Monte Solberg Receives Torture Teach-in at his First Toronto Appearance;
Minister Responsible for Deportations to Torture Refuses to Arrange Meeting with Friends, Families of Canada's Secret Trial Detainees
Pictures from today's demonstration, courtesy of John Bonnar, can be viewed at: http://johnb.smugmug.com/gallery/1293006
MARCH 20, 2006, TORONTO -- Canada's new Minister for Deportations, Secret Trials, Arbitrary Detention, and Deportation to Torture, Monte Solberg (whose official title is Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) received a free teach-in on torture today as part of a luncheon where he was supposed to be the guest speaker.
It was an unplanned agenda item for the two-day Toronto conference "Integrating Immigrants: Building Partnerships That Work" at the Metro Convention Centre. As hundreds of policy people in the immigration bureaucracy and academic and business worlds munched on salads and dinner rolls and listened to Ontario's provincial immigration minister Mike Colle give one of those barnstorming talks about how "welcoming" Canada can be for immigrants, a dozen people from the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada walked quietly into the conference hall and headed straight for the large stage, where they set up behind Colle.
Colle, flustered at first, continued speaking as banners behind him were flashed to the crowd: "Canada: Stop Deportations to Torture" and "Stop Secret Trials in Canada." Also prominently displayed were large placards which described in painful detail the specific kinds of torture Canada plans to send the Secret Trial Five to in Syria, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco.
Members of the crowd seemed shocked, and some demonstrably seemed to lose their appetites as they read placards about cigarettes being burned into people's skin, electric prods attached to genitals, and other horrific treatment that Canada increasingly turns a blind eye to, whether it be at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan (whose hundreds of detainees, held without charge, have yet to experience the freedom, democracy, protection from torture, and other Canadian "values" that Canada's armed forces are supposed to be delivering in Afghanistan!), in Syria (where Canadians like Maher Arar, Ahmad El-Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyad Nureddin were tortured and where the Canadian government wishes to send secret trial detainee Hassan Almrei), or at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (which "houses" Canadian Omar Khadr among hundreds of others).
TORTURE DOES NOT MAKE FOR GOOD GOVERNMENT!
Directly in front of Colle sat Solberg, who was to be the next speaker at the forum organized by the Public Policy Forum (founded in 1987 to provide a "neutral venue where the private sector and the public sector could meet to learn from one another" and whose motto is "Good Government is Everyone's Business"). But as Colle finished his talk and exited the stage, Matthew Behrens of the campaign took advantage of the great distance the emcee had to trudge to introduce Solberg, and took over the microphone instead. (While the emcee did finally make it, all he could so was stand by in frustration, kindly folding Behrens' long scarf, which had fallen from his shoulders).
As members of the campaign continued holding banners, some fanned out into the crowd to hand out information flyers as Behrens explained to the crowd the situation of security certificates, the secret hearings, the arbitrary detention, the deportations to torture, and the many ways in which Canada has been condemned for such practices by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and thousands of individuals and groups across the country.
After focusing on last week's dreadful Federal Court ruling, which found "lawful" a decision by the immigration bureaucracy to deport Mahmoud Jaballah to torture or death in Egypt, Behrens challenged Solberg to end the use of the security certificate and to declare an immediate moratorium on deportations to torture.
Midway through the talk the power to the microphone was cut off, but the teach-in for Solberg and the crowd continued. Behrens concluded that three successive prime ministers have refused to meet with the group around this issue -- as have successive ministers for public safety and immigration over the past five years -- and that it was his hope that the Conservatives' campaign promises of accountability and transparency would be translated into a commitment to meet and dialogue.
SOLBERG "NOT PREPARED" TO MEET
Refreshingly, the end of the talk was met with a fair amount of applause. A relieved Solberg, perhaps thinking he was out of the woods, joked about the whole thing with his tablemates, so Behrens walked off the stage to go and meet Solberg, offering to set up a meeting with the families and friends of the secret trial detainees. Behrens explained that a letter seeking a meeting had been sent to Solberg and that the secret trials campaign was prepared to set the date for a meeting. Solberg replied that he was not "prepared" to set up a meeting, or even to commit to one. When asked why, he answered he was "not prepared" to answer that question either.
The group, long overdue at CSIS (their original destination for the demonstration), exited the hall into the welcoming arms of some two dozen police and security, who waited patiently for them to exit the building.
MONTY PYTHON MEETS MONTE SOLBERG
Today's spontaneous teach-in almost didn't come off, owing to a comedy of errors whose antics could normally be ascribed to the bumblers at CSIS. The demonstration to protest last week's Federal Court decision to deport detainee Mahmoud Jaballah to torture started off in frigid cold at Union station with about six people. The massed forces of Metro Police who were prepared to maintain order at such a potentially volatile gathering took off on their bikes and spent the rest of the hour getting warm in the coffee shop next to CSIS. But along the way, we remembered Monte was in town and decided to pay him a visit.
With the invitingly warm air of the Metro Convention Centre beckoning us, we walked in with our banners and placards still very much in evidence, asking the best way to get to the luncheon.
"You can't be in here," security told us.
"We have a luncheon to attend," we explained.
"The one with the immigration minister. Do you know where it is?"
"What are those banners for?" security demanded, perhaps suspicious that something was up.
"They're for the luncheon, and we do need to be on time!" we replied.
The group went to one end of the hall and then the next as the main security desk radioed for help. As additional security came into the area, it must have been hard for them to understand why a group of folks meandering about with confused looks on their faces, as if lost in a Monty Python sketch ("excuse us, do you know the way to the torturers' luncheon, please?") could be viewed as a security breach.
Finally, someone spotted a media crew heading down an escalator, and the group followed them, leading them right into the luncheon hall.
Since the group did have a date with CSIS, we were not around to find out what kind of reception Mr. Solberg received for his delayed speech on being nice to immigrants and stuff. Nevertheless, we felt it a fitting welcome for the new minister, and hope that he would remember us kindly enough to pencil us in when we're in Ottawa this June as the Supreme Court hears the cases of three of the secret trial detainees.
For information on getting involved in the many activities leading up to the Supreme Court hearings, including the Freedom Caravan, People's Commission, and week of activities in Ottawa (including the CSIS Invitational Beach Volleyball Challenge), please refer to http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/getinvolved.htm
Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, PO Box 73620, 509 St., Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, firstname.lastname@example.org
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