Saturday, December 22, 2012

Canada Rejects Christ as "Failed" Refugee Claimant

(This piece was originally published in 2004; most of the issues remain relevant to today's worsening crisis over Canada's mistreatment of refugee claimants. Notably, Adil Charkaoui and Hassan Almrei are no longer subject to security certificates, while Mohamed Harkat heads to the Supreme Court in 2013 to challenge his ongoing secret trial ordeal)

Jesus to be Deported on National Security Grounds Despite Fears of Persecution; Alert Issued for Unauthorized Entry of Suspect Going by the Name of Claus

OTTAWA -A few days shy of his birthday, a young man by the name of Jesus Christ has had his refugee claim rejected by Canada. Christ, locked up in a solitary confinement cell for many months, now faces deportation to torture.

In a related development, two people claiming to be Christ's parents, Joseph and Mary, had sought to obtain refugee status in Canada, but since they arrived in the U.S. first, they were told they could not come here under the new Safe Third Country agreement. Their deportation hearing is expected in the next few weeks somewhere in upstate New York.

Government lawyer Donald MacVishus hailed the deportation order against Christ as a major victory in the war against terrorism. "It is clear this man is a threat, that no one would honestly want him in our midst," he declared. "I think the court can take judicial notice of the fact that this man is not merely a simple coin flicker to beggars on the Jericho Road, but someone who wants to change our whole way of life! He is part of a worldwide conspiracy with connections throughout the Middle East to every known bearded terrorist!"

Christ, looking haggard in a prison orange jumpsuit, his long, wavy hair and flowing beard in a bedraggled state, last appeared in court earlier this week as his lawyers attempted to call forward for cross-examination certain pieces of secret evidence which have been used against him. The Federal Court judge insisted the law allows for such secrecy, and declared that Canadian national security would be compromised if the case against Christ were revealed. After washing his hands, the judge left the court.

Lawyers had asked for information about CSIS interviews with Christ, but because CSIS does not record interviews nor make verbatim notes, there was little to go on. "The Service noted that Christ appeared unusually calm when pressed about his possible association with prostitutes, beggars, and lepers," read a short half page of notes which were eventually declassified. "Christ also seemed hesitant when asked whether an individual named Joseph was his father, a sign that he was withholding the true nature of his character."

A last-minute appeal to Immigration Minister Judiss Sgrewyu on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was rejected with the declaration that "Canada must not become a haven for queue-jumpers and terrorists."

Originally detained for carrying reading materials written in ancient Hebrew which immigration officials found "suspect," Christ was also deemed to be a security threat because he allegedly uses a number of aliases, including Prince of Peace, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Son of God. He had travelled to Canada, like most refugees, on a false passport, because if he had used his real name on travel documents, Roman authorities may have picked him up before he could have fled the country.

Christ was also deemed inadmissable to Canada because of his criminal record; he, like all refugees coming to this country, are considered not worthy of being accepted even if those convictions have occurred in countries where there is no due process or internationally recognized legal system. Worse, refugees who have been convicted of minor offences which would be deemed "summary" (or lesser) offences if convicted here in Canada have their record interpreted as indictable (or more severe) upon their arrival here, regardless of the circumstances.

Christ had fled Palestine due to fears of persecution by Roman occupation authorities, who were concerned about his outspoken statements and actions on behalf of the poor and downtrodden of his country. Unfortunately, since Canada has no refugee appeals division (promised in the 2001 immigration act but still not realized), he has no real options. While his pre-removal risk assessment concluded that Christ was at substantial risk of torture or worse if deported back to Roman occupied lands, the immigration minister's delegate concluded that Christ could pose a danger to the Canadian public and economy.

"This is a man who fanatically and militantly talks about peace which, if it broke out, could cost thousands of military manufacturing jobs and the loss of possible star wars contracts," the immigration report notes. "Under C-36, our anti-terrorism act, Christ's language and subsequent peacemaking actions are both clearly seen as a terrorist threat. Section 27 (3h) marks as a terrorist anyone who 'Interferes with the design, development or production of any weapon or defence equipment of, or intended for, the Canadian Forces, including any hardware, software or system that is part of or associated with any such weapon or defence equipment.'"

The report also noted Christ has spoken extensively about equitable distribution of wealth and against individual and corporate greed, again marking him as a terrorist in the eyes of Canadian law (Section 27 (3j) of C-36 names as a terrorist anyone who "adversely affects the stability of the Canadian economy, the financial system or any financial market without reasonable or financial justification.")

In another mark against Christ, the minister's delegate points out one particular incident in which the refugee applicant was "particularly violent, overturning a table used by moneychangers in a temple frequented by Canadian money speculators." Canada's criminal code notes as well a terrorist is anyone who "damages property outside of Canada because a person or entity with an interest in the property or occupying the property has a relationship with Canada or a province or is doing business with or on behalf of the Government of Canada or a province."

"Therefore," the immigration report concludes, "we determine that the threat which Christ poses to Canada is greater than the risk to him if deported."

Human rights groups have criticized the occupation Roman Empire for ongoing torture, racial and religious profiling, crucifixions, and a general climate of repression in the Holy Land. They have also noted that Christ's life would be in grave danger is deported

Canada, which claims not to deport individuals to torture, is nonetheless prepared to deport Christ just as they are doing in the cases of Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah (both Egyptian refugees), whom the government's own pre-removal risk assessment found to be at substantial risk of being detained, tortured or worse if deported. Refugees and long-time secret trial detainees Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui face similar fates if deported to Syria, Algeria and Morocco, respectively.

In a related development, critics of Canadian policies are also concerned about a border alert which has been issued to U.S. Homeland Security and Canadian Border Services Agency outposts looking for a bearded man in a red suit who may be expected to arrive in this country later this week.

The individual, a noted Red, or Communist, is, according to the bulletin, "NOT a U.S. or Canadian citizen, carries no passport, goes under a number of aliases including Jolly Old Saint Nick and Kris Kringle, carries suspicious looking sacks and avoids customs, has attended a non-registered flight school with respect to flying unauthorized aircraft that often include the use of animals, wears religious headgear, travels without reservations, has a big beard, and visits Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, and other suspect countries every year. The man is also known to promote dangerous notions of social equality. If this suspect individual is seen, please alert the CIA, RCMP and CSIS immediately, and do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the individual's seemingly laid back demeanour."

Generals at the Canadian-based NORAD early warning system, upgarded earlier this year to become more in tune with U.S. space weaponization plans, announced they are fully prepared to launch kill vehicles if necessary to stop this threat.

More information on these issues can be found by contacting Homes not Bombs,,

Friday, December 21, 2012

Harkats head back to Supreme Court after 10 years of secret trial nightmare

By Matthew Behrens

Most couples sitting in courtrooms are there for separation and divorce proceedings. Not so Sophie and Mohamed (Moe) Harkat, who have spent years in court because they desperately wish to stay together. The Ottawa couple have spent the past decade resisting with all their might the attempt to make their marriage a threesome by a secretive party who, in a manner that most relationship counsellors would mark as a major red flag moment, refuses to be open and honest, all the while it questions the authenticity of the Harkats' love for one another.

While the Harkats would agree with the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that the state should stay out of the bedrooms of the nation, it is the secret trial security certificate legislation introduced by Trudeau that has resulted in Ottawa's perverse attempts to record, analyze and cross-examine the couple's most intimate moments. Under the secret trial provisions, the federal government can declare any refugee or permanent resident a threat to national security and then refuse to explain why. This relic of the Spanish Inquisition, which bears striking resemblances to the security laws under apartheid South Africa and Pinochet's Chile, continues to be pursued at the Federal Court of Canada, almost six years after it was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

December 10, International Human Rights Day, marked the 10th anniversary of this relationship between the Harkats and the secretive party, resulting in cameras at entrances to the Harkat home, phone taps on their line, a prohibition on cell phone and Internet use, being followed by armed men everywhere they go, having to find housing that will accommodate a parking spot for those who would surveil them, house raids by police with sniffer dogs, and dozens of other indignities.

