How Prime Minister Trudeau can prove that he is serious about fighting Islamophobia

Last June, I watched the Islamophobia summit that was held online. From the beginning until the end, I sat patiently for long hours listening to speaker after speaker who came to share their own experience with Islamophobia, or to present some of their research and activism on the topic, or to the politicians presenting the policies or legislation they were suggesting to fight Islamophobia.

It is the Liberal government who agreed to hold this Islamophobia summit after the deadly Islamophobic attack in London, Ontario when a young Canadian man drove his truck into a Canadian Muslim family, killing four members and leaving the youngest boy an orphan.

It is under the pressure of several members of London, Ontario community and the outrage and shock expressed by many Canadians that the summit was put together.

I had mixed feelings about the summit.

One on hand, this sort of public stunt can be very politically useful in dispensing with most of the anger and the fear that many Muslim Canadians felt and expressed immediately after the horrible event. It was a high-profile event, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke, several of his ministers did show up and spoke as well as activists and academics. Muslims can feel that their issues matter, and they are being given some attention.

On the other hand, an event is never enough. A day is never enough to address all the issues and angles related to Islamophobia. The speakers were somehow selected, either through the government channels or pushed forward from particular advocacy groups. Forgotten were many voices speaking about themes like national security and Islamophobia, the war on terror and Islamophobia, media and Islamophobia. Perhaps both topics and speakers were picked in an effort to sterilize the discussion in order to not make some politicians feel uncomfortable: a sort of “Islamophobia-washing.”

Just a few months after the Islamophobia summit, an election was called by Prime Minister Trudeau in a bid to flip his minority status into a majority one. Needless to say, his bid failed and we are back to a Parliament that almost mimics the previous one: a minority Liberal government with a Conservative official opposition and the NDP holding the balance of the power. If there was a major difference between the pre-election landscape and the post-election one, it would be the emergence of the People’s Party of Canada of Maxime Bernier, which gained more than 800,000 votes; an unprecedented move opening the door to official hate, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Canada.

During the leaders’ debate, I don’t remember once hearing the word Islamophobia as if the killing of three generations of the same family motivated by hate wasn’t enough to bring the topic into Canadian affairs.

In his address during the Islamophobia Summit, Prime Minister Trudeau said:

“Today, I’m here to listen to you on what our next steps should be to continue building a country where everyone is welcome, safe, and respected. This is not your burden to carry alone. As a society, this is everyone’s responsibility to take on.”

Later, he added “The politics of division cannot take root if we refuse to be divided. Hate cannot creep into the mainstream if we all speak up against it.”

In order to make the organizers of the summit on Islamophobia accountable and to help Prime Minister Trudeau and his new government stay faithful to his words, I think it is important to set some concrete objectives. We must make the fight against Islamophobia a clear one and not a simple public relations pre-electoral performance that would be forgotten until the next Islamophobic attack.

One of the issue that I didn’t hear during the Islamophobia summit was the strong link between the Canadian national security laws and Islamophobia. As if the two past decades of war on terror with what they brought as new anti-terrorism legislation, war in Afghanistan, spying and arrests of Muslim Canadians had no impact on shaping the narrative about the “dangerous nature” of Muslim Canadians and thus the banalization of their physical harm.

This link is key in understanding the state of Islamophobia in Canada. We can’t claim to fight Islamophobia while in the imaginations of many Canadians, (prompted by some media and some politicians), Muslims still represent a threat to “us.”

To fight this narrative and break the false premise that Muslims represent a threat to our national security, concrete actions should be undertaken by the new government.

I consider the three following cases to be litmus tests for Prime Minister Trudeau to prove he is serious about his statement at the Islamophobia summit about what he said “next steps should be to continue building a country where everyone is welcome, safe, and respected.”

Since 2008 until today, Hassan Diab’s case has remained in a legal limbo. In theory, Diab is a free man but with the real possibility to be extradited to France for another trial. Despite a French judge finding the evidence that he was in Lebanon at the time of the Synagogue attack which he is suspected of bombing in 1980, Diab’s case isn’t closed. Under the pressure of the family, victims and other advocacy groups, a new trial will open, and his extradition will once again be requested.

What does Islamophobia have to do with it?

Diab is a Canadian citizen of Muslim Lebanese descent. The fact that he is suspected in a case of Paris Synagogue bombing makes his case intertwined with the dangerous narrative of “violent Muslims.” The legal treatment of his case showed many times a relentlessness in indicting him that can’t be explained other than by the regional origins and religion of Diab.

Several times, the case of Hassan Diab has been compared to the case of Dreyfuss, a Jewish French military officer who was wrongly accused by his superior of treason because of the ambient antisemitism that prevailed French politics in the 19th Century.

The prevalence of Islamophobia in France is very well documented. Diab found himself caught in those French politics.

Sending an innocent person to France as a sacrificial lamb for some advocacy groups or  to appease the French far-right national politics with another “Arab” conviction is wrong.

