in an upheld certificate, since there is no charge; rather, there is only a finding of “reasonableness,” which is the lowest threshold to be met in any Canadian court)

Indeed, even with the addition of a so-called special advocate (who can see what’s in the secret file but is prohibited not only from revealing what’s there, but also from communicating with anyone, including the detainee, without a judge’s permission), the individual detained still does not know the case any more today than when the law was declared unconstitutional. And even if the Special Advocates are able to mount a significant and vigorous challenge to the secret allegations, they are likely to run into the brick wall of the reasonableness standard.

The idea that upheld certificates are supposed to be “assured” was no more evident than in the internal review undertaken by the Inspector General of CSIS after Mahmoud Jaballah, detained for seven months in 1999 on a certificate, had his case quashed by the Federal Court, which found the certificate was “not reasonable.” The goal of the review was to determine “whether the Service's security intelligence report was a credible, balanced and accurate representation of the case against Jaballah; and whether the case against Jaballah was presented well enough.” Which is strange, considering that role belongs solely to the court under the security certificate scheme, and that the issue had been decided in 1999.

But when the cards are stacked against a detainee and the detainee still wins, Canada’s spies refuse to accept the verdict. Individuals concerned with how a judiciary is supposed to work in a democratic state might pause here and wonder why, when a certificate was already reviewed and found to be not credible by the body tasked with this process, it is second guessed by the CSIS Inspector General. The Inspector General’s conclusion? “Our assessment of the security intelligence report concluded that it was a well-founded account of an accurate, credible, and balanced case...It was difficult to follow the reasoning of the Court in reaching the decision that it did.”

The conclusion of this 2000 report was “Even though this security certificate was an accurate presentation of the facts, we took note of and encouraged Service initiatives underway that would make security intelligence reports more cogent and compelling when presented to the Court.”

That report must have served in its own humble way as a green light that encouraged CSIS to issue a new certificate against Jaballah in 2001, relying on a “new interpretation” of a case already dismissed as not credible by the Federal Court two years earlier. Perhaps garnishing their new report with language designed to appear more “cogent and compelling,” CSIS got its way this time, with the certificate upheld and Jaballah detained until 2007, when he was transferred to a draconian house arrest where, to this day, an outing for a jug of milk requires special permission from state authorities.

Which brings us to the present, and a new round of secret trials this fall. Given that this process is designed to produce deportation orders, and that all five men subject to certificates face a substantial likelihood of torture if deported to their countries of birth, they might be more properly called “rendition-to-torture hearings in search of a judicial seal of approval."

Anyone who follows these cases might readily conclude that the courage and insight found wanting in Canada’s Justice Department is matched by the Federal Court, which, after the security certificate scheme was declared unconstitutional, behaved as if nothing had changed, denying bail to one of the detainees because of findings made under that unconstitutional process and refusing to relax the stringent house arrest of the other four. One Federal Court judge noted with a fair degree of certainty, in what can be accurately described as a preferential option for the powerful, that “I do not believe that the Supreme Court intended the previous rulings are to be revisited or that current proceedings necessarily are to be altered as a result of its determination.”

Hence, individuals whose lives are made hell by an unconstitutional process are not allowed, in the eyes of this and other judges, to revisit decisions made under that fundamentally flawed and unfair process.

The Federal Court has done more than its fair share in supporting the secret trial process. For example, it took the unprecedented step of posting the unsubstantiated CSIS allegations on their website. It also funded the study of a special advocate system designed to save the secret trial process rather than explore how such draconian measures could be justified in the first place. It also appointed five judges to the new sets of hearings, all of whom have already made negative findings about the detainees, such that one cannot help but wonder about a possible apprehension of bias.

And if there is not outright bias, there surely might be reasonable grounds to believe that the psychological and political pressure on these judges might be similar to the dynamics that forced the resignation of the Guantanamo chief prosecutor. Col. Morris recalled that he was told by his superior that “We can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.”

While it might sound far-fetched to state that the federal court judges are receiving similar marching orders, common sense and the patterns of power lead one to ponder whether a dynamic similar in tone and content to that which forced Col. Morris’ resignation might be an unspoken, perhaps even subconscious element at play here in Canada.

Indeed, is it difficult to imagine the Federal Court, having upheld this unconstitutional process in the past, and having made negative findings against the five detainees, suddenly changes its mind simply because the special advocates are part of the process? It takes nothing away from the skillful efforts that will likely be made by the special advocates to note that, for the court, a lot is on the line here. Will judges admit that they made errors in past hearings and, given the arguments of special advocates who are now in the secret chamber, suddenly say their own process of challenging government information was not up to scratch (this when one judge last year talked in open court about how “good” they were in closed session)? Will judges who likely take lunch with one another really feel comfortable coming up with a completely opposite finding from their counterparts?

These are valid questions, as judges are as fallible as the rest of us, subject to the pressures and politics of the national security scare mongering that surrounds these cases.

Then again, it is highly possible that the judges have not had access to the whole of the case (including exculpatory information). Indeed, the security certificate in practice allows the government to present what it relies upon, which does not necessarily mean all of the material in its possession. One signal of this possibility is in the order released last week by Judge Simon Noel who, following a week-long secret hearing in the absence of Mr. Harkat and his public lawyers, gave CSIS six months to produce all documentation related to the case of Ottawa detainee Mohamed Harkat. CSIS had said it needed all that time to compile all of the secret materials. Which begs the question: if the secret case was already presented to the judge hearing Harkat’s case years ago, why is it not sitting in one place, easily accessible? Or does this mean that CSIS did NOT present everything in its files related to Mr. Harkat at the previous secret hearing?

Either way, Harkat is unlikely to see any of it, since the files will only be seen by government lawyers, the judge, and the special advocates. Upon seeing that information, the possibility that a special advocate will be able to ask Harkat questions about it is an open question right now, one that led to a constitutional challenge being heard in Toronto this past week.

As written currently, the legislation sets out a complete bar on communication related to the case by the special advocate once s/he has seen the secret file. That means no communication with the detainee, with special advocates, with public counsel for the detainee, with office staff, with Justice Dept. lawyers, even with family members of special advocates who might want to know where their loved ones are and when they’re coming home. The rationale for this is the fear of a speculative “inadvertent” breach of confidential information, even though all the advocates have been security cleared and taken an oath to protect that information.