The ultimate insult is that whenever Moe moves in bed or goes to the refrigerator for a glass of juice, the government knows because of the GPS monitoring device permanently strapped to his leg.

The Harkats' story is eerily reminiscent of the stalker movie Fatal Attraction, but in this case, the Glenn Close character is played by agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the scandal-plagued, inept spy agency whose profoundly single-minded obsession with Moe and a series of allegations that they refuse to make public have resulted in the Kafkaesque nightmare that the Harkats continue to live daily. CSIS has yet to boil a cute bunny rabbit in the Harkat kitchen, but the ultimate goal of their efforts is equally gruesome: they seek to deport Moe to Algeria, where he would face torture.

This is not a case for mediation. It's equally unsuitable for a proper legal proceeding, given that security certificates by legislation are based on information not normally admissible in a court of law. Hearsay, guilt by alleged association, and the lowest standards of proof in any court in Canada make for a dysfunctional show trial in the Federal Court, which for 21 years has provided judicial cover for thinly veiled renditions to torture.

To mark their 10th anniversary, the Harkats received a rather peculiar but hopeful gift: a 2013 invitation to argue their case at the Supreme Court of Canada, which for the third time since 2006 will consider the draconian legislation that's been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and various United Nations bodies, in addition to thousands of people across the country.

During the 2006 hearing, five Muslim men were subject to the draconian process, four of them detained without charge at the Guantanamo North facility in Kingston, one under house arrest. When the court unanimously found the process unconstitutional because it denied the named individual the right to know the case against them, the issue went back to the government. The detainees themselves called on Ottawa to treat them as they would any Canadian citizen under similar circumstances: if evidence actually did exist, charge them in a fair and open criminal proceeding, with the attendant procedural safeguards and protections, or let them go free.

But the government, along with a clearly biased Federal Court, chose to return to their old ways with some window dressing changes. Indeed, one Federal Court judge showed her preferential option for the powerful when she declared, "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." In addition, the Federal Court played partisan when it funded a study on continuing this process with the addition of special advocates, security-cleared lawyers who could see some of the secret case. That was the change introduced by the Harper minority government and passed with the shameful complicity of the Ignatieff Liberals. The secret trial process began anew for five Muslim men in February, 2008.

Shortly afterwards, the case against Montrealer Adil Charkaoui was withdrawn, and in 2009, Hassan Almrei became the first of the five to win a case on its merits when it was discovered CSIS agents "were in breach of their duty of candour to the Court."

Since then, the Harkats learned one of the potential informers in their case was carrying on an affair with a CSIS officer investigating them. CSIS also withheld information indicating an informer had failed a polygraph test. The Federal Court refused to throw out the case, but did declare "it was found to be necessary to repair the damage done to the administration of justice and to re-establish a climate of trust and confidence in this proceeding."

Meanwhile, most of the draconian conditions against Harkat were lifted, and the couple suddenly had hope that the end was near. But the security certificate against Harkat was upheld in 2010 based solely on secret allegations Harkat was still not allowed to see and challenge. At the time, Harkat lawyer Norm Boxall asked, "What can an innocent person do other than to say 'I didn't do it,' and then to be told that they're a liar based on material they can't face?"

In 2013, the core issue, unremarkably, boils down to the same problem that the Supreme Court identified in its 2007 decision: how can one meet a case that one does not know? How the court decides the issue will impact not only Toronto's Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah, both of whom are still waging a defence against allegations that date back to the mid 1990s, but also a whole class of refugees who are increasingly being deemed "inadmissible" to Canada based on secretive allegations.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Harkat lawyers Boxall and Matt Webber note Harkat is not alleged to be a danger to Canada, and that the two main witnesses in the public portion of the secret hearing had no personal or direct knowledge of the case against Harkat. Much of the case was also based on summaries of alleged phone intercepts, the originals of which had been destroyed, as well as secret informants, none of whom were allowed to be cross-examined by the special advocates in a secret session.

Harkat's lawyers call the public proceedings "more a fa├žade than a constitutionally compliant opportunity to know and challenge" the allegations. In 2007, the Supreme Court found that that secrecy and non-disclosure, "coupled with the grave intrusions imposed on a detainee, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find substitute procedures" that would satisfy an individual's Charter rights. The country's highest court also declared "fundamental justice requires substantial compliance with the venerated principle that a person whose liberty is in jeopardy must be given an opportunity to know the case to meet, and an opportunity to meet the case."

Clearly, the role of the special advocates -- who have taken on the tricky and problematic position of playing a restricted role in a secret proceeding while at the same time ferreting out significant details and the release of materials that no judge would be capable of doing on his own -- has made some difference in these cases. But it has not been enough, for they cannot be an adequate substitute to the detainee knowing the true nature of the case against them. The fact that two cases have been thrown out does not mean the system works or is compliant with fundamental rights. In Harkat's case, his lawyers note, Moe remains a "non-participant in the vast majority of the proceeding. The evidence that truly matters to him remains unknown."

Throw into the mix memos released last December in which CSIS acknowledged to the Public Safety Minister that none of these cases could stand if torture-gleaned evidence had to be removed, coupled with the major findings of CSIS malfeasance in two federal torture inquiries, and one can see that the house of cards is about to fall.

Significantly, with one bizarre exception, CSIS, after initiating 1-3 certificates a year from 1991 to 2003, has not issued a new certificate since May, 2003, a remarkable restraining of state power by grassroots organizing initiated and led by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada since August, 2001. But the human damage left behind remains all too real, from the devastating physical consequences of 100-day hunger strikes, years in solitary confinement, the psychological torture of limbo and the threat of deportation to torture, to government-sponsored home invasions, the ripple effects on families and communities, and the scarlet letter of always being a "suspected terrorist" in Google searches.

But while security certificates appear headed for the dustbin of history, some of their more pernicious attributes remain in place under the Orwellian-named Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Barb Jackman, a lawyer who likely has more experience with such cases than anyone else in Canada (dating back to the 1980s), notes that security certificate proceedings represent the tip of a rapidly growing iceberg, stating that  "hundreds and hundreds of people [are] accused of being terrorists in the other secret process before the immigration division members. Those people are equally wallowing in the same kind of mistreatment [as the secret trial detainees]. It's just not on the public radar because it's not in the press. You might say the [security certificate] cases may end and that's the end of the problem. But it's not. They've created an octopus. I have an office full -- dozens of people -- who are facing secret hearings in another context before people who aren't even judges and certainly are not fair in the way that they handle the cases."

While advocates rally around the three remaining secret trial detainees at the Supreme Court, they recognize that their work is far from over as repressive measures continue to grow against increasing numbers of asylum seekers in Canada.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years. This article originally appeared at

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Massive New RCMP Databank to Track Visitors to Canada

(this story originally appeared in the December, 2012 edition of Muslim Link)
By Matthew Behrens

            As major changes to Canada’s immigration system come into effect, one little publicized set of regulations will significantly impact privacy rights and, potentially, the future safety of those who wish to visit this country. Disturbingly, these regulations continue the trend of assigning the  presumption of guilt to anyone from non-European and Muslim-majority countries.
            On December 8, the Canada Gazette published a notice that biometric data (photographs and fingerprints) will soon be required for visitors from a list of some 30 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, territories governed by the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam and Yemen.
            Once the system is set up in the fall of 2013, it will affect as many as 300,000 people annually, impacting Canadian academic institutions, employers of so-called foreign workers, students from overseas, and the Canadian tourism industry. The cost of giving up such personal information will be $85 per person, in addition to a file held by the RCMP for at least 15 years.
            The government argues such measures are necessary to prevent the use of fraudulent documents and, in its standard canard, to maintain national security and the “integrity” of the immigration system. The list of countries was selected by immigration officials with the assistance of CSIS, the RCMP, Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (all agencies with a poor record of safeguarding individuals’ personal information, trading information with torturers, and mistreating members of Canada’s Arabic, South Asian, and Muslim communities).