With the recent nebulous statement by former justice minister David Lametti about changing our extradition laws, the case of Hassan Diab remains hanging between the hands of Canadian politicians. What is preventing the government from  having enough courage to fight for the rights of one its own Muslim citizens?

Double standards for the two Michaels

From 2006 until today, Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen of Uyghur descent, remains in prison in China despite having renounced his Chinese citizenship. Because of his activism for the Uyghur cause, he was arrested by authorities in Uzbekistan in 2006 and extradited to China where he was sentenced to life in prison. Later, his sentence was reduced to 18 years after he attended a re-education camp, according to Chinese authorities.

His wife, Kamila Telendibaeva living in Ontario with her four children, was interviewed recently and confirmed that she had no news about her husband.

Here’s where the Islamophobia comes in.

Several human rights organizations have documented the prosecution of Uyghur in China. The U.S. Senate passed a law to ban goods manufactured in the labour camps in Xinjiang by Uyghurs. There is evidence of Uyghurs being forced to eat pork and being disallowed to learn their religion in these so-called re-education camps. Uyghurs would not be persecuted if they were not Muslim.

With the recent return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to Canada, the case of double standards seems very obvious. A strong government campaign was organized for the release of the “two Michaels.” In contrast, Canadian officials have been troublingly silent about Huseyin Celil.

In order to prove that all Canadians are treated the same and that he is serious about fighting Islamophobia, it is crucial that Prime Minister Trudeau call his Chinese counterpart and ask for the release of Huseyin Celil.

There are at least 32 Canadians detained in the refugee camps in northeast Syria. The majority of them are women and children. Many European countries repatriated their citizens from those camps where diseases and violence are widespread.

Despite former public safety minister Ralph Goodale having previously declared that Canada is gathering the legal tools and evidence required to prosecute whomever committed acts of violence during their time in Syria, whether they joined the arms of ISIS or found themselves in situations where they were forced to act against their will, almost nothing has been done by the Trudeau government. Recently, a lawsuit was filed by the families of 26 Canadians detained in these camps against the government to challenge this inertia and pressure the Canadian authorities to repatriate these Canadians.

Islamophobia or being nice to the “terrorists”?

By repatriating the Canadians detained in Syria, Trudeau will be able to break this persistent and misleading link between violence and Muslims. Whoever participated in acts of violence, for ideological reasons, whether Muslim or not, should be brought to court and given due process.

Alexandre Bissonnette killed six Muslim men in the Quebec City Mosque, Guilherme Von Neutegem slaughtered a Muslim caretaker of the Etobicoke Mosque, Nathaniel Veltman killed a grandmother, a mother, a father and their daughter by driving his truck into them in London, Ontario. All these Canadian men were motivated by ideology-driven hatred of Muslims. Yet, those three perpetrators received due process.

Why don’t we do the same for Canadians who went to Syria to join extremist groups? Release them if they are innocent or prosecute them if they committed crimes.

Leaving the Canadians detained in Syria to rot in camps is not proof of political leadership. Keeping quiet about Huseyin Celil isn’t a sign that Trudeau is serious about Islamophobia.

Avoiding the case of Hassan Diab and not changing the extradition laws will only help to continue the normalization of Islamophobia in Canada.

This article was originally published at rabble.ca

Omar Khadr’s Case A Black Stamp On Canada’s Human Rights Record

Canada is in celebratory mood this year, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Confederation. The Canadian government has been funding cultural initiatives here and there to promote the diverse communities living together and to bring the multicultural aspect of Canada.

Internationally, Canada is portraying itself as an open country, accepting refugees from war ravaged countries like Syria. A sort of the antithesis of the American policies recently announced by U.S. President Trump to ban refugees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes himself as a feminist, taking selfies with young Muslim girls in hijab. A sharp contrast with the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, whodefunded the Ministry of Status of Women and dehumanized Muslim women by fomenting the niqab debate.

However, amidst this festive and open atmosphere, there is a dark cloud that keeps the rays of the sun from reaching everyone. The case of Omar Khadr is a black stamp on Canada’s human rights record.

Omar Khadr was a child when he was imprisoned by the Americans in the military base of Bagram and later airlifted to Guantanamo Camp, where he was forcibly kept for over a decade. He was subject to physical and psychological abuses. He was betrayed by successive Canadian governments: Liberal and Conservative alike wanted him to stay in jail, far away from the public eye and TV cameras. No other western country dealt with its citizens detained in Guantanamo like Canada shamefully did.

Along these years, some prominent Canadian voices rose up to denounce the treatment of Omar Khadr, but they were not enough to deter the Paul Martin government, and later the Harper government, in refusing to call for the repatriation of Omar Khadr. In fact, then-prime minister Harper and his cabinet ministers kept justifying Omar Khadr’s incarceration by the fact that he was convicted in the killing of a U.S. paramedic. Needless to say, this conviction came as the result of a plea bargain Omar Khadr had made with his American jailors to gain his transfer out of the Guantanamo prison.

Even when Omar Khadr was returned to Canada after the insistence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he was immediately imprisoned and kept there for three more years.

