Police Make Intimidation Arrest at Peaceful Vigil as Demonstrators Demand "Bail, not Jail" for Canada's Secret Trial Five
TORONTO, APRIL 3, 2004 -- As Toronto City Council considers the latest request for new police funding, councillors wondering whether the extra millions are really necessary might consider staging a small demonstration in the northwest corner of the city to see where those taxpayer dollars are really going.
As we arrive at the Metro West Detention Centre eight strong for a Saturday morning vigil and walk, we are met by four squad cars and a representative of the Metro Police Counter-Intelligence and Anti-Terrorism Squad, which has shown an intense interest in our work ever since they showed up at an interfaith service we conducted in 1997. On that day, they were concerned that a number of our members were intent on holding an interfaith Martin Luther King Day service on the driveway of the Ontario legislature.
Today's event was planned to be similarly dangerous. With a major health care rally scheduled for later that day in downtown, we weren't expecting more than a gathering in the tens or twenties. A few speeches, some songs, a walk behind the jail, then a 2 kilometre trek with the families of Toronto's disappeared.
Nonetheless, we were glad to have an anti-terrorism expert on hand, and informed him that our ultimate destination that day was the neighbourhood terrorist, Northrop Grumman Canada, a major producer and procurer of the tools of terror located a few kilometres from the jail one judge refers to as Canada's Guantanamo Bay. We ask him to investigate the fact that the men who form the management structure there are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, while 5 Muslim men against whom no public allegation has ever been proven in open court have spent years behind detention centre walls.
He's a nice enough fellow and asks if we have any other concerns. We tell him that members of the Metro Police who have shown up, perhaps to support our cause, will have to remove their guns since this is a nonviolent walk, and that we also have concerns about racial profiling and other incidents of repression in the community. We assure him that although we disagree with many of the things the police force does, we will not harm or humiliate any officer.
He thanks us for being frank with him and says he has to head downtown to "monitor" the health care rally. (Evidently the police are taking seriously the bizarre report from south of the border that named Canada's social services as one reason this country is an alleged haven for hundreds of terrorists. Given the guilt-by-association way these things work, perhaps they thought they might find a sleeper cell or two amongst the raging grannies and others demanding an end to the privatization of health care.)
Meanwhile, members of the families of Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei arrive and we gather in a circle to hear their latest news. All had been in Ottawa with friends and families of secret trial detainees Adil Charkaoui and Mohamed Harkat not 48 hours before, seeking a meeting with the minister of secret trials, Anne McLellan. They were refused, just as they were refused seven months earlier at the doorstep of the prime minister.
Tired but unbowed, they are out again to make their case. Ahmad Jaballah, an eloquent 17-year-old who has had to take on far too many adult responsibilities in his young life, patiently explains how difficult it has been for his family with their father in jail. He says it is clear that his dad is the victim of a vindictive CSIS campaign, and that the only reason he is in jail right now is because he beat the first security certificate which was issued against him in 1999.
Mona Elfouli, whose husband, Mohammad Mahjoub, has been detained since June, 2000 without charge or bail on secret evidence, says we have to keep demonstrating for as long as it takes to ensure freedom for the detainees. She points out that the families are also in jail, imprisoned by the fear that their loved ones will be deported to torture.
Diana Ralph, Hassan Almrei's adopted Canadian mother, reads a powerful statement Hassan had dictated from solitary confinement, where he has spent the past 30 months. It was read out in Ottawa, and it is read out again on Saturday morning. Diana had asked Hassan what he wanted to tell the government, and he said:
"Tell them that Hassan Almrei isn't the one in segregation. My thoughts are free, and you can't imprison my soul. It's the Canadian justice system which is in prison.
"Tell Anne McLellan and Paul Martin, shame on you! You keep talking about civil liberties. You make a big deal about rescuing Maher Arar from one year in solitary confinement without charges in Syria. But I have been held in solitary confinement for 30 months, 2 and a half years, in Canada without any charges. There is no justice here.
"I only want the rights guaranteed to all in Canada, the rights guaranteed through international law to everyone in the world. If you have something against us [the Secret Trial 5], if you have proof that we are terrorists, charge us. But you don't have any real evidence against us, just vicious statements made in secret by people you bought off or scared off.