Palestinians, But Not Israelis
            Notably, the regulations explain “Canadian foreign and trade policy objectives” were considered in creating this list which may explain why major trading partners such as China do not appear. Neither does Israel, whose Mossad agents have a history of using fraudulent Canadian passports to engage in assassination plots.
            Some exceptions are carved out for individuals under the age of 14 or over 79, as well as diplomatic staff and their families, refugee claimants, anyone coming to the Pan-American Games, and members of visiting armed forces.  The regulations claim this program will not affect those applying for permanent resident status, but provide no guarantee that this is where the invasion of privacy ends, for “future steps for broader implementation may be considered at a later date.”
            After two federal judicial inquiries found that the RCMP was complicit in torture for, among other things, improperly sharing information on Canadian citizens that was both false and clearly based on stereotypes arising from racial and religious profiling, critics are concerned about the agencies and countries with whom the Mounties will share this vast trove of new data. The regulations state the Mounties can share with Canadian law enforcement and the United States under a joint Canadian-U.S. declaration, “Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness.” That document states “we intend to work together to establish and verify the identities of travellers and conduct screening at the earliest possible opportunity. We intend to work toward common technical standards for the collection, transmission, and matching of biometrics that enable the sharing of information on travellers in real time.”
            Will the Mounties share personal information with overseas intelligence agencies in home countries that could in turn be used to harass, detain, and interrogate those who have visited Canada? Would questions arise about who was visited while here, the political opinions of individuals befriended in Canada, which mosque one prayed at, what the imam said during Friday prayer, what opponents of the regime may have been saying in Canada, and a host of other fishing expeditions that are not at all unrealistic given the findings of the above-mentioned inquiries?
            The government claims individuals worried about such basic civil liberties issues have no need for concern, as anyone who wants to visit will be informed as to the “potential uses of their personal information.” But how? Will that not be like providing those pages of fine print one sees in a credit card application when one needs a cash advance to cover the rent? Few people who need the credit read the terms and conditions anymore than it is likely that someone desperate to get to Canada will be provided a full tutorial of what the caveats mean, much less an overview of Canada’s history of abusing such provisos.

RCMP Holds Files
             This expanding era of data collection is based on a little-noticed field trial in which the CBSA and RCMP collected biometric data on some 14,000 temporary resident visa, study and work applicants in 2006/07. With the Harper government’s unrelenting rhetoric equating immigrants to Canada with risk and insecurity, it is unsurprising that this program is now on the books.
            “The fingerprints collected abroad would be sent to the RCMP for storage and would be checked against the fingerprint records of refugee claimants, previous deportees, persons with criminal records, and previous temporary resident applicants before a visa decision is made,” the regulations state, adding that since Canada does not currently have a biometric screening system, it will become a target for “bad faith travellers.”
            Bad faith travellers (one wonders, since this is directed at Muslim-majority countries, the extent to which this is an unintended pun) include “failed refugee claimants.” It’s a sweeping generalization that fails to account for the serious decline in acceptance rates that has little to do with the validity of a person’s requirements for asylum and more to do with poor advice, lack of an effective appeal, and increasingly narrow parameters in refugee decisionmaking.

Expanding Surveillance State
            In assuming that Muslim-majority countries produce “bad faith travellers” Canada is consistent with similarly broad targetting directed at these same populations either overseas or domestically. Examples of such profiling include the New York City “create and capture” program, in which police informants would attempt to bait Muslims into making inflammatory statements that could be used to justify future arrests, as well as the annual targetting by Toronto police of over 400,000 people during “non-criminal stops,” at which largely young black and brown-skinned men are asked their names, addresses, where they’re going, and who they’re with, all of which goes into police databanks. These numbers are higher per capita than New York City, and are matched in Ottawa, where racial profiling by police has led to human rights complaints and a new study that will document the ethnicity of those drivers stopped by police. (That study will not include pedestrians or cyclists similarly stopped, and, while likely confirming what most already know, fails to get at the root of the problem.)
            Overseas, Canadian Forces now collect iris scans of individuals they detain or who “act suspiciously,” with the view to supporting the work of other governmental departments. In other words, someone wrongly detained in Afghanistan who later seeks to come to Canada is already red flagged because they had previously been deemed “suspect” or of “bad faith”.  (The U.S. military has over 2 million such scans from Iraq and Afghanistan).
            How lethal does such targetting become? It certainly justifies President Barack Obama’s signing off on drone strikes, allowing him to claim civilian “collateral damage” deaths are so low because, as the New York Times reported May 29, Obama’a policy “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants… unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”
            Canada’s improper use of private information has led to overseas detention and torture, and its failure to implement the Arar Inquiry’s recommendations on information sharing – among other necessary safeguards to prevent the kind of guilty-until-proven-innocent logic of racial profiling – does not bode well for those supplying their prints and pictures to a visitor program that, within a decade, will possess over 3 million files.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Work for Freedom? You’re Inadmissible to Canada

Work for Freedom? You’re Inadmissible to Canada
By Matthew Behrens

Ahmad Daud Maqsudi is an Afghan refugee who’s been declared “inadmissible” to this country for involvement in an organization that has been supported by Canada and the CIA. Ironically, that same organization is nonetheless viewed as threatening by Ottawa because of its alleged role of “engaging in or instigating the subversion by force of any government.”
         For years, people like Mr. Maqsudi have had to rely on a faint-hope clause in immigration legislation that humanitarian factors would be taken into consideration in ultimately deciding whether the inadmissibility finding could be over-ruled when the individual circumstances of their cases are considered. While the Ministers of Immigration and Public Safety have the discretion to examine those unique features of each case, current interpretation of immigration legislation is so narrow that decisions are essentially based on the very limited and contentious grounds of “national interest” and “national security.”

         Such decisions – which fail to take into account whether the individual has become well-established in Canada, is law-abiding, embraces democratic values, and would suffer hardship if separated from loved ones – are condemning growing numbers to endless deportation procedures or decades of essentially stateless limbo.
         Among those most seriously affected are former or current members of groups seeking change everywhere from Palestine and Sri Lanka to South Africa and El Salvador. The interpretation of what it means to be a member is so broad that it can encompass someone who wrote for a party newspaper or provided catering services to a political meeting. Ottawa fails to consider, for example, whether someone joined a group before it took up arms or after it eschewed violence. It also fails to distinguish between membership in groups with a single brutal purpose – the employment of violence without regard to civilian casualties – and multi-faceted organizations that, while possessing a military wing, also act as de-facto governments that provide social services (such as the Palestine Liberation Organization).
         Maqsudi worked as a radio operator from 1981-92 as part of the struggle to rid Afghanistan of a Communist puppet government and Soviet occupation, a cause supported by Canada and the U.S. After working for the government of Afghanistan from 1992-96, he joined anti-Taliban efforts but was forced to flee the country. He returned in 2002 to work for the Karzai government, even serving in an embassy position in Germany, before claiming refugee status in Canada. His wife and children were both accepted as refugees, but Maqsudi was turned down. In a legal brief, Maqsudi notes that he has been deemed inadmissible for belonging to a group that  “subverted the Afghan Communist government by force,” even though that government (which ruled from 1978-1982) “has been designated by the Canadian government as a regime characterized by systematic or gross human rights violations, genocide, or war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Notably, the refugee board found that the organization to which Maqsudi belonged was not involved in terrorism, crimes against humanity or war crimes. 

         So what does one do if, despite being on the right side of history (at least in the eyes of Canada’s government), an individual nonetheless belonged to an organization, one of whose purposes was forcing change on an undemocratic government? It’s a conundrum that has been applied to exclude visitors and potential future citizens such as former and current members of the African National Congress (without his honourary citizenship, Nelson Mandela would be unable to get landed status in Canada) as well as individuals who were part of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, which is currently that country’s  ruling party. But the FMLN was at one timed deemed subversive for seeking to overthrow a government that ran death squads and oversaw the forced disappearance, torture, and summary execution on thousands of people during the 1980s. This one-size-fits-all approach is ruining the lives of refugees who have been waiting for landing, in some instances, for almost 20 years.
         The ultimate disposition of such cases may be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, which in October heard a significant appeal that, while garnering very little publicity, may have major ramifications.