These days, the case of Omar Khadr has slipped under the radar. Even some human rights activists think that the return of Omar Khadr back home would mark the end of his tragic story. But it wouldn’t. Omar Khadr never received any apology for the treatment he was subjected to in Guantanamo.

For instance, in 2008, Canadians officials flew to Guantanamo specifically to interrogate him and were never interested in his well-being. They offered to buy him a burger and some treats to get information out of him. When he understood that they were there for their own professional interests and not for helping him, Omar Khadr, became uncooperative with them. The Canadian officials pushed him to say what he clearly didn’t know. This behaviour is reprehensible and should be denounced. Unfortunately, Canada never distanced itself from the actions of its officials despite the reprimand of the Supreme Court ruling declaring that Omar Khadr’s rights were violated under the Charter of Rights.

Dennis Edney, the Canadian legal counsel for Omar Khadr, has been a hero in defending his client. Not only did he defend Omar Khadr under difficult circumstances, but he also accepted him in his home and protected him as one of his own children. Recognizing the work accomplished by Dennis Edney on behalf of Omar Khadr should be celebrated by all Canadians and not fought or hidden.

Recently, Omar Khadr had to undertake a 19-hour-long surgery on his shoulder as a result of bullet wounds he suffered when he was shot in the back by the U.S. military. This serious surgery will undeniably delay Omar Khadr’s efforts to progress in his studies and life.

Omar Khadr was stripped of his rights as a child, as a teenager and later as an adult. Today, he is trying hard to put his life back on track and get the education that was denied to him all these past years. As long as Omar Khadr file is still lingering, Canada won’t be able to hide its dark face and celebrate its record on the world scene. It is time for the Canadian government to act swiftly and let the sun shine on Omar Khadr’s life.

This article was published on the Huffingtonpost: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/monia-mazigh/omar-khadr-canada_b_15948786.html

Islamophobia: an entire system and not few isolated acts

It is sad that it took a tragic event to gather to denounce what has been normalized in the last long 15 years.

It took the killing of six good fathers, hard working men, to start talking about what has described the lives of Muslims communities across Canada.

Today, some people are saying that this happened in Quebec because it is a closed society or because they have trash radios that incite all day to hate and racism. These are simplistic explanations; they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Racism, xenophobia, discrimination has been rampant in the past years in Canada and specifically after 9/11. They have been normalized by some media and some politicians and legislation.

It is a general problem. It is not only specific to Quebec City or the province of Quebec; it has been growing in many cities across Canada:

Remember the two Muslim girls who were threatened last fall in Edmonton by a man who was singing the national anthem and showing them a noose. Today this man has not been charged.

Remember the Muslim woman wearing a scarf who has been attacked in the supermarket in London Ontario by a screaming and violent woman. Last June 2016

Remember PEGIDA, this xenophobic anti-Muslim group that was able to hold a protest in Toronto last June 2016.

Remember the Mosque of Peterborough that has been burned last November 2015.

Remember the Muslim woman here in Ottawa who found an offensive and racist note telling her to go back home also in November 2015

But most of all remember what Canada has done since 2001:

The introduction of Bill C-36 the first antiterrorism legislation that took many of our rights away and most of all demonized Muslims as if they are a threat to the security of Canada.

Remember all the security certificates cases that targeted Arab Muslim men: Mahjoub, Jabalah, Almari, Charkaoui, Harkat. Whose wife, Sophie was speaking at teh begining of the rally and who is until today still threatened by imprisonment and torture if deported? If the treatment of these men is not the culmination of Islamophobia to its ugliest form, how else can we justify their imprisonment without due process, the spying on them, their harassment, the stigmatization of their children and their families forever?

We shouldn’t forget the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015.

It was introduced by Harper with the blessing of Trudeau and the liberals. What was described as a lone wolf attack was followed by the most invasive, the most discriminatory and most likely unconstitutional piece of legislation that targeted Muslims, First Nations, environmentalists groups and many other activists.

But that was not the only islamophobic shameful legacy left by Harper and his government:

Remember The Barbaric cultural practices act, The Niqab ban at the citizenship ceremony, the use of the word mosque as an example where terrorist plots are being plotted and what Harper called “Islamicism” as the biggest threat to Canada.

My friends, this is what we are fighting today. Not some isolated acts. Not few bad apples. But a system. A whole system that dehumanized entire communities, a system that created two classes of citizens and two sorts of laws. One for the criminals and one for terrorists aka Muslims. One for citizens and one for refugees. One for the strong and wealthy one for the poor and the vulnerable.

Our solidarity today is needed more than any time before. Working hand in hand with groups and communities will be our path to victory. Today more than any time before, we need to talk to each other, get to know each other and support each other.

And please remember that all is not dark and depressing. There are people around us who are not filled with hate. There are people around us who do not believe the fake news and won’t accept the dehumanization of the Others. The won’t accept there is us and them. There is only US together. Those people are here today and we will not give up until things will be better and until injustice stops.