Any attempt to communicate with the detainee, for example, must go through a process of judicial consideration and approval, thus opening up one’s potential defence not only to the judge hearing the case, but also to the government lawyers likely to be present for (and likely arguing against) the ability to further question the detainee. The process thus invites the judge and the government lawyers inside the defence’s strategy, violating the concept of solicitor-client privilege.

“What is proposed here [by the government] is that the court supervises all solicitor-client communication,” argues lawyer Marlys Edwardh, who notes such a thing has never been done in Canada and clearly violates fundamental justice. Edwardh and her colleagues are very clear: they see no reason why special advocates should be prohibited from open communication regarding matters not affected by “national security” concerns and, should those concerns arise, and only then, would it be appropriate to consider approaching a judge. Even then, it is suggested, such concerns should not be presented in front of the judge hearing the case, nor in front of the government lawyers, who would again gain an insight into defence strategy.

A brief filed by detainee Hassan Almrei’s counsel notes that “there are no equivalent restrictions on the government’s lawyers in their communication with one another or even with the named person or their counsel.....Counsel for the Minister and for CSIS has had knowledge of the secret evidence when he or she cross examines the person named in the certificate. There does not appear to have been any allegation that counsel revealed confidential information as a result of this contact.”

So severe are the current restrictions that no one knew about the secret hearing in the Harkat matter. It came as a complete surprise to the other lawyers working on related cases. After expressing their concern that they did not know about the hearing, the lawyers were asked by Chief Justice Alan Lutfy, “So what?” You know about it now, he says, which shows that, despite a slight delay, the system somehow works. Throughout the hearing, he seems to lean on the idea that the system should just work its way through and deal with problems as they arise, thus ignoring the clear charter rights breaches raised by detainees’ lawyers.

Lutfy has attempted to play the role of enthusiastic, if not painfully cheerful, conductor in forcing these hearings to move ahead at any and all costs, regardless of the wishes of the detainees. Perhaps most significantly, a question he raised during the constitutional challenge betrayed a systemic bias that appears to run throughout all of these hearings: why, he asked, did security certificate cases have to be heard “at the highest level of fundamental justice?”

Lutfy had the audacity to pose this question when not thirty feet away from him sat Mohammad Mahjoub, detained from June 2000-April 2007, now under house arrest with his family and fighting deportation to torture to Egypt, and Mahmoud Jaballah, detained since August 2001, and now similarly under house arrest in Scarborough and fighting deportation to torture in Egypt. Neither man has seen the alleged “case” against him, and likely never will. Each has spent years in solitary confinement, both have suffered innumerable physical hardships, and their families have been traumatized both by the incarceration and by the intense surveillance and intrusion by state agents into their daily lives. All this has been based on a secret process (in complete opposition to the highest level of fundamental justice) designed to protect CSIS, whose prior claims to “national security confidentiality” in fora such as the Arar Inquiry have been clearly shown to do more with avoiding embarrassment over their unsavoury practices (ie, complicity in torture).

Yet the legislation as written starts with the premise that it is the secret information of CSIS, and not the rights of the detainee, that are paramount, and everything possible must be done to protect that CSIS secrets. It is in this environment that standards are so low that with two exceptions, every certificate issued since 1991 has been upheld. Government lawyer Marianne Zoric argues that preventing disclosure of the case to the detainee is “not a mean-spirited attempt to prevent the named person from having their day in court...the process is not fundamentally unfair.” She does not appear ready to join her courageous colleagues who have departed Guantanamo Bay.

Lutfy’s question about fundamental justice is an informative one. Perhaps he does not entirely grasp (or want to acknowledge) that security certificates represent two-tier justice, in which permanent residents and refugees receive a lower standard than citizens. In reply, lawyer John Norris noted that the individual’s liberty interest is engaged here in Canada and that, regardless of status, such cases deserve to have applied to them the highest level of fundamental justice.

Lufty fancies himself a casual judge, and his incessant retreat into homespun witticisms and self-congratulation might prove vaguely amusing were these not rendition-to-torture hearings. Indeed, since he took on the task of “case management” for the five secret trial cases earlier this year, his chin-up approach, constantly encouraging all parties to keep smiles on their faces and positive vibes in the air, seems well at odds with the life-and-death issues facing the five detainees.

Perhaps it is a form of cognitive dissonance -- an inability to face up to the sheer injustice of the process -- or simple guilt reduction that leads him time and again to comment on the need for fundamental justice to be part of the secret trials and rendition to torture process. Indeed, he tells the court that if he has anything to pass on to his children, it’s his “integrity.”

Throughout the two days of proceedings, he reminds us that “the court is very conscious of the open court principle,” even as he acknowledges that a secret hearing without Mr. Harkat and his lawyers just finished up last week in Ottawa and another secret hearing without Mr. Almrei and his lawyers is proceeding this very day. But nonetheless, he blithely carries on throughout the hearings in a manner bespeaking that Shakespearean quip: methinks the chief justice doth protest too much. Hence, every half hour on the hour, we hear such reminders of the virtue and natural goodness of the court...”the world works best when there’s transparency”...”we believe in open courts”...if certain decisions that should be made public are kept private, “the institution we all work for would suffer, it wouldn’t be terrific”...”we are running a fair hearing here”...CSIS should “not go too far in infringing the rights you are trying to protect”...

Symbolism is important to the federal court’s chief judge, so much so that he goes off on a tangent about the relative thickness of the “public summaries” of allegations provided by Canada versus those provided in the U.K. Such patriarchal locker room talk could no doubt form the basis of an interesting psycho-sexual thesis about our phallo-centric culture, in which size is what counts. Lutfy gets into the size issue when he recalls a conversation he had with two British special advocates last February. They were, he says, surprised to see that the public summaries of allegations in Canada were far more “substantial” than in the UK. “I showed them the summaries, and what impressed them was the inches...they don’t have [their summaries big enough to be measured by] inches over there,” Lutfy says, using his fingers to indicate the relative difference in summary sizes in what feels like a scene out of an early Woody Allen film

(Part of what gives the public security certificate cases their “inches” are the binders of newspaper clippings, web downloads and other material that have nothing to do with the detainee, but give the appearance of having built a strong case when all CSIS has to do is say person A is associated with all of this big, bad stuff.)

Lufty, ever a fan of symbolism, then says he is “very proud” of the fact that the Federal Court, in a magnanimous display of openness, now posts when secret hearings are scheduled to take place (even though no one can attend them). When a defence lawyer rises to say he has searched the website and never been able to find such notices, Lutfy reassures him that they are indeed there, but that he should contact court staff if he needs further help. Orwell would be pleased.