         The appeal involves Muhsen Ahemed Ramadan Agraira, a Libyan national who left his country in 1996 and eventually claimed refugee status in Canada due to membership in the Libyan National Salvation Front (the “LNSF”). Notably, the LNSF was a secular paramilitary group that received the support of Middle Eastern and Western agencies, including the CIA, in efforts to destabilize the Gadhafi regime. The group ended armed operations in 1995.
         Agraira’s claim was rejected, but he married a Canadian in 1999. She submitted an application to sponsor her husband, which was accepted in principle, and Agraira proceeded to apply for permanent residence. In interviews with CSIS (Canada’s spy agency) and immigration officials, he said that he had only been involved minimally with the LNSF, that he supported their goal of democracy, and that he had exaggerated his original involvement in the group  to strengthen his refugee claim. He also said he had no knowledge that the group advocated violence and would not have been involved if he had known it to be true. Declared inadmissible, in 2002, he sought out the faint-hope clause and in 2006, the Canadian Border Services Agency – not known for friendliness towards refugees –recommended that he be granted relief when it concluded his presence in Canada would not be detrimental to the national interest. In 2009, the Minister of Public Safety disagreed and turned him down, even though Agraira had by then lived nine years of normal Canadian life, was a productive member of society earning over $100,000 a year, and had no criminal record.

         Ottawa’s Orwellian stubborn insistence on labeling organizations that the Canadian government itself has supported as subversive has become so perverse, Agraira’s lawyers argued, that  “individuals can be rendered inadmissible to Canada on the basis of activities that are legal and in accordance with Canadian values… Under this broad interpretation of ‘subversion’, individuals who worked with Canadian Forces or the United Nations against dictatorial governments that have committed mass human rights violations could be found to have engaged in ‘subversion by force’”.
         Indeed, the Canadian government, in helping overthrow the Gaddafi regime, worked alongside of the LNSF among many other groups.
         Longtime refugee lawyer and outspoken advocate Barb  Jackman, representing the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Tamil Congress, argued at the Supreme Court that the growing list of those caught in this frustrating net include a Sri Lankan woman who cooked meals for and acted as a secretary to her husband, a member of a legal political party who was assassinated. But because that party worked with the Tamil Tigers to negotiate an end to that nation’s civil war, however, she was judged inadmissible to Canada for being associated with a group that allegedly engages in terrorism.
         In another instance, Jackman pointed to a young woman from Namibia who attended a few meetings of a secessionist organization with her boyfriend. She had no knowledge of the group’s aims and activities, but was nonetheless found inadmissible because the government of Canada said the group was engaged in subversion. 

         In her trademark style, Jackman helped personalize this dilemma for the Supreme Court, explaining,  “You can be a kid growing up in Gaza and you want to go to university. The only way to get a scholarship? You join Hamas, in order to get out, and then, you can’t get landed [in Canada] because you joined Hamas to get the scholarship.” It’s those kinds of situations, she notes, that have plagued dozens of her clients and continue to cause the kinds of psychological stress and emotional upset that leave them separated from loved ones abroad, unable to get on with their lives, having to apply every year for a work permit or health coverage, essentially stateless.
         As the court ponders its decision, individuals like Mssrs. Agraira and Maqsudi continue living lives of limbo, never knowing if they will enjoy the peace and security they sought when they claimed asylum in Canada years ago. Even if the court rules in favour of Agraira, however, he won’t be out of the woods just yet. The Conservatives’ Bill C-43, if passed, will completely eliminate the faint hope clause, thereby prohibiting anyone found inadmissible on security grounds from even requesting such relief.
(this article appears in the November, 2012 edition of MuslimLink)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Canadian Vets Victimized by National Security State