This is my speech given at the rally held in Ottawa against the Islamophobia and for the refugees on February 4, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando Shooting: Using tragedies to push for Anti-Muslim agenda

In 2004, I run as a federal candidate for the New Democratic Party in the Ottawa South riding. I run in the midst of the same-sex marriage debate in Canada. My position was the following: as a religious person, I couldn’t vote for the same-sex legislation but as I human right advocate I couldn’t oppose rights to other groups who have been persecuted and oppressed. So I decided that in case I will be elected, I would abstain from voting.

My decision was harshly criticised from both sides. Within some party supporters, I wasn’t “progressive” and “liberated” enough. I was just a conservative Muslim wrapped in a scarf, some of them even said Burqa, trying insidiously to impose my backward Muslim views to the party and to Canadians. On the other side of the spectrum, for many Muslims (who anyway voted for the Liberal party and forgot that same-sex marriage legislation was introduced by then Prime Minister Paul Martin) I was a traitor to my religion and beliefs, an opportunistic who simply wanted to get elected.

And I wasn’t elected and both sides were relieved, I imagine.

Today, after the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, once again Muslim religious beliefs are on trial by some media and by some politically motivated groups pushing for their Islamophobic agenda. It seems that each time, there is a violent attack organized by individuals, who happens to be Muslim or have a Muslim name, the whole Muslim religion is on the bench of the accused. After 9/11, the trial was “Islam is inherently violent. It is against freedom and liberty”. After, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, the trial grew even bigger to include this time “Islam is an angry religion against freedom of expression” and recently after the killing of 49 people in the gay nightclub in Orlando, the newly brought accusation is “Islam is a religion that incites for hate towards homosexuals”. These narratives built on centuries of ignorance about Islam and on deeply entrenched orientalist attitude, quickly become absolute truth and unchallenged especially in some media. As a result, one Muslim representative after another is invited on TV or radio to defend Islam from these stereotypes but the more these defensive reactions are made the more people started to believe the opposite and thus perpetuating the stereotypes.

After 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan was made legitimate on the back of Muslim women wearing Burqa. Georges Bush, his wife and Cheryl Blair, wife of Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, all of them used “feminist arguments” to justify the war in Afghanistan. Everyone became feminist over night when it came to liberate Afghan women from Burqa. Even the most misogynistic groups and individual in the US came to agree with the liberation of women. Not totally, as long as it isn’t affecting some American internal policies like abortion for example. And the US troops were sent to Afghanistan. They killed, women, children and men. They arrested, imprisoned people and tortured them. But definitely, they didn’t liberate women.

After Charlie Hebdo attacks, the hypocrisy of the world reached some unprecedented peaks. In a show of solidarity to the French government and to the sacred French values of liberty and freedom of expression, many dictators attended a solidarity rally to show that they support freedom of expression. It didn’t matter if back home these leaders crushed their own people and whether they restrained their freedom of expression of their own. Once again, higher values like freedom of expression is used to divide the world between the “civilized” and the “barbaric” with Islam on the side of the barbaric. Thus, brushing aside centuries of colonialism and post colonialism. Also, feigning to forget that Muslim communities in France have never been accepted in the mainstream media or political circles and that the ongoing marginalization of the Muslim youth, especially boys and young men, is in big part a reason for them to reject French values and join violent ideologies.

With the Orlando attacks, the acceptance of homosexual rights, which is a legitimate mouvement, became the litmus test for Muslims to pass from the “bad Muslims” camp to the camp of the “good Muslims”. Even if those tests are conducted by groups who have been long time fighting LGBT rights with money and policies and guns. As for women’s rights, many discovered themselves overnight pro-LGBT rights as long as the issue, make Muslims and Islam look homophobic and violent.

Islam is not the only religion that doesn’t accept homosexuality. So why are the calls today are directed exclusively to Islam to re-examine its attitudes? Why aren’t we talking more about the extremists white supremacist Christian groups celebrating the killings of homosexuals or the heavy presence (in numbers and in funding) of US evangelical Christians in Uganda for instance, and their role in passing the “Kill the gay Bill” in 2014?

Using women rights, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, as wedge issues to demonize Islam and Muslim should be questioned as this will serve to only to make some bigots more confortable in their bubbles and speeches and won’t help us to see and get to know all the ongoing discussions and diversity of opinions of Muslims on these issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you on the terrorism blacklist? Maybe, but you can’t do anything about it.

Last week, a Vice News investigation revealed that a terrorism blacklist database, known as World-Check and founded in 1999, contains 2.7 million entries, many of them Muslim individuals and organizations.
This list is not a scientific compilation of data; rather, it’s a controversial list that many victims suspect of ruining their lives. Indeed, some non-profit organizations based in the U.K. believe that this list is the sole reason behind the sudden decision of banks to freeze their accounts with no explanation.