While these sentiments are all well and good, had they been put into practice, one wonders what place, exactly, security certificates would have in a 21st century democracy. But Lutfy’s sense of place in the world, along with the rest of his court, the government, and its spy agencies, seems to work along the lines that Lewis Lapham uses to describe the American empire: when one is convinced of one’s own sense of virtue, there is no need for the law. Hence, the virtuous Americans have gleefully cast off the Geneva Conventions as “anachronistic,” but advise us to fear not because they would never do anything untoward.

And so it is for security certificates, where we are asked to assume the virtuous nature of our system because, after all, there is no rule of law or due process in these cases. Right in the law itself, it states quite clearly that anything not normally admissable in a court of law can be considered by the judge in a security certificate case. Which means we are no longer in a court of law. When we are no longer in a court of law, and the case against one is secret, one must repose one’s trust in the judge’s virtue and hopefully strong sense of fair play.

It’s in that sense of trust that Lutfy is asking the detainees to place their faith. Indeed, after lawyer John Norris talks about who protects the interests of the detainee (the defence lawyer and the special advocate), Lutfy chimes in, asking if Norris has forgotten someone. After pausing, Lutfy hastens to remind the court that it is the judges who are ALSO looking out for the interests of the detainee. But how, exactly, does a judge look out for the interests of a detainee while presiding over a hearing designed to prevent the detainee from knowing the case, and whose eventual outcome is deportation to torture?

In fairness, the legislation historically places the judges in an unfair position, in much the same manner that U.S. segregationist judges were perhaps sometimes caught between their desire to uphold the constitution and Bill of Rights and their perceived need to enforce racist statutes because they had been passed by their legislatures. We remember the names of the ones who rose above strict statutory interpretation and remembered that the law is nothing without justice.

One thinks of the analogy because in this instance, Lutfy often pauses with a sense of reverence at the wonder of Canadian democracy, and reminds us that this atrocious piece of legislation was “enacted by Parliament,” as if such a statement somehow brings to reality the often mistaken notion that Canadian laws are only put in place after careful, thoughtful consideration and true consultations with people across this land.

Mr. Lutfy is no doubt familiar with the slipshod manner in which the latest legislation regarding security certificates was rammed into place, rubber stamped by a House and Senate that was told repeatedly by leading legal associations that the bill would not survive a Charter challenge, but passed it anyway. The victims are all Arab Muslims, who suffer because of Parliament’s fear, its racism, its refusal too take democracy seriously. Had the targets been Smith or Jones instead of Mahjoub and Jaballah, perhaps the wise Parliamentarians would have paused for breath on their race to pass new secret trials legislation.

What effect is this having on the house arrest front? As Barb Jackman, lawyer for Mssrs. Mahjoub and Jaballah states, both men are on the verge of turning themselves in to be sent back to jail. Why? Because the suffering of their families, who also live under house arrest and are targetted for constant surveillance and harassment, is so great that they feel the only way to end it is to go back behind bars.

How does this end? We saw that it was sustained public exposure and grass roots political action that took the issue from relative obscurity to the Federal Cabinet table and the Supreme Court docket.

While we remain committed to that form of action, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few assists along the way. Justice Department Lawyers Against Secret Trials and Deportations to Torture? Federal Court Judges Refusing to Preside over Rendition to Torture Hearings?

If you need help with the placards and T-shirts, you know where to reach us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Designated Olympic Protest Zones: Not Just in Beijing!

Designated Olympic Protest Zones from Beijing to Toronto (a report from Toronto Action for Social Change)

(Left, Kamila Talendibaeva, holding bullhorn, calls on those inside the Chinese consulate in Toronto to meet about bringing her husband, Huseyin Celil, back to Canada)

As many “Westerners” sneered at the Chinese government for its designated protest zones during the Olympics, it was terribly convenient to forget that this experiment in Beijing-style “democracy” was nothing new. In fact, it’s how the Chinese have learned “democracy” from those who boast most about it, countries like the US and Canada, where designated protest zones, police repression, and denial of freedom of assembly are all too common.

Anyone who is familiar with large or small scale Canadian protests has been subject to the insult of designated protest pens, mini-jails that are nowhere near the spot where the protest makes the most sense. In last summer’s Montebello protest (where the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico gathered and RCMP undercover agents were “uncovered” holding rocks after trying to rile a crowd), a field in the middle of nowhere was “given” to protesters, who smartly refused it. In the G-8 summit at Kananaskis, all roads were simply cut off, stranding individuals wanting to protest as closely as possible to the world’s most powerful warlords. And the 2010 Olympics on stolen First Nations land is already shaping up be a police paradise of secret warehouse detention centres, street sweeps of “undesirables”, and protest zones that will likely be as near to the games area as Kamloops is to Kazakhstan.
In downtown Toronto, anyone who has dared raise a placard or held the end of a banner knows from experience that the area is full of what might charitably be called Charter–free zones, where the guarantees of free expression and assembly do not exist. Such zones spring up at the whim of Metro police and the RCMP, and are usually aimed at individuals who, for lack of a better description, are not terribly satisfied with the status quo. For example, the sidewalk in front of the U.S. consulate on University Avenue is open to anyone who wishes to walk by, provided they are not carrying a sign. The minute that happens, they are told by police to move across the street or face arrest. Of course, if you want to have a 9/11 memorial right on that sidewalk, where businesspeople are invited to leave condolence notes, the area is open to you.

Similar police behaviour occurs during protests at the Metro Convention Centre, where ordinarily public sidewalks are suddenly declared “private property”, off-limits to such gatherings (even as Blue Jays and Argonauts fans throng by waving their team flags and banners and placards.)

Anyone who questions such behaviour is told by Metro Police and RCMP that this is the way things are. Further questioning is met with cold stares or threats of arrest. One can challenge such arbitrary edicts, of course, but there is a risk that this may result in an overnight stay in downtown lockup. It is strange indeed – and no small matter of intimidation -- that people planning to attend simple, peaceful protests in a “democratic” society must build in possible jail time as part of their daily planners.