"If my lawyer could see the secret evidence and could cross-examine the people who testified against me, it would be obvious that they are lying. But we are not allowed the simple rights that even the lowliest criminal is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights.
" Justice Blanchard [who denied Hassan's bail] said that I could get out of jail any time, simply by allowing myself to be deported to Syria. What Syria did to Arar is nothing compared to what they would do to me if I were deported there. He is a Canadian citizen, protected by Canada. My family were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who Syria slaughtered in the thousands. And I would be deported with a "terrorist" label on my head. If I were deported to Syria, they would certainly torture and kill me."
As the youngest children run around playing tag and the police speed back and forth, occasionally putting their flashing lights on for no particular reason, the rally comes to a conclusion with a statement from Barney Barningham, a faithful Durham Homes not Bombs member whose partner, Liz, has printed off a quotation from Eugene Victor Debs that ends, "while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
The group of about 30 people proceeds to walk down the hill on the east side of the detention centre, banners and signs held high. The chants of "Free the Secret Trial Five, Justice for All" are interrupted by an amazing sound. It is the pounding of fists on windows by men in orange jumpsuits that can be heard through the re-enforced glass, concrete, and two sets of fences that separates them from the demonstrators. They are calling out, displaying peace signs and holding the palms of their hands to the windows, much as they do in the visiting area of the jail.
As we reach the south end of the prison fence, in a barren field that reaches over to a highway, two of the littlest children start jumping up and down excitedly. They can see their father, Mahmoud Jaballah. They call over their mother and brothers and sisters and we gather around to see the smile of Mahmoud Jaballah, who was arrested in 1999 and held 9 months before being released when the first security certificate against him was thrown out as not credible.
He has been imprisoned since August, 2001 on secret evidence, despite CSIS admitting they had no new evidence, only a new interpretation of old evidence already dismissed.
It is a hugely emotional moment. There are many tears as the children wave desperately to a man they cannot kiss, hug, or touch in any way. One of the little boys kicks in frustration at one of the two perimeter fences that separates him from his father. Another says if they won't let his father out, he wants to go into the jail with him.
Mona Elfouli looks longingly over the fence as well. Her husband cannot see the demonstration. He is in solitary confinement. We assure her, however, that it won't be long before he knows what is going on -- word spreads fast in the jail, even into the horror of solitary.
The police begin to come down the hill as we prepare to head back up. The chanting starts up again, broken only by the incessant pounding on the windows from the prisoners who are so easily missed by the thousands of commuters who drive by the detention centre every day on the highway not 100 yards away. Many are there on immigration holds, committing no other crime than mistakenly filling out the wrong form, for coming to Canada on a false passport for their own safety, for failing to understand that they must obediently remain under the heel of the immigration bureaucracy at all times if they want to maintain their "liberty" on the streets of this country. They are part of the growing population of refugee and immigrant detainees which averages weekly now between 650 and 700 people.
As we near the top of the hill, a jail guard on a smoke break is not pleased at all. He yells at an 8-year-old boy who has been putting flyers on the windshields of the car to "get the hell off private property."
We head a few kilometres down the road towards the factory of Northrop Grumman Canada, formerly Litton Systems Canada, home of the years-long campaign against the construction of the inertial guidance system for the deadly cruise missile. From that spot hundreds were arrested in the 1980s, 1990s, and recently during the invasion of Iraq, and many spent time at Metro West for taking a stand against war.
As we walk down City View Drive, two police cars speed up from behind us and race down the road, their lights flashing as if there is an emergency underway. One can imagine the frenzied calls to HQ over the police radio ("There's as many as 25 of them now, and a bunch of women are wearing hijab! Await instructions!")
