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