For individuals who work in groups such as Toronto Action for Social Change, this is nothing new. One of our members found this out the hard way almost a decade ago when he decided to protest a gathering of terrorists at the Royal York hotel. It was a celebratory meeting of NATO war ministers who were then gladhanding themselves over the terror bombing of the former Yugoslavia, a campaign that had renewed the manhood of the allegedly flaccid military alliance. This mild-mannered gentleman (then 64 years of age) decided to take his one-person protest, wearing an anti-war sign, to the front of the hotel shortly after midnight (having first enjoyed a mellow night of jazz at the Rex). He was told he was not allowed on the sidewalk because it was “private property.” He argued the point, then insisted that if he could not be on the sidewalk, he would stand in the street, whereupon he was arrested, assaulted by police, and held overnight with an assault charge that was eventually dropped.

Anyone familiar with street protest in Toronto knows this is common police practice. Other TASC members have been banned for life from Queen’s Park for planting vegetable gardens or singing persistently.

While these are annoying inconveniences on the road to justice, they certainly are nothing compared to the police behaviour directed at anyone in this city who does not enjoy white skin privilege or a certain amount of financial assets. Incessant harassment of the homeless, area bans issued against young people because of their skin colour (police essentially tell them not to enter the downtown shopping district upon pain of arrest), and the standard crimes of driving while black or flying while Arab remain daily signs that Canadian democracy is limited to those with the largest amounts of cash and privilege.

So all the holier-than-thou coverage of what happens with the Chinese protest scene during the Olympics takes on the stink of high irony. Nowhere was this made more clear than during a series of protests we organized this summer at the Chinese consulate on St. George Street with the Canadian Committee to Free Huseyin Celil, a Canadian wrongfully jailed for life in China on trumped up charges.
Celil is a Uyghur who spoke up for the rights of his brutally repressed people and eventually escaped China, coming to Canada as a refugee with his family and children, and eventually becoming citizens. He was arrested in Uzbekistan over two years ago and illegally handed over to China, where he was threatened with unspeakable tortures into signing a “confession.” Celil was not allowed to present a defence at his “trial,” nor were Canadian consular officials allowed to attend.

Since China had promised to improve human rights if it were given the 2008 summer Olympics, we decided to organize a series of walks and rallies encouraging that government to keep its promise while calling on the Canadian government to appoint a special envoy to go and do whatever is necessary to get Celil freed.

The first demonstration we held, a hot Sunday afternoon in late June, got off on a bad footing when four of us, quietly enjoying the shade of the trees at the consulate, were told we were on the wrong side of the road by the RCMP. When we explained that we had been on this side of the road numerous times before over the years, we were informed that did not matter, and the new rule was that everyone had to be across the street (in front of a seniors’ home which no doubt did not appreciate the appearance that its practices were being protested!)

The RCMP, in a fashion that the Chinese back in Beijing must have picked up on quickly, demanded to know the names, addresses, and birth dates of protest organizers. We refused and then asked why, and they said it was for their file. Why, we asked, did they need to create a file on a group of peaceful people, many of them Uyghur refugees, who were simply exercising democratic rights? Was the file to be shared with the Chinese in the hopes of intimidating the Uyghurs who DID have the courage to speak out, or harassing their family members still under Chinese occupation? Would names and other information be shared with the Chinese to be used in their torture chambers just as the RCMP and CSIS did in the cases of Canadians tortured in Syria—Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin?

The June rally, which had come together rather quickly, planned to walk to Queen’s Park, the grounds of the Ontario legislature. This was a Sunday afternoon, so the building and large grounds were empty. Nonetheless, Metro Police told organizers that the gathering could not be permitted and that certainly, no speeches would be allowed, since there had been no permit issued. When we explained we did not require a permit to gather in a public place, we were told to stop being so “mean.” Eventually, the police backed down, though when we did arrive at the empty legislature, they insisted we gather further from the building’s front steps because of the “rules.”

The second demonstration, held in late July, was similar in tone. While we decided to avoid hassles and gather in front of the beleaguered seniors’ home, we were confronted with a rather difficult situation. An ambulance pulled up to go in and get someone, but getting to and from the building was difficult for the ambulance crew, even with our relatively small numbers (about 50 people). So we decided on this Sunday afternoon, when the Chinese consulate was closed anyway, to go across the street and stand on the sidewalk in front of the building that made the most symbolic sense to be protesting.

As we stood where we wished to stand in the first place, the Mounties and Metro police again gave us the third degree lecture about how this was unacceptable. We explained that there was a health and safety issue across the way, and that our presence was a possible impediment to the health care crew. We insisted on staying there until the ambulance had gone. One individual from the China Rights Network complained that he had been on this very spot dozens of times, and wanted to know why things had changed. Rather than receiving an explanation, he was asked for his name and other personal details.

After the ambulance left, and as speeches continued in front of the seniors’ home (a great video overview on the Celil case and the plight of the Uyghurs is available at, a number of us decided to try a further discussion with the RCMP. An officer explained that no matter what reason he gave, he would be seen as “wrong” by the protesters, so had decided not to give one. When we pressed, he came up with a story about concerns for our health and safety, because cars go by and might hit someone who steps off the sidewalk. Given that there is a stop sign not 50 feet from where we were standing, we explained that this was a highly unlikely scenario and that, in fact, someone was more at risk on the OTHER side of the street. Needless to say, the concept that a small group of adults carrying placards could not resist darting out into the road spoke to a bizarre RCMP view of protesters as infants who required extraordinary forms of physical protection.

Subsequent gatherings were just as strange. On the opening night of the Olympics, a group of about 50 people again gathered at a downtown intersection before undertaking the 25-minute walk to the Chinese consulate, this time arriving in front of the building. While nervous RCMP looked on, they said it was okay to be there as long as we did not block the entrance. We wondered why they had suddenly changed their policy—was it because they were afraid of analogies being drawn to the protest zones in Beijing? Or were they simply unprepared for our protest which, given the wall to wall Olympics coverage, no doubt got lost in their daily media mix?

Given that we were not harassed during Olympics opening night, we figured that closing night would be just as carefree. Wrong. As a group of about 30 people showed up, quietly standing around, we were immediately accosted by an RCMP agent who told us we were not allowed to be in front of the empty consulate on a Sunday evening at 8:30 pm. When informed that we had been in the exact same spot two weeks earlier with no problems, the agent seemed confused, and returned to the line that such protests were not allowed. When asked for an explanation, she called in backup, who shortly arrived with the same old story. We explained that we would only be here for about 15 minutes, but were informed that after that time, we would be removed to the other side of the street.

What had changed? We asked.

“We have received information,” the agent cryptically replied.

“From the Chinese? About us?” we countered.