Canadian Vets Victimized by National Security State
By Matthew Behrens
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose this year to spout his annual Remembrance Day propaganda half a world away in Hong Kong, the symbolic nature of his distance from a growing number of Canada’s alienated and neglected veterans seemed quite apropos.
            Indeed, while war veterans have never enjoyed the support they required, the gap between “support out troops” rhetoric and the miserable reality of countless veterans’ lives has become increasingly wide in the Harper years. The list of scandalous treatment is voluminous, including high rates of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (at least one in four Afghan vets suffers from PTSD), homelessness among former soldiers, clawed-back benefits, refusal to pay proper funeral expenses, and increased rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, along with huge increases in violence committed against loved ones, significant governmental invasions of privacy, and demonization of any vets who dare speak up for their rights.
            Numerous vets have remarked on the irony that the biggest battle they ever wage is with the government whose uniform they wear, with some of those epic struggles lasting decades. “We shouldn’t have to fight on Canadian soil,” declared wheelchair-bound veteran David Desjardins in 2011 after four years of struggling to get his benefits.
            Times and rhetoric may change, yet soldiers remain the cannon fodder of the national security state. They serve as a useful symbol of the virile values celebrated by the War Department and all of Canada’s “mainstream” political parties. Trained to dehumanize and kill their opponents, most never overcome the natural inhibition against murder and torture, and suffer the debilitating consequences on their return to a society that raises its eyebrows at their failure to “adjust”.
            Once home, they are ultimately abandoned by those who sent them to the front lines, a disconnect perhaps best illustrated by the image of Conservative MP Rob Anders snoozing through a hearing on veterans’ concerns (and his subsequent comments attacking the vets who spoke up in protest). Then there’s veteran advocate Sean Bruyea, whose file at Veterans Affairs grew to some 14,000 pages, with his confidential medical and financial files seen more than 4,000 times by over 850 people. One Veterans Affairs memo famously advised staff that it was time to take the gloves off with Bruyea, who subsequently told the Ottawa Citizen  “to be accused of being an enemy, that shocked me.”
            While the War Department’s top-heavy PR team pumps out stories of amputees who “come back” by taking part in events like the Army Run (now the fastest-growing marathon in Canada), they work in equal measure to hide the stories of departmental incompetence and neglect.
            Perhaps that’s because the presence of soldiers who do not return in one piece physically or psychologically – whether survivors of horrific injuries or self-medicating addicts dealing with psychic pain – remind us that war is not glorious and noble, but a brutal reality whose truths need to be hidden from the next generation of recruits. Harper announces a program for rehiring of veterans, but veterans complain they don’t get a fair shot and are passed over. Could part of that be fear that the appearance of a double-amputee co-worker might prompt others in the workplace to remember that war is not the clean, bloodless video game it’s so often made out to be?
            This is not a new story. Every year, regardless of who holds power in Ottawa, we read Auditor General reports, ombudsman conclusions, medical analyses, and individual accounts of armed forces members who are struggling to survive with the horrors they participated in and which were inflicted upon them. Family members travel to Ottawa to plead their cases, news headlines report that veterans’ concerns are falling through the cracks, ancient veterans are sitting in courts trying to have class action lawsuits settled from half a century ago, while beribboned generals do luncheon talks about how warriors never leave anyone behind.
            The abuses that soldiers suffer when they seek compensation from the Canadian government are similar to how the government treats everyone from torture survivors and targets of racial profiling to First Nations activists and environmentalists. All are viewed as enemies, and attempts to seek justice are met with a stonewalling bureaucracy that employs the tools of secrecy, deception, surveillance, harassment, and demonization to dismiss their concerns while upholding the image of military and spy agencies as “honourable” institutions incapable of doing any wrong.
            And so the list of those who suffer grows. Looking back over the past few years of government indifference, perhaps we should remember the children of Petawawa, whose anxiety and stress disorders when a parent was deployed overseas were described by the Ontario ombudsman as a crisis, with many children considering suicide. The Ontario and federal governments dickered over who should pay for counseling, leaving the children and their loved ones as bereft political footballs. Then there were the soldiers suffering PTSD who were simply shipped back to Kandahar. Unforgettable as well was the response of the War Department to countless cries for help from PTSD-sufferers who were waiting many months, despite suicide attempts, to see a psychologist: that help came in the pathetic form of a self-help video borrowing the wisdom of Star Wars character Yoda that “if you believe, you will achieve.”
            Even if soldiers do find health care, the Auditor General pointed out in 2007 that the military fails to keep track of whether its medical staff have the requisite licences and certifications. In 2008, then veterans affairs ombudsman Mary McFadyen found a military health care system stretched to the limit, with CFB Petawawa, home to 5,000 troops, served by only one psychiatrist and one psychologist.  Four years later, another report stated the situation at Petawawa was still a “crisis”, with the War Department cutting medical doctors involved in suicide prevention and treatment of PTSD.
            It’s hard to rile up the population to head off to new wars when the human damage done to soldiers is apparent (not to mention the civilian cost we never hear about in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places where Canadian Forces have wreaked havoc). These inconvenient facts are simply not part of Remembrance Day. Harper doesn’t want us to remember that in August, 2012, the Ottawa Citizen reported that families of soldiers are being denied basic benefits and supports by a hugely bureaucratic system. Equally unpleasant was the finding last February of Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent that legally required, clear explanations for rejection of benefits have not been delivered, and that “the appeal processes available in case of objection are formal, time-consuming, inconvenient, often intimidating to veterans and may be very costly.” That Auditor General had previously identified this in 1998, as had the Veterans Affairs Department itself in 2004 and 2010, but nothing has changed.
            While some soldiers are remembered, others are swept aside, such as Canadian Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, who while working in a clearly marked UN observer post in Lebanon in 2006 was killed with three others by a 500 kg Israeli smart bomb. The inquiry into his death was a whitewash, Canada’s alliance with Israel clearly deemed of greater importance.
            And then there’s the story that reeks of the worst aspects of Canada’s war culture: secrecy, dishonesty, deception, abuse and the reckless neglect that led to the suicide of a young Canadian soldier in Edmonton.
            During the spring and summer of 2012, a remarkable battle of wills played out in a small commission room in downtown Ottawa, home to the rarely convened Military Police Complaints Commission. The grieving parents of Canadian soldier Stuart Langridge wanted to know answers, but were met with denial, cover-up, and threats from some of Canada’s most powerful institutions. 
            Attendees at the commission hearings were struck by the presence of Stuart’s mother, Sheila Fynes, sitting in the front row as the most intimate details of her son’s 28 years were revealed, cross-examined, doubted, and attacked by government lawyers. Her strength, resolve, and courage, taking on the power of the military – the War Department had even ordered her not to contact them because of her relentless search for truth – was reminiscent of Peg Mullen, a similarly strong-willed mother whose efforts to find out what happened to her son in Vietnam were documented in the book and movie, Friendly Fire.
            For Fynes, this commission was the follow-on to three previous investigations which appeared designed to absolve the military of any blame in Stuart’s suicide. Witnesses to the inquiry revealed the story of a bright and humorous young man who began changing after deployment to Bosnia and whose personality underwent a severe about-face after his return from Afghanistan, with a half dozen suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse, night terrors, and an inability to access the help he needed from the military.
            Throughout the summer, the family agonized as government lawyers claimed confidentiality prevented them from releasing key documents. These might show that the military took extreme steps to cover up the details of Stuart’s case, rewriting the narrative to remove any connection between Stuart’s PTSD and the failure to properly treat him, leading to the eventual tragic outcome. Indeed, it came out that officials censored and slashed a report that revealed Stuart was on suicide watch.
            As a final insult, War Minister Peter McKay, the self-proclaimed friend to military families, refused to allow this family access to the interim report of the commission, which will only be seen by one side of the case (the military). Their full access to its preliminary findings will allow them the kind of input that may assist in the whitewashing of their role.
            Stuart’s father, Shaun, a former RCMP officer, did not mince words when he testified at the inquiry.
            “My son is dead because he didn’t get the proper care,” he declared.  “It’s disgusting what they did to my son. He was killed by the military.”  He added that Stuart didn’t “fall between the cracks, he was stuffed between the cracks,” and rather than being cut down after his body was discovered, was left hanging like a slab of meat for five hours.
            As the Fynes anxiously await the outcome, wondering if they will at last get not only answers, but also the kind of recommendations that will help others with PTSD, thousands of families deal with the daily horrific consequences of war on the home front. While McKay warns the military ombudsman not to be an advocate for veterans, families are forced to undertake the kind of extreme measures employed by Greg Woolvett, a father who, after his son’s two suicide attempts, literally kidnapped the soldier from CFB Petawawa for treatment in Windsor.
            All of which leads us to the conclusion of David Snyder, the father of a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan, who told CTV in 2008, “War is stupid. Everybody knows that. Well, no they don’t. The politicians don’t know that.”
            Something to remember year-round.
(This piece appeared on as part of a monthly series of columns called Taking Liberties)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Support Homes not Bombs on its 15th Anniversary!


The year 2013 marks the official 15th anniversary of Homes not Bombs, the loose-knit network of social justice advocates and nonviolence practitioners who have taken on a wide variety of injustices since we were founded in 1998. While we generally do not blow our own horn, we felt this would be an opportunity to reflect on some of our successes while also asking that you consider contributing to our ongoing costs so that we can continue on for years to come.

In the past 15 years,  we have many achievements to recall, including:

1. Founding the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, the group that took on secret hearing security certificates when few would touch the issue. Our work to advocate for the detainees facing secret hearings and years in solitary confinement eventually contributed to the landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision declaring this medieval process unconstitutional. Two of the five Muslim men subject to the process have had their cases quashed, while three others continue the struggle in the courts as we prepare, once more, to head to to the Supreme Court in 2013. Significantly, we have made the issue so controversial that CSIS has stopped issuing security certificates altogether. That being said, other repressive tools also involving secrecy in the immigration act continue to be used against a growing number of refugees, and so our work is not yet done.

2. Founding the group Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, which for years has worked to not only bring home those illegally detained and tortured overseas, but to ensure accountability and apologies for those who still suffer the effects of torture. Our cross-Ontario caravans, educational presentations, and ongoing vigils continue as we raise the uncomfortable questions about Canadian complicity in torture.

3. Leading significant nonviolent campaigns and civil disobedience actions across the province of Ontario, from trying to transform the War Department into the Housing Department to working with our friends in Hamilton to organize the Festivals of Life that led to the closure of the Hamilton War Show. We have also played a major role in focusing on drones (doing so beginning in 2002 when few thought this would become a major issue), with an ongoing campaign at L-3 Wescam in Burlington, as well as focusing on the manufacture of assault rifles and grenade launchers at Kitchener's Diemaco and weapons of mass destruction at Northrup Grumman (Litton) in Rexdale. Many of our actions have led to court victories that provide others engaged in direct action with precedents that can help them win their cases as well.

4. Founding the Anne Frank Sanctuary Committee, which has worked to open churches to the idea of hosting refugees at serious risk if deported. We have recently won two lengthy cases, saving individuals from deportation to torture, and continue working to find safe spaces for those increasingly at risk as a result of repressive legislation coming into effect this month.

5. Working with jailed Canadians held in the U.S. or overseas such as Khalid Awan, held since October, 2001, with many years spent in the infamous "Little Gitmo."

6. Founding St. Clare's Multifaith Housing Society, which grew out of our work with homeless youth in Toronto. Since the late 90s, hundreds of not-for-profit housing units have been constructed by St. Clare's.

While these important landmarks remind us of the power we have to frame an issue, focus in on those perpetrating an injustice, and come up with transformative solutions, they represent in many ways the tip of the iceberg in terms of our ongoing campaigning, much of which begins as individualized advocacy with those who have fallen through the cracks and expands into a wider social justice campaign when we see others facing the same plight.