We pull up at the entrance to the weapons factory and read out the litany of terrorist actions for which the executives of this corporation are responsible, noting that they are the third largest weaponsmakers in the world and are currently working on terror from the skies, the Bush-led star wars:
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of the inertial navigational system and the weapons release computer sets for the F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber, used to deadly effect against the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of GUIDANCE systems for the F-111 fighter-bomber in the wars of terror against Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of the inertial guidance systems for thousands of air-, land- and sea-launched cruise missiles used extensively to terrorize the people of Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Sudan.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for development of guidance systems and navigational equipment for the U.S. F-22, described variously as the "next-generation air superiority fighter" of the U.S. Air Force as well as a fighter designed for a "first-look, first-kill capability against multiple targets." Press materials describe the company as a "Star Supplier" to Lockheed Martin, the primary F-22 contractor. Such technology clearly violates a growing body of laws which outlaws the use of war as an instrument of national policy.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for the production and maintenance of guidance systems and navigational equipment for the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, described as the "world's most advanced helicopter and the cornerstone of the U.S. Army's Force XXI aviation modernization plan." The Comanche "can go to war with up to 14 "Fire and Forget" Hellfire anti-tank missiles [and] a three-barreled, 20 mm turreted nose mini-gun that can shoot 1,500 rounds per minute." Given the fact that most anti-tank munitions are now covered in depleted uranium, we have great concerns about NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada supplying technology which is thereby used in nuclear warfare.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of components for the A-10 Warthog, the depleted-uranium-coated munitions for which have been implicated in a sharp spike in the cancer rates of the people of Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and Puerto Rico.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of components for the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the U.S. fighter-bomber which flew more missions than any other aircraft during the 1991 slaughter codenamed "Operation Desert Storm" and during the bombing of the former Yugoslavia.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of custom cockpit Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) for the CF18 Modernization Program in Canada. The CF-18 is already a deadly fighter jet, a weapon of mass human destruction described in 1991 by Canadian General Gerard Theriault as having an accuracy which makes "the destructive ability of one CF-18 as great as an attack by hundreds of bombers in World War II."
NORTHROP GRUMMAN Canada is responsible for production of the BAT precision weapon system, designed to bring "unmatched range, accuracy and lethality, [killing power] to the battlefield."
We finish the gathering with a rousing rendition of Diana Ralph's moving song, Justice for All. The Northrop Grumman security, who have spent a good half hour taking photographs of the small group from every conceivable angle, continue their note-taking and consultations with police.
As we stack our placards and a group of drivers get into a car to get our vehicles from the jail, police approach the car and ask that demonstrator Dick Troy get out of the vehicle. When asked why, the officer says he wants to have a chat.
Everyone gets out along with Dick, and the officer informs Dick that he is in breach of bail conditions. Troy was arrested in Montreal along with hundreds of others last summer for the crime of standing around during an anti-globalization protest. Released on strict conditions (including not to be at any illegal protest), the police have picked up a sign that Dick was carrying to put into the car's trunk as "proof" that he was demonstrating, and take him into custody.
We ask how it was that police had cause to have spent their whole day scanning the tiny crowd to run checks on us. They certainly ran a check on every licence plate and, no doubt with the able assistance of the anti-terrorism squad, ran the rest of us through their system. "It's because we're smart," an officer smugly explains.
The children are disconcerted. Here is the kindly gentleman who not only could not, but would not, harm a soul, being placed into the back of a police cruiser for no reason whatsoever. "Just like they did to my dad," mutters one of the kids in reference to this unwarranted arrest.
The families of the detainees are shocked that someone who has simply walked from point A to point B in their support is now going behind bars himself. Especially when, after the police have heard the litany of crimes committed by Northrop Grumman Canada executives, they did not go inside the building to arrest the REAL criminals.
The kids all gather around Dick as he is being searched by the police. Dick flashes a peace sign and the kids respond in kind as he is driven away.
Dick is transported to 23 division, where they inform him that although police considered today's demo legal, there was no telling when it could have lurched into that indescribably dangerous illegal zone. You can never tell when a group might fall to their knees in silent meditation or prayer on the lawn of a weaponsmaker.
The cops call the Montreal authorities but, unable to find a translator, are never quite clear on what the original release conditions are, and Dick is released about an hour after being taken into custody.
His arrest is perhaps necessary to justify the comparatively heavy police presence, or maybe to scare the families of the detainees -- who are increasingly public figures -- into believing that even low-key, nonviolent protest will be dealt with in such an arbitrary fashion.
As the eventful day ends, we reflect on the fact that Hassan is right. The Canadian justice system, and the much-touted democracy of Canada, are in solitary confinement for yet another season this spring. Almrei has been very clear in what he thinks needs to be done: people need to speak up, to refuse to be afraid, to nonviolently protest these injustices in the fashion of one of his heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr.
King once said in reference to one of the American government's perceived "enemies," the Vietnamese people, "We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers and sisters."
And so our task seems pretty clear, eh?
Report from Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, www.homesnotbombs.ca
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