“I can’t reveal that information,” was the reply.

Since it was our intention to leave shortly anyhow, we informed the RCMP that we were heading out, but not because we had been ordered to do so. We also commented that just as there is a race to the bottom when it comes to the “globalization” of labour and environmental standards, so there is when it comes to human rights. As corporations complain that strict environmental guidelines make it hard for them to do business in one country while another openly dumps its toxins into the water and air, one can imagine countries like Canada complaining that other countries get to openly repress and torture their protesting citizens, so why can’t we?

It’s a slippery slope, one we continue to glide down at our peril.

Those wishing to help out on the Huseyin Celil case are encouraged to contact the Canadian Committee to Free Huseyin Celil, c/o Wilf Ruland,, (905) 648-1296, or Toronto Action for Social Change at (416) 651-5800,

In the meantime, please consider sending a short note to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging that a special envoy be appointed to go to China and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safe return of Mr. Celil to his family in Burlington, Ontario. Harper’s office can be reached at, or (613) 992-4211.

And don’t forget to join the Caravan to End Canadian Involvement in Torture, through Southern Ontario, October 17-23.
You Can’t Get There From Here:
A Comedy of Terrors as Group of Seven Take on Canada’s Torture Taxi in Surreal Journey Through Grounds of Canada’s Largest Airport.
Meanwhile, Skyservice Still Refuses to Meet and Discuss the Worst Kept Secret in Canadian Aviation

(Pictures at

Drivers trying to use Fasken Drive in Northwest Toronto were in for a surprise on Monday, August 11 when they discovered that a sizable stretch of the road was shut down in both directions by police barricades, complete with lights flashing atop patrol cars and a large “Road Closed” sign.

This was all in honour of a planned vigil by members of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture at the offices of a company called Skyservice. The vigil was called for after the company had ignored six months of correspondence seeking a meeting to discuss our concerns about their possible contracts to deport Canada’s secret trial detainees to torture in Syria, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco.

Such flights are illegal. Indeed, the Convention Against Torture states unequivocally that “No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

But such illegality has not prevented the Government of Canada from proceeding with its deportation efforts in these five and, indeed, numerous other cases where there is a risk of torture.

As seven (yes, 7) of us admired the finely choreographed police performance, it was an opportunity to reflect on the day when our journey to Skyservice began. On February 13, 2007, Eugenie Hébert, Manager for Investigations and Removals at Inland Enforcement at the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), testified in Federal Court about arrangements then being made to forcibly remove secret trial detainee Mahmoud Jaballah to Egypt, even though he would likely face a substantial likelihood of torture or worse upon his arrival there.

“We will arrange for a charter to remove the individual, on a commercial flight or a charter,” Ms. Hébert explained under oath. “In the case of Mr. Jaballah it will be a charter. That will have to be done with a private company...For the charter, we have used a company called Skyservice in the past. I have contacted them, and they say between 48 hours and a week they could organize the flight.”

With the news, we sent numerous letters to the company expressing our concerns and requesting a meeting, but all went unanswered. A surprise visit to their Etobicoke offices on May 1 was met by a nervous company representative who claimed we had the wrong company (see a video of that demonstration, led by high school students, at

We found that response strange, especially since on June 14, 2007, the Globe and Mail quoted Sandy Buik of Skyservice as saying such deportations are “absolutely the nature of some of the work that we do,” and added that CBSA had engaged their services 8 times since September, 2005.

Generally, the term “absolutely” sounds like the kind of language that inspires a kind of unquestionable certainty, one that can be easily confirmed in a listing of government contracts worth over $10,000 for the CBSA. Indeed, Skyservice has often transported “non-public servants.” If CBSA is composed of public servants, would this refer, then, to refugees who are being deported? Typical 2008 Skyservice contracts have charged the government figures such as $195,415 and $182,453.

It was because of the wall of silence that had greeted our increasingly urgent one-way correspondence that we called for a public vigil.

But then something happened. While calling for the vigil, we also asked people to write letters to the company’s executives urging that they meet with Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture. This seemed to work, since less than 48 hours after our appeal went out, the number of letters flooding Skyservice inboxes seemed sufficient to force their first official response and to change the email addresses of two of their executives (many of our supporters reported that their letters were returned as “failure to deliver.”)

On August 1, we received a phone call from the company’s Vice President of Legal Services and General Counsel, who pleasantly explained that due to a major reorganization of the company, Skyservice was no longer what its website made it out to be. In fact, she said, “Skyservice Airlines” was a wholly separate entity from “Skyservice Investments Inc.” and “Skyservice Business Aviation,” and that it was the last entity (which shares a name, a website, and an email system, with the latter two relationships supposed to wither away eventually) that took on the deportation flights. Why this was not explained to us on our May 1 visit is unclear.

The counsel also wrote us a letter that ended by stating “we trust that you will cancel or relocate the ‘public vigil’ currently intended to be held at our offices at 31 Fasken Drive.”

That same day, a letter also arrived in our PO Box from the privacy officer of Skyservice Business Aviation in Montreal thanking us for our correspondence and asking us to “kindly note that we are a private business aviation entity, bound by confidentiality and privacy obligations, and as such, we cannot legally discuss any matters relating to our clients or our business with them and with third parties.”

While we understand the corporate veil is often employed to avoid public scrutiny of controversial business relationships and practices, we found it a curious argument given that both the client (CBSA) and the company itself have publicly acknowledged the nature of their work, and their contracts are publicly available on Government of Canada websites. Indeed, it must be the worst kept secret in Canadian aviation that this is the go-to company for rendition to torture flights.

While we did not want to protest at the wrong location, we did feel a responsibility to pick up individuals who may have decided to get there on their own steam. But before doing that, five of us set out from downtown Toronto for the offices of Skyservice Business Aviation, located in the heart of the airport grounds.

We decided we would simply walk into the building without signs or placards and request a meeting with Russell Payson, the President of the company. Nervous reception workers sensed something was up when people NOT wearing business suits and carrying fancy leather briefcases entered the elegant “Avitat,” a fancy name for the corporate hub where business travellers using Gulfstream jets await their boarding call. It is a funny looking area where you can see the jets outside the window and there are no long lineups with individuals being checked for what is in their shoes. It looks as if one can simply go out on the runway and board one’s jet. The benefits of wealth....