Our work does not always make the news, but it still goes on, sometimes hidden from view given the delicate nature of some of the cases we handle. But rest assured, we continue on with the important work of nonviolence training, speaking in high schools, providing court support, and organizing public action.

Unfortunately, all of this does cost money, and we rely on the support of individuals like yourselves to help pay those bills for organizing both nationally and provincially.

We hope you can make a significant financial contribution to the work of Homes not Bombs (and perhaps share this with someone who is similarly able to do so).

You can do this three ways:

1. To receive a tax deductible contribution for donations over $100, contact us at and we can let you know the details.

2. If you do not need a tax receipt, simply write a cheque out to Homes not Bombs and mail it to PO Box 2020, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0.

Thanks so much for your support. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at


Matthew Behrens
Homes not Bombs

Friday, October 19, 2012

Canadian Khalid Awan Remains Stranded After Years at U.S. “Gitmo In the Heartland”

Canadian Khalid Awan Remains Stranded After Years at U.S. “Gitmo In the Heartland”

By Matthew Behrens

While Omar Khadr returned from Guantanamo Bay this fall, another abandoned  Canadian will shortly mark 11 years behind bars, much of that time in an Indiana hellhole known as Little Guantanamo and Gitmo in the Heartland. The case involves classic hallmarks of a national security system riven with physical and psychological torture: death threats, forced confessions leading to apparently trumped up allegations, lengthy periods of solitary confinement, indefinite detention, and the complicity of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
            Khalid Awan is a Canadian citizen, a Muslim originally from Pakistan who was working as an immigration consultant in New York City in the fall of 2001. Like tens of thousands of Muslims detained after 9/11, he too was targeted by officials whose racial profiling resulted in his extraordinary and violent takedown arrest and detention in October, 2001. This was designed to compel his appearance as a “material witness” at the grand jury investigating Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks (a simple subpoena would have done the trick). Since that day, Awan has been imprisoned under an escalating series of allegations and charges that can only be described as outrageous.
            Never charged in connection with 9/11, Awan was preparing for his release from detention in November, 2001 when he was re-arrested, this time for alleged credit card fraud tied to his immigration business. Awan says it’s ridiculous, considering no former client or bank made a claim against him. His fate is similar to that of many post-9/11 detainees, who often suddenly faced immigration and/or misdemeanour charges prior to release, as authorities sought to justify the original, unwarranted, illegal detention without charge. Such charges were useful because they conveniently fell under the umbrella of “anti-terrorism” statistics, making it look like the government was “securing the homeland”.
            Already traumatized by having been disappeared from the streets of New York City, Awan took the advice of a lawyer who said that, as a Muslim in those fearful days, he was unlikely to get a fair shake from a jury, and would do better to plead guilty. Awan says he entered a plea bargain, which guaranteed no future money laundering charges would be brought against him, in exchange for upwards of two years behind bars, but that agreement was not honoured, and instead, he received five years.
            As he prepared for his 2006 release, Awan was transferred from the federal penitentiary to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he expected that he would sign paperwork for deportation back to Canada. He then discovered that a Montreal police officer, seconded by the RCMP, had contacted Awan’s sister and brother-in-law wanting to know the location of Awan’s wife. No explanation was provided, though the Montrealers did tell the officer Awan’s wife was in Pakistan. Learning the RCMP was interested in her, Awan’s wife called a number of times and left messages on the officer’s answering machine, but never heard back. The reason for this sudden interest from the Mounties would soon become clear, when Awan was shortly hauled in to a lengthy interrogation with the FBI and a federal prosecutor, who threatened him with the arrest of his sisters in Montreal and his wife in Pakistan if he did not cooperate and act as a spy for the U.S. both in Canada and Pakistan.
            Awan was frightened, wondering how they knew where his relatives lived. They plied him with questions about topics for which he had no answer, and then threatened him with death by lethal injection, stating they only need make a phone call and Awan would be plastered across the media as a “big terrorist.”
            “I was intimidated and pushed to the edge during this interrogation, I was determined to provide anything these U.S. officials wanted to make them happy, even if the questions made no sense, because I wanted to stop the harassment of my family,” he later wrote. Awan further feared being branded a terrorist and put to death either in the U.S. or via deportation to India, whose government “would view me as an enemy, and [they] told me ‘you know better than I do what they can do with you.’” At Awan’s subsequent trial, an FBI agent frankly admitted that when they asked Awan to work for them as a spy in Pakistan and Canada, the “gist” of what the U.S. prosecutor had said to Awan was: “These are terrorism charges…You face serious penalties for these charges anywhere from jail to possibly even the death penalty.”
            As the interrogations of Awan continued, the Canadian officer called both of Awan’s sisters in Montreal and demanded they come to his office for investigation. Awan felt this was meant to put further pressure on him to spy for the Americans. Awan told his family not to meet with the Mounties without a lawyer present and to insist on getting the RCMP’s requests in writing; as normally happens when targets request the presence of legal counsel, the RCMP stopped calling. Nevertheless, the RCMP’s actions made real to Awan the FBI threats that failure to cooperate could result in harm coming to his family members. As one of Awan’s lawyers pointed out, FBI agent “Ross told Awan that Awan’s family in Canada was facing potential repercussions that Awan should take into account when deciding whether to accept the government’s proposal.”
            (Awan was also aware of revelations from the Arar Inquiry about the extensive U.S.-Canada cooperation on information sharing, rendition, and other forms of repression which have thrown countless people into the national security detention net.)
            Because Awan never agreed to be a spy, he feels he was subsequently charged based on the self-incriminating statements he had made under coercion and threat of death. He’d never been given an opportunity to review the statements that were written up by the FBI, and the government never made an effort to introduce corroborative evidence for those statements. Instead, the government indicted him for allegedly conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist entity, and money laundering to support terrorism during the years 1999-2005. Awan says this was a case of double jeopardy, since there was no new evidence presented for the years prior to his detention, and the charge violated the terms of his original plea bargain. He was also penniless while in prison.
            More bizarre, it was Awan, as a Muslim, who was accused of transferring a modest amount of money (some $4,000) to the Sikh nationalist group Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), which seeks an independent country from India, and KCF’s leader in Pakistan, Panjwar Singh. And for a final Orwellian touch: neither Singh nor the KCF were listed as terrorist entities by the U.S. government. After a judge threw out two of the three charges in pre-trial, the government simply issued a new indictment against Awan that rehashed the previous one.
            In a sign of how politically opportunistic this case has been, Awan was then asked to be a cooperative government witness against two members of the KCF (for which he no doubt would have gotten off lightly), but he declined, and so the government went to those same KCF members instead, who happily agreed to testify against Awan. Awan’s lawyers pointed out that even if one believed that Awan had transferred the monies, the KCF members’ testimony  failed to “establish that Awan had anything but a lawful intent to pass money along to a personal friend for lawful activities.”
            In addition to the statements he made while being threatened with death, Awan’s case had as a backdrop a series of secretly recorded conversations with a jailhouse snitch who was promised thousands in cash, status for the snitch and his family, and a reduced sentence for numerous crimes. In the manner of classic FBI-style sting operations that have marked the bureau’s anti-terrorism set-up operations, the snitch tried in 2003 to get Awan to make statements implicating him in KCF activities, but Awan only admitted he knew KCF leader Panjwar Singh. The snitch actually got Panjwar on the phone from Pakistan on several occasions and urged Awan to get on the line, but, according to legal briefs, “nowhere in the recordings did Awan state that he provided funds or resources to Panjwar or the KCF.” The only thing the tapes revealed was that Awan boasted that he know of Mr. Singh because, when he lived in Pakistan, Awan, then a civil servant, felt it best to have powerful acquaintances in the event he would ever need to call on them. Indeed, as the judge concluded, Awan’s motivation appeared “to have been to drop names and associate with people in power, people with reputations,” and not anything to do with politics. Dropping powerful names in jail can also bring about the kind of status that ensures a sense of safety.
            “At trial,” Awan’s lawyers wrote, “the government did not offer any bank records, wire receipts, or any other forensic evidence to establish that Awan ever sent funds to Panjwar or the KCF.” His lawyers add this was a case of “selective and vindictive prosecution,” noting the government waited almost until the last possible minute under the statute of limitations to charge Awan, rather than doing so years earlier.
            In the end result, the judge refused to believe the American government would threaten Awan and vengefully charge him for failure to become a spy, and, based on the illegally obtained self-incriminating statements, sentenced him to 14 years in prison. Yet the judge conceded that Awan was not involved in terrorism, noting “there is simply not sufficient evidence for me to conclude that Awan had, or for that matter, continues to have an intent to battle with the Governments of India or Pakistan to influence their conduct in any respect.” The court was provided with a comparison to the sentences meted out to American white supremacist terrorists who have plotted acts of violence including blowing up a federal building, assassination plots, killing a sheriff’s deputy, possessing deadly toxins like ricin, and other serious acts of violence that netted jail terms on average of 3-6 years.
            Post-conviction, much of Awan’s time was spent in Little Guantanamo in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the infamous Communication Management Unit (CMU, the polite phrase for a total surveillance and control environment), where Muslims rounded up in the “war on terror” have been incarcerated under brutal and isolated conditions. Awan recalls being in cells that originally held death row inmates that were freezing in winter, boiling in summer, and constantly leaked. Held in solitary confinement for close to a year, he was denied medical treatment and basic dignities like access to his eye glasses.
            Nonetheless, he pursued his case, complaining that the RCMP cooperated with the FBI in harassing his family and creating the conditions whereby the FBI could coerce him into self-incriminating statements. This was met with indifference by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Despite the  acknowledgement that the officer was acting on an FBI request made to the RCMP National Security Operations Branch in Ottawa, the Commission found that the officer’s actions were within the mandate of the organization and that this was all “standard procedure.” (This is the same kind of rationale that was used to defend many of the actions of Mounties in the torture of Canadians Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.) Readers of this column are familiar with the fact that standard procedure by the RCMP and CSIS generally fails to respect human rights.
             On a personal note, Mr. Awan has corresponded for over four years with me as a writer and advocate, but our attempts to set up email communication were stymied, and letters were rarely received. Mr. Awan filed a complaint with the RCMP, alleging the Mounties had interfered with our communication in an effort to prevent advocacy on his behalf. The Mounties concluded they had done no wrong, but the RCMP’s Complaints Commission disagreed, finding that the RCMP “Staff Sergeant Peter Lea inappropriately collected the information about Mr. Behrens for the sole purpose of providing it to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP),” and called on the Mounties to clarify their information collection and sharing policies, especially with respect to International Liaison Officers.
            Awan discovered through a FBOP memo that the RCMP had advised U.S. authorities that “Behrens was on probation for a violation of the law and was prohibited from corresponding with known felons.” At the time, I was on probation for a minor nonviolent trespassing incident at Burlington, Ontario’s L-3/Wescam, a longtime producer of key components for drone warfare, but no other conditions were placed upon me. It appears the RCMP inappropriately sought a copy of the probation order and shared both the order and their exaggerated interpretation with U.S. officials. While such practices not surprisingly continue long after the RCMP was whacked on the wrist by the Arar Inquiry, one cannot help but wonder about the extent to which the RCMP wants to cover up its less than appropriate role in the ongoing imprisonment of Mr. Awan.
            Khalid Awan has been subject to several prison transfers over the past year, and continues his efforts to receive a transfer to Canada with the assistance of the Centre for Constitutional Rights. His spirit remains unbowed, and he hopes that by publicizing his case, justice will eventually be done and he will again walk the streets a free man.