World-Check claims that it uses reliable and reputable information about individuals and organizations but they were unable to explain the listing of Mohamed Iqbal Asaria, a British national who was a former World Bank and Bank of England adviser and who was given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire award in the 2005 Queen’s Honours List for services to international development.
Websites run by anti-Muslim proponents like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson are some of the sources used by Word-Check to support their allegations and include names on their list.
According to Vice News, the World-Check list is consulted by 300 government and intelligence agencies, 49 of the 50 biggest banks, pre-employment vetting agencies and nine of the top 10 global law firms.

The question is: how many Canadian individuals and organizations are on the list and is this list being used by our government or other Canadians agencies? If it turns out to be the case, how many individuals have been unduly affected by it?
In Canada, the Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC) came out of an act addressing money laundering. After 9/11, the legislation was amended to include terrorist financing activities. Thus, FINTRAC was born.

Its mandate is to “facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities, while ensuring the protection of personal information under its control.” Even if it is explicitly stated that the personal information under the control of FINTRAC is protected, it remains unknown to the public whether FINTRAC has used the services of World-Check and whether it relied on this information in their internal investigations.
Two senior World-Check employees speaking under the condition of anonymity admitted that over an eight-year span, they had never seen a single case of “delisting.” So basically, once you are on the list, you will stay there forever.

What is worrisome is that World-Check isn’t even a government organization regulated by measures and overseen by an independent body; it is a private company that sells data to governments, banks and employment agencies and makes its profits from what is written on the Internet about people.
In a world more and more obsessed with security and where security has become a commodity valued, traded and sought after, companies are building, with zero accountability, a billion-dollar profit industry. Meanwhile, the livelihood and the reputation of innocent individuals and organizations don’t seem worth much, if anything at all.

This article has been previously published on rabble.ca

Will the Canadian government shed light on the no-fly list?

It is a shame that a number of Canadian toddlers and young children are being humiliated at the airport in the name of extra security checks and delayed in boarding their plane with their parents. How as a society have we reached this level of complacency, accepting that such actions are “normal” under the pretext of living in security?
The recent promise by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to open an investigation into the case of six-year-old Syed Adam Ahmed, whose name appears on Canada’s no-fly list, isn’t enough and here’s why.
In 2007, when the Passenger Protection Program (PPP) — copied on the U.S. model — was established in Canada, the Canadian government at the time failed to produce any concrete evidence of the efficiency of such a program. Canada was under a lot of pressure from the U.S. government to have this program and prevent “unwanted” travellers from boarding planes. The problem with this list is that it is shrouded in secrecy. The number of persons listed is not public. It is estimated to be between 500-2,000 persons. The government refused to release the exact number, claiming that this might help the terrorists in their plans to attack or harm us.
Here we have to distinguish between two categories of passengers: those who are denied boarding and those who are delayed boarding a plane.
In the case of the children presented in recent media reports, we are dealing with the second category. It is known as a “false positive.” In other words, these are people who do not represent any threat to security but are going to wrongfully end up on the no-fly list.

Since 2010, the government has been aware of this problem and hasn’t taken any concrete measures to correct the situation. Rather, I suspect the situation has worsened since we now have cases of children brought to us as “false positives.”
This is what Director General of Aviation Security at Transport Canada, Laureen Kinney, declared more than five years ago to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations about this topic:
“The other point that I might raise is that there have been approximately 850 potential false positive matches that our people have handled in the three years of the program…”
So at that time, this was already a huge number; I wonder how many cases we have today? Why can’t Mr. Goodale give us this number?
Another disturbing question worth mentioning is why this six-year-old boy kept being delayed through the years even though Transport Canada claims that the list is refreshed every 30 days. Indeed, this is what Ms. Kinney said at the same committee in 2010:
“As I mentioned, the list is reviewed every 30 days. It is a built-in process. There is a meeting of the committee that looks at the Specified Persons List. We look at the list every 30 days in that process. The meeting is held without fail. The names that come forward for consideration deal with people who have demonstrated, in some fashion, the capability and intent to pose a threat to aviation security. Absolutely, it is not based in any way on ethnic, cultural, religious or other such factors. It is purely about what has happened, what has been done and what the specific facts of the individual are. Evident from the statistics of the program, the small number of people who have been matched indicate that is the case and it is applied that way in practice.”
So assuming Syed Adam Ahmed’s name was mistakenly added the first time and then brought to the attention of Transport Canada officials, we would expect that they would have refreshed the list after 30 days so his name should have been erased by the second or third attempt at boarding a plane, but Syed Adam Ahmed’s parents said that this ordeal was repeated each time they tried to board a plane with their son, until recently.
And finally, there is the whole question of redress. In a democracy, there must be a judicial review process to accompany any government program to avoid arbitrary decisions and human mistakes that may occur. With these “false positive” cases, there is no such process. People affected are left with no recourse except the media.
Now that more and more parents are coming forward with similar stories about their kids being stopped and delayed in boarding their plane, it is time for the government to act swiftly. An investigation isn’t enough. A total revamp of the no-fly list is needed as well as the implementation of a transparent judicial review that would allow everyone who has been prevented from travelling or delayed in flying to get the explanations they deserve.
Yesterday evening, Minister Goodale issued a statement promising that the government will hold public consultations on the PPP to make sure that Canadians will remain safe while upholding our democratic values. This is a very promising step. It is overdue.