One tried to imagine what it might be like in this pleasant waiting area should the day eventually come that Canada’s courts order the secret trial detainees deported to torture (an issue that has yet to be decided in the Canadian courts, though the security certificate process that marks the first step of judicially-stamped rendition to torture is slated to begin anew this fall for all five individuals). Would the detainee be offered coffee or tea, or would he be the odd-looking one in the corner with an orange jumpsuit and hood over his head, generating nervous chatter amongst the bankers on their way to an important discussion on raising credit card interest rates?

We were told this fine August 11 that Mr. Payson’s appointments secretary was off until Labour Day (at least the company appears to have a decent vacation policy) and that the Prez himself was in an all-day meeting, but we took a card with the hope that maybe this time we could bag that prized meeting.

We returned to the old Skyservice location on Fasken Drive, only to find the road blockade set up in our honour. Two individuals who had travelled to join our vigil were standing on a curb, having been told they could not sit on the grass because it was “private property.” They had been told that the road would be closed for three hours.

As we picked up our two friends, explaining the corporate confusion over which was the right Skyservice, a man who had been hiding in the bushes suddenly jumped out and started taking our pictures. By the time we figured out what was going on, he jumped back behind the trees. We were disappointed that the undercover photo man disappeared so fast that we did not have time to smile for our file, and were ever so grateful that he ducked out again to take a few more snaps, this time catching our friendly waves and smiles.

We then headed to our final destination, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, described as a “private, not-for-profit corporation responsible for airports in the Greater Toronto area, including operation, construction and maintenance.” As part of their corporate vision, they plan to “develop and adopt a corporate social responsibility program,” so we figured a vigil at their headquarters would be an appropriate close to the day’s journey.

While another undercover officer eventually showed up across the street and hid behind the bushes at the excess snow dumping site, we pulled out our orange jumpsuits and black hoods and banners and set up shop on the lonely sidewalk. Eventually, three of us went inside and asked if we could speak to someone to determine whether the GTAA had any policies with respect to the grounds of the airport being used to commit a criminal offence (complicity in torture via allowing a deportation flight to take off from the grounds).

After explaining our concerns to three separate security managers, we finally spoke to someone in corporate affairs who certainly knew Canadian aviation’s worst kept secret – that indeed, he confirmed, Skyservice Business Aviation does deportation flights.

We asked whether, given the high profile nature of rendition flights, the news that Canada has hosted almost 100 known CIA flights, and that the issue is so well known that even Hollywood stars like Reese Witherspoon are starring in movies about the issue, the GTAA had a policy with respect to them.

The gentleman was honest if nothing else. No.

Had the GTAA discussed the ethics and legalities of the issue? Not to his knowledge.

Was the issue of deportation to torture on their future agenda? Not that he knew of.

In essence, anything goes at Canada’s largest airport if, in his words, it is “safe and legal.”

Given that the Canadian government has a very slippery definition of what is legal (especially when it comes to human rights violations), the statement was a concern, but the GTAA rep did say, however, that he would be interested in receiving material with respect to our concerns ( a far sight better than our response thusfar from Skyservice).

While we prepare materials for the folks at the GTAA, we are now renewing our efforts to meet with Russell Payson, the President of Skyservice Business Aviation (not to be confused with Skyservice Airlines), who seems like an amiable enough gentleman. In a January 17, 2007 Globe and Mail profile, Payson, a pilot and engineer, reveals that he flies well over 100,000 miles a year and that he has a very specific packing routine: “I travel with carry-on only, period. With the time it takes to check in and then pick your bags up off the carousel, you're saving yourself half an hour on each leg, forget the possibility of losing your bags. I went carry-on to Greece a few years ago, and the people at the check-in couldn't believe it.”

Payson also appears to be a pretty button-down kind of guy, explaining his travel philosophy thusly: “I generally stay in three- or four-star hotels. Usually on business you're staying for a night or two, so all you want is a good bed and a TV that works.”

While it is unclear if the secret trial deportees to torture will be fretting about suitcases versus carry-on, we DO know that most Egyptian, Syrian, Algerian, and Moroccan torture chambers do not have good sleeping arrangements, and certainly no TVs.

We would ask that those who support the idea of getting us a meeting with Skyservice Business Aviation contact Mr. Payson and politely ask that he meet with representatives of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture. Perhaps express your concern that Skyservice would consider taking part in a deportation to torture flight. Their office can be reached at (905) 677-3300 or, in Dorval, QC, at (514) 636-3300. Last we checked his email still seems to be

Those concerned about Canadian involvement in torture are welcome to join us on the Fall 2008 Caravan to End Canadian Involvement in Torture, October 17-22, throughout southwestern Ontario. A three-minute promo for that caravan is available at

More info: Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture,

stop forced return to persecution


See family's trip to Justice Minister's office here
Demonstration at Hungarian consulate: here

Stop The Forced Return of a Protected Person to Persecution and Worse!

Call Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson and Urge that He Stop Extradition of Roma Refugee Adolf Horvath, the Son of a Holocaust Survivor and a Person Found to be in Need of Protection by the Canadian Government

Adolf Horvath is a 51-year old father who fled repeated physical assaults and persecution in Hungary based on his Roma ethnicity. During World War II, his mother had been imprisoned in a Nazi slave labour camp because of her Roma ethnicity. Horvath’s wife, Erika, also experienced physical assaults in Hungary at the hands of the same skinheads and police officials who beat Adolf.

The family came to Canada in 1999. Mr. Horvath was found to be a person in need of protection, and his wife and son were found to be refugees. They were trying to begin a new life in this country when the latest chapter in their nightmare began.

The couple’s young son experienced severe trauma in witnessing the vicious assaults against his parents. He was present in his own home when Adolf was repeatedly stabbed in the stomach and his mother was hit in the head, forcing both parents’ hospitalization. A psychological assessment says their son suffers “emotionally and psychologically from the aftermath of living in an environment of horror and terror.” Given the ongoing fear he experiences that his father may be returned to Hungary, his life is marked by an ongoing sense of terror. Ongoing efforts to treat his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are threatened by the instability in his life.

All members of the family have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and depression, conditions which have only worsened as a result of the Canadian efforts to send Mr. Horvath back to Hungary. Indeed, when a half dozen Canadian officers showed up at the house to arrest Mr. Horvath on the extradition request, it revived painful memories of attacks against the family in Hungary.

In the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) conducted by the Canadian Border Services Agency, an officer found that Mr. Horvath faces “more than a mere possibility of persecution in Hungary based on his Roma ethnicity.” Much Canadian court jurisprudence related to these issues equates “more than a mere possibility” with “a serious possibility.”