Monday, August 20, 2012

War Dept. Drones on With Summer Splurge

War Dept. Drones on With Summer Splurge
By Matthew Behrens
With student activists away for summer vacation, it was the perfect occasion in late July for Carleton University to celebrate a new $40 million war training contract. In partnership with war manufacturer CAE, Carleton’s Visualization and Simulation Centre will enable Canadian Forces to better practice, in the coarse but memorable phrase of former Canadian warlord Rick Hillier, the fine art of killing people.
         In a moment that would have done Orwell proud, Carleton President Roseann O’Reilly Runte gushed: “This is about saving lives. This is about saving money.” On hand for the announcement was foreign affairs minister John Baird, who boasted this war training partnership will advance  “Canada’s security interests and…Canadian values around the world.”
         If such values are so great, one wonders why they need to come out of the barrel of a gun. But that’s a non-issue in a national security state: when everything comes down to the rhetoric of “saving our way of life” from some unknown threat, and protecting “our soldiers” from the threats we often arm to begin with, everything becomes justified, from transfers to torture to starving the poor of billions to pay for the War Dept.’s high-tech toys.
         Such announcements regularly occur on Canadian university campuses, but hopefully it will spur at Carleton the kind of protest that shut down similar attempts to exploit bright young minds for nefarious purposes (such victories occurred at OISE and the University of Toronto (
         The Carleton University contract was one of numerous  boondoggles announced during summer break by a Canadian War Department that’s busily seeking our new enemies and new rationales to shield the lion’s share of a $23 billion budget that is unquestioned by all major political parties. The military is so awash in funds that last March, their expenditures jumped 14% and no one could explain why.
         In May, Canada’s Parliamentary budget watchdog remarked that the Harper government had deliberately misled the public on the costs of the F-35 stealth bombers (a deception built upon bureaucrats within the War Dept. also ignoring their own internal warnings that the bomber project was  plagued by serious troubles).
         Shortly after, we also learned that War Minister Peter MacKay had also low-balled government figures by almost seven times when he discussed how much it cost to drop bombs on the people of Libya (over $350 million at last count). Needless to say, the Libyan “mission,” as it was delicately called, was an important benchmark for MacKay and the generals, who got to play with new equipment and push for new weapons programs as a result.
         Meanwhile, the drawdown in Afghanistan – where Canadians fired off almost 5 million bullets in one 20-month period – is making some Canadian soldiers itchy. In one Ottawa Citizen interview, a Kingston sergeant explained that garrison life on the home base “really discourages a lot of guys. The question becomes, ‘When do we go next?’ Adrenalin is a drug and they need the heart-pumping excitement and that level of unknown to keep them happy now.”  ( Thus, war is an experience we must incessantly provide to those trained to be warriors, finding new enemies and places to bomb so we can keep our soldiers happy.
         Some of the boys apparently got what they wanted when millions were wasted last month as a Canadian contingent of 1400 soldiers were shipped off to Hawaii to take part in the U.S.-led Rim of Pacific war exercises, an attempt to remind China of who’s boss on the world stage (and perhaps to reassure Canadian mining firms that help is not far away when Asian locals agitate over poor working conditions, toxic spills, or the murder of their union leaders).
         The irony here is that at the same time we are preparing for war – if necessary – with China –  the busy Mr. Baird signed a deal to export increasing amounts of Canadian uranium to the nuclear weapons-holding government of Beijing, a slap in the face to nuclear non-proliferation.
         And while the Pacific was being pounded with ordnance, we also learned the Canadian Forces are working to establish bases in the Caribbean, East Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia. This allows Canada’s military to “project combat power/security assistance and Canadian influence rapidly and flexibly anywhere in the world,” according to a memo signed by Canada’s top soldier, Walter Natynczyk. (July 20, Ottawa Citizen)
         Part of that power projection will be done not so much with  human beings who – despite thorough indoctrination in home-grown training camps to eliminate their sense of empathy with those they are commanded to kill or transfer to torture – remain vulnerable to the twinges of humanity that lead to afflictions like post traumatic stress, depression, and suicide. Rather, the path forward is the remote control warfare that has become de rigeur over the past decade.
         Indeed, the eagerness of War Minister Peter MacKay and his cronies to grab their joysticks and bomb from the safety of five thousand miles away in Playstation fashion is clearly palpable. The U.S. and Israel have long dominated in the global use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), but now most countries are getting in on the act because of cost savings (especially relative to multi-billion contracts like the F-35 stealth bomber) and the relatively lower political costs (no troop deployments, no body bags from “our side,” no embedded media who might step outside the boundaries and inspect the “collateral damage” on the ground).
         And so we have also learned that Canada’s poor will have to sacrifice an additional $1 billion so that armed Predator drones and their Hellfire missiles will be part of Canada’s growing arsenal.
         The drones are also touted as vehicles by which Canada somehow “saves lives,” but this equation always leaves out the lives at risk on the ground. Over 3,000 souls have been slaughtered from the skies in the not-so-secret and clearly illegal drone war waged by Obama and his minions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the rapidly evolving technology is also being used to prevent refugees from finding asylum and to target political demonstrations. Drones represent the ultimate tool in a 24/7 surveillance and punishment society: the forces of control can always monitor us and, when convenient, vaporize us, without any sense of transparency or accountability.
         They’ve been used extensively by Obama in his targeted assassination program, and are increasingly privatized to take them out of the already limited loop that would provide any measure of accountability. Indeed, private mercenary firms like Blackwater are deeply involved in arming and conducting drone strikes, thus privatizing larger portions of what’s known as the “kill chain.” Ironically, by the rules the Pentagon plays, such use of private mercenaries creates a whole new army of “unlawful combatants” who, if captured by the Taliban, would have no rights under the Geneva Convention. But such a scenario is unlikely, since the Taliban cannot invade the safe sanctuaries in New York and Nevada in which drone “pilots” sit in air conditioned comfort and fire the missiles.
         The usual rationale for anything military these days is being touted in the drone PR: it is to protect “our Arctic” (and the precious resources that we stole from First Nations) from anyone who’d steal them from us. But even the War Dept. knows this is a red herring, as an internal assessment revealed in late June concluded Russia poses no threat to the region (
         But corporations like Northrup Grumman are not letting logic or the facts get in the way of a good profit, and so in June pitched the Canadian government at the annual Ottawa weapons bazaar, CANSEC. War merchants have until September 28 to submit their tenders to provide the Canadian War Dept. with a fleet of Hellfire-armed Predators.
         In addition to the direct damage caused by drone strikes, they play a huge role in projecting psychological torture on those who live beneath them.
            Last year, Pakistan’s Foundation for Fundamental Rights, in conjunction with UK human rights group Reprieve, brought together 350 people to discuss the traumas of life under the drones, which many reported seeing ten to 15 times a day. The anxiety of never knowing when the hovering drones will strike is unimaginable: war by drone is a form of torture, an indefinite death sentence hanging over the heads of villagers that can be executed at any time of the day and night. And the victims never know what hit them, as Hellfire missiles travel faster than the speed of sound. In addition, after a drone strike, villagers often face death squads who believe someone in the village provided targetting data. Kidnappings and torture ensue, a convenient extension of the “kill chain” that begins back in a Nevada bunker.
         The social justice group Homes not Bombs has long protested at the site of Canada’s largest drone profiteer, L-3 Wescam, located right next door to a private elementary school in Burlington, Ontario. The group conducted their first attempted weapons inspection of the plant in late 2002 and numerous direct actions have followed, but such challenges have, unfortunately not slowed the relentless search for newer targetting systems (though one employee informed the group of a resignation, spurred to leave when s/he discovered the true nature of their work).
         L-3 Wescam announced last month at the UK’s annual Farnborough weapons show the launch of its MX™-10D electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) imaging and designating turret, with their equipment showing, in the lifeless language of murder, “exceptional performance in all modes of flight throughout the HELLFIRE operational envelope.”
         Canadians concerned about remote control murder, the rights of refugees, and freedom to associate would do well to resist Canada’s new generation of drone warfare: with this technology, the wars have truly come home.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ramadan Solidarity Fast With Benamar Benatta