This article was previously published on rabble.ca

Toward a Two-Tier Society

When Bill C-36 — otherwise known as the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act — was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada didn’t need a specific law to fight terrorism — that the Criminal Code was more than sufficient to allow law enforcement to bring charges against terrorists.

When Bill C-36 (later called the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2001) was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada doesn’t need a special and specific anti-terrorism legislation; its criminal code is strong and detailed enough to allow law enforcement agencies to bring charges against terrorists.

Bill C-36 was adopted a few months after 9/11. Many thought that would be the exception because of that tragedy but today we can look back and safely say that it was only the beginning of a series of legislation specially tailored for suspected terrorists.

What Bill C-36 did to our legislative landscape isn’t “simply” the introduction of new additional invasive powers granted to intelligence and police forces but rather the fundamental idea that terrorism is a unique offence that should be fought with a fundamentally different set of tools. Basically, the new era post-9/11 allowed the creation of a new world with two parallel justice systems: one for the “usual” criminals and one for the terrorists.

When Canada fought gangs and organized crime mobs in the 90s, the police adapted their tactics to the nature of the “work” this sort of criminals were conducting. Obviously, the police techniques changed to allow more infiltration and more targeted surveillance but once the members were arrested and charged, it was still the same criminal code that applied to them and not any new law that was specifically adapted for gang members.

We do not claim that terrorism shouldn’t be opposed with adapted techniques. Indeed, it should be. But we believe the emphasis should be put on other levels: prevention, political, economical and social policies, and education. And once terror suspects are brought to justice, we believe that they should be judged according to the gravity of their actions and not whether they were labelled as criminals or as terrorists.

This parallel justice system doesn’t stop there. In 2014, the Conservative government came up with a new citizenship law, Bill C-24. Part of this bill became law in May 2015. The new law took us further down the road paved already by the first Anti-Terrorism Act : a road toward a two-tier system. The victim this time is citizenship.

Before Bill C-24, revocation of citizenship was limited to naturalized Canadians who acquired their citizenship by false representations. With the new legislation, dual citizens (naturalized citizens or citizens who were born in Canada but could claim citizenship in another country through one of their parents, notwithstanding that they may have no ties with that country) can have their citizenship stripped away from them if they commit terrorism, espionage or treason. However, if you are born in Canada and can’t be eligible for another citizenship (through marriage or through your parents or any other legitimate reason) then you can keep your citizenship, no matter the nature of the crime you committed.

The new grounds for revocation are broad and appear to be connected to the loyalty to Canada. However, as the Canadian Bar Association pointed out, it is not clear why the loyalty of dual nationals should be put into question more than that of other Canadians. And it is also not clear why our loyalty to Canada should determine our citizenship. Isn’t that another way to divide the society into the ones who seemingly loves Canada and thus do not speak out and the ones who seemingly hate Canada and criticize it. What is the fine line between criticism and hate? This is a slippery slope and we are on the top of it.

Finally, the new process of revoking citizenship doesn’t involve a judge (except in limited circumstances where the Minister decided to hold a hearing), making the system “cost and time efficient” according to the government. There is no accountability and no process to appeal the minister’s decision. Once again the government justified this new legislation by the threat of “Jihadi Terrorism”. And, once again, the end result is the creation of a two-tier system: one for “privileged” Canadians and another one for “supposed terrorists dual citizens.” including those who have been exonerated by a court but the government still consider as terrorists.

And to confirm the relevance of this new legislation, since last June, the government has sent notices of citizenship revocation to a few convicted terrorists.

One of these targeted individuals is Zakaria Amara, who was born in Jordan and has dual citizenship. He was convicted for his role in the Toronto 18 terrorism plot. In a tweet sent by Jason Kenney, the Defence Minister, after the news that Canada revoked the citizenship of Amara, Kenney mentioned that Amara hated Canada so much that he “forfeited his own citizenship” by plotting to murder hundreds of Canadians.

So the blame is not that this new citizenship act created two separate treatments for Canadians but it is the hate this person has for Canada that legitimizes stripping him of his Canadian citizenship. Kenney wouldn’t even use the words “revocation”, “exile” or “banishment”. He only used “forfeited”. As if Amara decided on his own to drop his Canadian citizenship.

This is clearly very ideological position that shouldn’t prevail in a democracy. Our love and hate for a country – our loyalty – cannot and should not determine the legitimacy of our citizenship. Amara didn’t like Canada and was ready to kill innocent people, and as a consequence he was punished with a life sentence of imprisonment. Why do we have to double the punishment and revoke his Canadian citizenship? Can’t he be rehabilitated? Can’t the hate he felt at some point in his life be replaced one day with compassion and understanding? Is sending him back to Jordan going to make us feel safer? Isn’t Canada part of a coalition to bomb the Islamic State and one of the arguments of this bombing is that we have to get rid of the terrorists over there so they don’t come to us. So how sending convicted terrorists to that region make us feel safer? And how is a country like Jordan to react at the prospect of receiving a convicted terrorist? Will they accept him or will he become stateless? Will he be tortured there as further punishment or as a way to try and get information on terrorist suspects or terrorist plots?