The (PRRA) officer accepts that Horvath “has repeatedly in the past been subjected to various forms of abuse from criminals who included police officers.”

The PRRA officer concludes, “I am of the opinion that the applicant’s unique position as a sophisticated, successful, and prosperous Roma makes him a target for the type of abuse he has described having endured in the past. I am further satisfied that such abuse, in the form of repeated physical assaults, threats, and foul play constitutes persecution. Such persecution is motivated by the applicant’s Roma ethnicity. I have carefully considered the documentary evidence on the availability of state protection for Roma and find that, although state protection is generally available, such availability is sufficiently questionable that a person in the applicant’s unique position might be discriminated against when seeking such protection. Given the applicant’s past experiences with the police and judicial system, I am satisfied that state protection would not be forthcoming to this particular applicant.”

Significantly, the Minister of Immigration did NOT seek to contest this finding. By law, persons in need of protection cannot be returned to the country they fled.

Mr. Horvath’s Canadian lawyers sought to prevent the extradition by launching an abuse of process motion, arguing that there was no legal justification to go through a process that could result in handing Mr. Horvath over to Hungarian authorities when he had already been found by Canada to be a person in need of protection.

The decision made by immigration authorities should have prevented the extradition from going ahead, since a surrender of Mr. Horvath would be an illegal, prohibited act. A lawyer for Immigration Canada actually was invited to the extradition hearing and informed the court that the decision of the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment officer was valid and was not going to be reviewed.

Unfortunately, the extradition judge refused to accept the argument, even though he confessed in the hearing, “Part of my problem is -- I know nothing about immigration whatsoever, and it doesn’t seem to me to be overly relevant in the extradition context.” Indeed, the judge incorrectly came to the conclusion that rather than facing a risk that was “more than a mere possibility,” he wrote that Mr. Horvath only faced a mere possibility of abuse.

The judge also made numerous statements that were insensitive with respect to Mr. Horvath’s Roma heritage, and also criticized the decisions of higher court judges whose decisions were binding on him. Both give rise to a potential apprehension of bias.

As Manitoba Queen’s Bench Justice Steel wrote in a 1999 extradition case, “evidence at an extradition hearing should be accepted even if the judge feels it is manifestly unreliable, incomplete, false, misleading, contradictory of other evidence or the judges feels the witness may have perjured themselves.”

As constitutional law expert Gary Botting points out, “The overall scheme of the legislation is so patently unfair that eventually the Supreme Court of Canada should strike down significant parts of the Extradition Act, especially those parts dealing with evidence, and with the perceived apprehension of bias of the Minister of Justice/Attorney General in being both the prosecutor and the judge at every stage of the procedure.”

While this is an unfortunate Canadian legal reality, it does not make the situation just or right.

In 1998, Mr. Horvath was the subject of a series of trumped-up charges in Hungarian court, charges that now form the basis of the extradition request. The two alleged complainants in the case both testified at an uncompleted trial that they were pressured to provide incriminating statements against Mr. Horvath. The police claimed that Mr. Horvath, after lending money to the complainants, used strong-arm tactics to get the loans paid back. Yet as the Court record from Hungary shows, one complainant testified that if he agreed to incriminate Mr. Horvath, he would be offered a plea bargain on charges he was facing: “I thought it meant that if I testify against him they would set me free because they [police] wanted [Horvath] out of circulation.” He later says that he was told forgery charges against him would be dropped if he chose to testify against Mr. Horvath. Another complainant said there was no threat from Mr. Horvath, and that he did not ever recall telling police that there had been one. He testified: “threats have never been in question.”

The complainant added: “I wish to withdraw my previous testimony that was ‘forced’ out of me,” one of the men stated in court, adding “that in a strange situation, like the one when I was questioned, one would have signed anything....The whole thing which is recorded in my testimony has never happened. In my opinion, it is a fabrication; the whole thing is a ridiculous fabrication...These things have not happened to me.”

When asked why he would make up stories about Mr. Horvath, the complainant replied, “When the policemen examined or questioned me, they told me more than once that I could be in serious trouble if I am not going to assist them.”

Ten years later, the Hungarian judicial system (and, specifically, a judge known widely as a “Roma-hater,”) are seeking the forced return of Horvath to answer the trumped-up charges and, no doubt, face further persecution.

After an oral hearing before a PRRA officer, Mr. Horvath was found to be a person in need of protection based on his credible fears of racist attacks and persecution based on his Roma heritage. Obviously, sending him back to a country he fled will open the door to a serious abuse of his human right to be free of persecution and torture and other forms of cruel and unusual treatment.

The Hungarian police and judicial system are generally recognized as rife with corruption and tainted with the anti-Roma bias that is endemic to Hungary and much of Europe (over 500,000 Roma were murdered by the Nazis, and discrimination and violence against the Roma people is widespread to this day, from unequal access to housing, health, education, employment, and public places (such as restaurants and bars) to lengthy pre-trial detention that does not normally apply to non-Roma).

The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report on Hungary noted on March 11, 2008, that “Human rights and Romani organizations claimed that Roma received unequal treatment in the judicial process...Reports of police abuse of Roma were common, but many victims remained fearful of seeking legal remedies or of notifying NGOs.
In 2007, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns about the prevalence of discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes, in particular towards the Romani population. The Committee noted that Romani children were especially stigmatized, excluded and impoverished in relation to the rest of the population because of their ethnicity. The Committee expressed concern at the arbitrary segregation of Romani children in special institutions or classes.”

Under a section of the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report entitled “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” it notes, “The law prohibits such practices; however, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that police harassed and used excessive force against suspects, particularly Roma. Reports of police abuse of Roma again increased somewhat during the year, but NGOs considered the increase to reflect increasing willingness of Roma to report such abuses....During the year police were implicated in a number of criminal acts, including corruption, theft, robbery, rape, bribery, and kidnapping, that severely undermined public confidence in law enforcement agencies. The ensuing scandals led to the dismissals, in May, of the HNP [Hungarian National Police] Chief, the chief of the Budapest police, and the head of REBISZ. The minister of justice and law enforcement resigned. In the same month, the head of the National Security Office (NBH) also resigned following scandals involving the intelligence and security services.” The report also notes that racist and anti-Roma postings were made on the website of the Hungarian National Police.