An appeal from Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture (please share and distribute widely)


As Ramadan is set to begin on July 20, we invite you to consider signing a public declaration in support of Benamar Benatta, Canada's first post-9/11 rendition to torture (September 12, 2001). While you can read more on Benamar's case at, in essence. Mr. Benatta spent five years behind bars in the United States, often under conditions amounting to torture, simply because the Canadian government falsely labelled him a threat to national security and turned him over to the U.S. as a 9/11 suspect.

As Mr. Benatta continues his often lonely struggle for justice (a struggle mirrored in many cases across Canada and the rest of the globe), we invite you to consider joining a solidarity fast with Mr. Benatta and all others seeking accountability for the crimes committed by the Canadian and related governments.

We invite those of the Muslim faith to sign their names to the document below as a statement of solidarity with fellow Muslim Benamar Benatta. We also invite those who are not necessarily Muslim to join in a solidarity Ramadan fast in support of Mr. Benatta as well as all those who continue to be unjustly, and illegally, targetted for persecution, torture, and exile in the name of "security." (If you can only fast for certain periods, please indicate that in signing the statement, i.e, fasting for this week, these days, etc.)

The statement will be publicly announced, with names affixed, on July 19, 2012. Please send your name as a signatory to

A central tenet of the Muslim faith is the idea that one is called upon to assist those less fortunate than oneself. That expression of solidarity with the poor, the persecuted, the disadvantaged, takes on added meaning during the month-long fast of Ramadan. It is during this time when Muslims, in order to feel both closer to God and to better feel empathy for those they are called to assist the rest of the year, experience the self-restraint of a sun-up to sun-down fast every day, for a month.

Muslim detainees fill the jails of the world, persecuted on the basis of their faith. Many people of Arabic, Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage and Muslim faith find themselves in U.S., U.K., and Canadian jails, often without charge or bail, on secret allegations neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see.

In addition, survivors of torture in which those governments are clearly complicit continue seeking accountability, apologies, and compensation for the decisions of governments that have led to their torture.

This year, we join with the call from Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture to join a solidarity fast with Benamar Benatta, a refugee from Algeria who was rendered to torture by Canada to the U.S. on September 12, 2001. Mr. Benatta was subjected to torture in the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, New York (as documented by the United Nations and the U.S. Department of Justice) and lost five years of his life behind bars, despite the fact the FBI knew in November, 2001, that there was nothing against him.

Mr. Benatta had been racially and religiously "profiled" by the Canadian government, falsely naming him a 9/11 suspect before turning him over to the Americans, with entirely predictable consequences.

On July 20, 2006, Mr. Benatta was finally released from prison and allowed back into Canada, still wearing his prison uniform, to continue with his refugee case and to try and piece his shattered life back together.

July 20, 2012, the 6th anniversary of Benatta's return to Canada, is the start of Ramadan. As Mr. Benatta struggles to find work in his field of aeronautical engineering and continues to fight the demons of post traumatic stress disorder, he seeks an apology from a Canadian government whose own internal documents admit they are legally culpable for the decision that led to his illegal deportation and torture.

Mr. Benatta is not alone seeking such justice: numerous others who were racially and religiously profiled by Canadian "security" agencies continue their struggle for accountability as well.

During this month of Ramadan, 2012, (July 20-August 18), we the undersigned will join in sun-up to sun-down fasting in solidarity with Mr. Benatta and all those continuing to seek justice from governments that have made the conscious choice to make expendable the lives of those they illegally, and immorally, deem "suspect," and thereby condemn to the most unimaginable cruelty.


1. Write a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews ( and Prime Minister Stephen Harper ( calling for an apology and compensation for Mr. Benatta.
2. Contribute to the costs of Benamar's struggle. Cheques can be made out to Toronto Action for Social Change  (put "Benatta" in the memo portion of the cheque) and mailed to TASC, PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street Perth, ON, K7H 1R0.
3. Offer Benamar Benatta a job if you are in the Greater Toronto Area.

More info: Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, (613) 267-3998,