Terrorism is an ongoing threat, nationally and internationally. In using it as an excuse to keep us safe, the current Canadian government is creating a two-tier system of justice, a two-tier citizenship and a two-tier society. On the surface, the target is the bad terrorists who have no one to blame except themselves. But on a deeper level, it is all of us, as a divided and weakened society, who are losing the essence of our laws, of our citizenship and of our democracy.

A modified version of this article appeared on ipolitics.

Rendition: Canada, Sweden and Denmark share the same barbaric practice

What factor is common to Canada, Sweden and Denmark? The snow, perhaps? The cold weather? The social programs? Or maybe smoked salmon?

How about rendition to torture? And how about cooperation with the intelligence authorities of countries which practice torture with total impunity? These may be some of the darkest common factors shared by the three countries, ones that not everyone is aware of.

In Canada, the cases of Maher Arar, Abdullah Al-Malki, Ahmed el-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin happened between 2002 and 2004.

These cases became publicly known and sparked a huge outcry. Two inquiries were ordered into their cases. But even if Maher Arar was cleared from terrorism suspicions by Justice O’Connor and awarded compensation, the recommendations made by Justice Iacobucci regarding compensation for the other three men have never been followed by the government. Canadians found out from both inquiries that these four Canadians, all Arab-Muslim citizens, were detained in Syria, and tortured by Syrian officials in the same facility known as the Palestinian Branch of Syrian Military Intelligence. What’s even more troubling is that both Canadian judges found that Canadian intelligence officers shared information about their own citizens with Syrian officials and didn’t hesitate in using this information, knowing that it was coming from the dungeons of one of the worst prisons run by the Assad regime.

A tragic pattern

In Denmark, the scenario of this tragic pattern is not any different. In the Al Jazeera documentary Outsourcing Torture, we learn that in the mid 2000s, three Muslim-Danish citizens had a similar fate to the one met by their Canadian counterparts. The only difference is the country of torture: Lebanon.

Ali Ibrahim is a taxi driver of Lebanese descent who had been living in Denmark with his family. In 2006, he was approached by PET, the Danish intelligence service, to become an informant. He refused and PET threatened to make his life miserable.

Hassan Jabbar is a cleric who came as a refugee from Iraq and was living in Denmark for years. He was repeatedly interrogated by the intelligence service for his work with charities in the mosque. And finally, the documentary presents us with the case of Abu Abdullah, who kept his identity secret, as he is still worried about what PET officers could do to him.

The pattern is simple and diabolic: meet with an intelligence officer, refuse to become an informant, arrest takes place in a country with a poor human rights record, torture, interrogation, imprisonment without charge and eventual release.

The three men were arrested during a family visit to Lebanon. Ali Ibrahim was arrested in 2006. Four gunmen arrested him on the streets of Tripoli in front of his wife and children.

He was interrogated by Lebanese intelligence for a week and then released. Immediately after his release, he tried to leave the country to go back to Denmark but was prevented from doing so at the airport. He was arrested and then released a few times. Each time he was transferred from one prison to another and each time he was tortured. He even stayed in the infamous Roumieh prison in the Block B section known as  the “Block of terror.” A UN report, released in 2014, documented the systematic use of torture in Roumieh prison.

All three men declared that they were interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials and all of them were either explicitly told, or implicitly understood, that the Lebanese torturers were acting under the instructions of Danish intelligence officers.

Ali Ibrahim spent one year in solitary confinement and then two more years with other prisoners before he was able to go back to Denmark. He was suspected to have helped his brother, suspected of terrorist activities, by adding money to his phone card.

Hassan Jabbar was arrested in 2007 by Lebanese officials. In one of his interrogation sessions, the Lebanese interrogator told him “if you didn’t have a EU passport, we would have lynched you by now!” He was later released. No charges were laid against him.

Similarly, in 2010 Abu Abdullah was arrested in Beirut during a family visit. When he was leaving the country, he was stopped and transferred to a detention centre run by the Lebanese Ministry of Defence. He was held there for 21 days, interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials. He couldn’t leave the country until he was cleared through Danish intelligence.

The pattern repeats

And how about Sweden?

The Swedish stories are as scary and troubling. Immediately after the events  of 9/11, Swedish officials decided to deport two Egyptians citizens who came to Sweden as asylum seekers: Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza were handed to CIA operatives operating in Sweden who transferred them to Egypt. Both men were suspected by the Swedish and American governments of terrorist activities.

The Swedish government obtained diplomatic assurances from Egyptian authorities that the men wouldn’t be tortured or subjected to the death penalty and would be given fair trial. This assurance is equivalent to the one you get from a hungry lion to not eat a live rabbit.