(Adolf Horvath’s former home city is Dunaujvaros. Shortly after Adolf and his family fled to Canada the Head of the Dunaujvaros Police Headquarters anti-crime department was detained (2001)
-In 2003 April 13 policemen and 12 civilian were arrested for blackmailing in Dunaujvaros. See article in Hungarian
In May, 2007, the country’s justice and police minister resigned after some of the country’s top officers were accused of theft and rape (see

Eight months after a new justice minister was appointed, he was fired, in part for his failure to protect MPs whose homes were attacked (see

Such reports are consistent with the October 25, 2007 Amnesty International assessment of anti-Roma discrimination in Europe that concluded “Roma were often the victims of torture or other ill-treatment by law enforcement officers across the region. Roma were also the victims of racist attacks during which they were not adequately protected by the police. The authorities in many countries failed to fulfil their domestic and international obligations towards the Roma community.”

A January 30, 2008 Deutsche Presse-Agentur news story entitled “Neo-Nazism on the rise in eastern Europe” documents the rise of such far-right groups in Hungary, including the emergence of groups dressing much like Hungarian fascists of the 1940s and using coats of arms similar to Nazi-aligned political parties. Such groups have made no secret of their racist attitudes towards the Roma.

In a bizarre move, and without any evidence to show that conditions had changed in Hungary such that Mr. Horvath would no longer be at risk if surrendered, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Monte Solberg delivered an opinion to the Justice Minister stating that Horvath could be returned to Hungary because of a perceived improvement in conditions. There was no proof provided, and the opinion was written by someone with no expertise in the area of risk.

This is strange because the PRRA determination essentially becomes the opinion of the Minister. Why would the Minister seek and deliver an opinion that contradicts his first opinion?

The Minister’s new opinion essentially states that since there are human rights groups that stand up for the Roma, someone like Mr. Horvath could seek their assistance. The argument fails though because such groups cannot provide protection from acts of violence committed by skinheads or anti-Roma elements within the police forces.

Sending a person in need of protection to a country where he would face further persecution surely “shocks the conscience” of the Canadian people.

Under the Extradition Act (section 44 (1), the Minister of Justice has the capacity to refuse an extradition if satisfied that, “(a) the surrender would be unjust or oppressive having regard to all the relevant circumstances; or (b) the request for extradition is made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person by reason of their race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour, political opinion, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability or status or that the person’s position may be prejudiced for any of those reasons.

Mr. Horvath has been targetted by a Hungarian judicial system that international human rights groups, as well as the U.S. State Department, have acknowledged is rife with corruption and bias, in particular towards the Roma people. A significant body of evidence shows Mr. Horvath has been targetted because of his Roma heritage, and that the charges against him are baseless and being pursued by a judge with a known anti-Roma bias.

The effect of threatening to send Mr.. Horvath back to Hungary has been devastating on him and his family; executing that threat would be disastrous for the health of his wife and son.

The ends of justice are in no way served by returning him to Hungary.

After Mr. Horvath was arrested in Toronto on the extradition request in 2003 (yet another traumatizing event for him and his family), he was released on bail with the stipulation that he periodically report to a Toronto detention facility where he would stay for a few days pending the outcome of certain court decisions. On each occasion, his wife drove him to the jail, dropped him off, and he would spent three or four days behind bars until the decision came out.

On March 19, Mr. Horvath -- expecting a decision on whether the Supreme Court of Canada would hear his appeal and correct the many judicial errors that were made in concluding he could be sent back to face persecution in Hungary -- was driven to the jail by his wife. After she dropped him off and he walked to the jail’s entrance, he disappeared, no doubt fearing that a negative court decision would mean his imminent forced removal to persecution and worse in Hungary.

While this places him and his family in a problematic legal position, it is perhaps understandable that he is taking a risk in the hope that he will not be sent back to a country where he is likely to be targetted for further persecution, physical beatings, and lengthy, unjustified imprisonment.

His wife and son are now extremely worried since they do not know where Adolf is. They are appealing to the Minister of Justice to reconsider his decision and put an end to this nightmare, one that can either end happily by allowing the family to get on with their lives, or one that could end quite badly if Mr. Horvath is returned to the country from which the Canadian government has concluded he is a person in need of protection.

When calling, ask to speak to someone about the extradition of Adolf Horvath. Please be polite, express your opposition to the fact that Canada is trying to forcibly remove someone who has been found to be in need of protection to a country where he will face further persecution and worse. And finish by stating that the Extradition Act allows Mr. Nicholson the discretion to deny this trumped up request. Also, see a sample letter below. Let us know at what kind of response you get.

Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice
105 East Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6
tel: 613-995-1547
fax: 613-992-7910

If you live in the Niagara region, please call his constituency office as well at 905-353-9590, fax: 905-353-9588

Please cc Prime Minister Stephen Harper (, fax: 613-941-6900, and Immigration Minister Diane Finley (,, fax: (613) 996-9749)

Sample Letter
(If you can, since they do not like form letters, begin by stating who you are and why, as a Canadian, you are concerned about what is going on here -- don’t forget to cc Finley and Harper)

Dear Mr. Nicholson,

I am writing to ask you to stop the extradition to Hungary of Adolf Horvath, the son of a Holocaust survivor and someone your own government found to be a person in need of protection because of his Roma ethnicity. Both he and his family are already saddled with post traumatic stress disorder from the violence they were subject to while in Hungary.

Significantly, the two individuals who are the complainants in the alleged case against Mr. Horvath have recanted their allegations, and the judge who seems to be driving this process is known to be someone with a strong anti-Roma bias.

At a time when neo-fascist, racist forces are unfortunately gaining strength in much of Europe -- in large measure based on targetting of specific groups, especially the Roma -- I am calling on you to stop the forced transfer of Mr. Horvath back to Hungary. It is clear from both the expert opinion of the Canadian government’s pre-removal risk assessment officer as well from the human rights analyses of the targetting of Roma by Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department that Mr. Horvath will face persecution, physical violence, and worse.

This is clearly a case where the extradition of Mr. Horvath would be “unjust or oppressive” because he is being sought for prosecution and punishment “by reason of [his] race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour.”

The ends of justice are not served by this extradition. The original decision finding Mr. Horvath to be a person in need of protection should be the final word in this matter. I call on you to respect that decision, stop the extradition, and allow Mr. Horvath to stay in Canada, a decision which can finally start the healing process for the Horvath family.

Thank you.


(This urgent action originates with Toronto Action for Social Change and Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture. For more information, contact, 416-651-5800)