Indeed both men ended up in prisons where they were tortured. al-Zari was released after two years without charges. Agiza was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a military tribunal and released in 2011.

It is only in 2004 that these two cases became known to the Swedish public. Human Rights Watch closely followed the cases in Egypt and in Sweden, and in 2008 both men were awarded compensation by Swedish authorities for the damages they endured. Both men were granted permanent residence permits by Sweden.

If the Canadian and Swedish victims of rendition received some sort of recognition for the suffering they received through this barbaric treatment, the Danish victims remain looking for answers to their cases. No inquiries or legal actions have been initiated yet. After many years, the victims live in fear under the shadow of what happened to them.

The globalization that many of us feared in previous years for destroying our local economies, the specificities of our local culture and education systems is alive and well in the “national security” field. The cases mentioned in this article represent clear evidence that countries known internationally as leaders in human rights and champions against torture are being caught up in this new web of globalization that outsources everything from manufacturing clothing to torture.

This column was initially published at rabble.ca

A world of fear

While I was visiting my family and friends in Tunisia this summer, I came across a new feeling, or maybe it is an impression — a feeling or impression that I never encountered before in the country that is proud today to be called the sparkle of the “Arab Spring.”
I grew up there in the ’80s. I remember seeing in people’s eyes the fear of authority, humiliation, loss of dignity, the sorrow of poverty, suspicion, but I didn’t see the “fear of terrorism.” Even in the darkest hours of the country, during the ’80s, when there were violent incidents attributed to Islamist militants, I didn’t hear from people around me that they were afraid.
Was I young and carefree at the time? Was I naïve and unaware of the news around me? I have my doubts. I grew up in a house with a lot of newspapers, books, TV and radio, both local and foreign. My father was not complacent towards the regime and we were always hungry for political news.
But during my last visit, I saw something special, an impression of “déja vu.” Every simple talk I had with family members and friends seemed to hint at the uncertain future, “fear of the terrorists,” or simply, fear of the “other.” Listening to the news in the car, I heard the speaker reporting on ongoing discussions in the “Assemblée Constituante,” the elected assembly, about new “anti-terror legislation.” I couldn’t stand listening. I turned it off instantly. This tense environment brought me back to the troubled days of Canada in the post-9/11 era.
The difference was that while in Canada as a member of the Arab-Muslim community, I felt, sometimes understandingly, the target of suspicion. Nevertheless, in Tunisia I was not a member of any visible minorities and still everybody is scared of the “other.” But who is the “other”?
If you are an Islamist, you are scared of the “old regime” coming back to power and putting you in jail. If you are from the “bourgeoisie,” you are afraid of the hordes of the poor and their slums and diseases. If you are from the “old regime,” you are scared of the “Islamists” and their hidden agenda of allowing polygamy and genital mutilation of little girls. If you are Tunisian, you are scared of the Libyans who are rumoured to have money and arms and who are blamed for all the economic and security problems of the country. And finally, the whole country agreed to be afraid of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Many times, I felt uneasy during those discussions as fear can’t cohabit with rationality and without rationality democracy can’t be built.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how, after the events of 9/11, the U.S., Canada and many other Western democracies were plunged into an era where civil liberties were curtailed, where innocent people were jailed and others deported. I couldn’t stop thinking about the role of some media outlets and authors in perpetuating old myths like “Canada was a safe heaven for terrorists” or about the imminent “Islamic tide” that would wipe us all out, and soon we would have “sharia-based tribunals” cutting hands and stoning women.
Today, the situation is not any different in Tunisia. Facebook, which as social media was assumed to have played a positive role in mobilizing youth against the tyrannical regime of Ben Ali, today has becomes a rumour-spreading machine, where “scared” people keep perpetuating and feeding one another “scary stories” about “the other” and maintaining social hysteria.
One can wonder: who is this environment benefiting?
In the U.S., post-9/11, groups of politicians, some military and right-wing think-tanks and corporations benefited from maintaining a high level of fear among the population. Several new pieces of legislation targeting individual rights and privacy were introduced with almost no opposition, only because people longed for more security. Many politicians were given “carte blanche” for their illegal actions, and never brought to trial simply because they had to do the right thing and “save” the country from evil. Torture techniques became the “mal necessaire” and indefinite jail of suspects became the norm.
Today, I am afraid the same thing is happening in Tunisia. Ministers from the old regime were not even questioned for their role in the brutal dictatorship. The mismanagement and corruption of more than 50 years were magically forgotten. The journalists, artists, and authors who in the past praised the dictator and his policies were forgiven, if not granted a “new virginity” for continuing their circus.
In 1988, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote Manufacturing Consent. It showed how media played a role in creating a population ready to accept government policies without questioning them. Today, it would be similarly relevant to explore the topic of “fear” and how this became a tool in some hands to shape public opinion in favour of more scrutiny of citizens by government while pushing aside real debates.

This post was originally published at rabble.ca