Families of Detainees Undertake Intensive lobby at Parliament Hill as Parliamentary Motion Calls for End of Abusive Process;
Three Liberals, One Tory Add Names to Growing List of MPs Calling for an End to Secret Trial Security Certificates and an End to Deportation to Torture;
Another Demonstration in Victoria adds to the growing chorus of dissent
OTTAWA, March 8, 2005 -- "Did you get our dad out yet?" one of the young children of the secret trial detainees asked us today as we returned to an Ottawa daycare space following two days of intensive lobbying on Parliament Hill.
While we did not have the answer he needed to hear, the longer-term response was that we are making steps in the right direction. At the end of the lobby period, during which friends and family of Canada's Secret Trial Five met with almost 20 MPs and Senators, it was clear that secret trials are an issue being discussed both in various party caucuses and in Cabinet.
Indeed, much to the chagrin of CSIS and their biggest booster, Anne McLellan, the issue has been forced into the wider sphere of the reviews of the anti-terror legislation. Last week, there was an all-party consent to include the security certificates in the House subcommittee's review of C-36, and excellent, persistent questioning of witnesses before the Senate committee by folks like Senators Lynch-Staunton and Mobina Jaffer, among many others).
And the action we need from Parliamentarians is beginning to take shape as the first sitting Tories and Liberals signed our statement calling not only for the abolition of a process deemed fundamentally flawed and unfair by Amnesty International, but also for the fair trial or immediate release of the secret trial five.
Conservative MP Inky Mark and Liberals Colleen Beaumier, Bonnie Brown and Andrew Telegdi (chair of the standing committee on immigration) had the courage to be the first among their parties to sign the statement calling for an end to security certificates and demanding that the Secret Trial Five not be deported. The statement also calls for the men to be released immediately or, otherwise, charged and tried in a fair and open proceeding with full disclosure of the alleged case against them. Other MPs have expressed a willingness to meet with the detainees.
The lobby began in a Monday morning blizzard as the families made their way up the steps of Parliament Hill and through the security-mad X-ray room at the building's entrance (one of many trips in and out of government buildings that resulted in the frequent irradiation of purses, backpacks and jackets, not to mention the confiscation of a travel alarm clock!). They attended a media-packed press conference in the Charles Lynch Room of Parliament, where the NDP's Alexa McDonough and Joe Comartin made strong statements against the security certificate, and the Bloc's Meille Faille added her support as well.
Emotions ran high throughout the press conference; many tears were shed as family members stepped forward to tell their stories of the difficulties faced by the children, of the treatment accorded their loved ones which, if meted out to household pets, would be universally condemned; of their simple call for having charges laid and a fair trial with all the evidence, or immediate release; of the plea to be heard by Paul Martin, who ran his last election on protecting Charter Rights; of the humiliation of the tracking bracelet placed last week on recently released secret trial detainee Adil Charkaoui.
The youngest children then spoke to a scrum of reporters about their own wishes and fears, with Ali Jaballah, aged 7, and Ibrahim Mahjoub, also 7, telling reporters they want to play with their dads, and that if the government won't allow their dads out of jail, they want to go into jail to be with them.
The families then gathered their courage to face the blizzard and the walk to Prime Minister Paul Martin's office (the PMO), which has received numerous requests since his election for a meeting, all of them denied or deferred to Anne McLellan, who has also refused such a meeting. Led by the children who held a banner with the names of their detained fathers, the group passed right by a line of RCMP officers watching the Wellington Street entrance to the PMO and walked instead to the Elgin Street entrance where, despite the commands of a number of Mounties that no one enter, a door was opened and everyone walked right into the vestibule and up the stairs to the glass-door inner entrance.
This spontaneous gathering at the PMO entrance evolved into a family speakout as the media, at first gingerly standing outside, decided to come in as well, recording the voices of Ahmad Jaballah, the 18-year old son of Mahmoud Jaballah; Mona Elfouli, whose husband is Mohammad Mahjoub; Latifah, mother of Adil Charkaoui; Sophie Harkat, whose husband is Mohamed Harkat; and Diana Ralph, adopted mother of Hassan Almrei.
"The Prime Minster campaigned on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being upheld for all people in this country. If he truly believes that, he will meet with us. It's been five years for some of these families of their loved ones being detained without charge or bail--surely the Prime Minister can spare us five minutes," said a member of the group.
The RCMP assured us that a meeting with a PMO representative was available, and told us to vacate the vestibule and go out into the snow. We refused, saying it was a cynical ploy to try and get us out of the entranceway. Seeing that this did not work, the RCMP actually had to produce someone in the flesh, which they did with PM press spokesperson Melanie Gruer, who listened to the concerns of the families.
"I want you to imagine what it must be like to answer the questions of your children, who keep asking, when is our dad coming home? If the government made a mistake, how come they are taking so long to fix it?" Mona Elfouli pleaded with Gruer.
Gruer said she would pass along the concerns of the families, but we said this was not enough.
"We want a commitment from the PM that he will not allow the deportation of these men to torture, and that he will facilitate a process whereby they can either be charged and tried in a fair and open court proceeding or be released immediately," we told her.
Needless to say, the old Randy Travis song rings true with respect to the response from Mr. Martin: "Since our phone still ain't ringing, we assume it still ain't you."
The group then left the area to go back to Parliament Hill, carrying banners and placards calling for an end to secret trials. There, a number of RCMP cars pulled up and more concerned Mounties greeted us.
"Are you the group that's been demonstrating?" one of them asked. It is unclear whether this question was sweetly naive or just out of nowhere, given that we had a collection of opened banners and placards with us.
"Well, you can't take that stuff inside with you," he told us.
"Actually, we can," we replied, folding the banners up and taking them inside with us.
It was another example of the thin line on which the powers that be continue to operate in this country. A simple command from an RCMP, CSIS or regular police officer is expected to be met with absolute and immediate obedience; any derogation from that standard command-and-comply routine is met with incredulity when the group that is being ordered about simply proceeds about their business, calmly and with dignity. When you call their bluff, they don't have much in their hands.
It's that same command-and-comply obedience which is exercised by the courts in secret trial cases: they take the word of CSIS and do not even think to question the much-discredited spy agency's credibility. A bit more disobedience can bring about a lot more democracy.
The families of the five proceeded, after two rounds of security checks and searches, to enter the gallery of the House of Commons, where they sat in the front row just above the Speaker. The children scratched their heads, wondering why grown-ups were yelling and clapping and not paying much attention to each other on the floor of the Commons. "How come the government is so noisy?" one of them asked.
As Alexa McDonough rose to make a statement about the motion she had tabled earlier that day calling for an end to secret trials (see full statement at bottom of this email), the families and friends all rose to their feet. Anyone who was listening to McDonough would be able to make the connection: here in the gallery was the very real face of the pain and suffering caused by CSIS abuse, dishonesty and incompetence; here were the children who'd normally be in school, but instead were spending two days in Ottawa again trying to meet with the Prime Minister to seek some justice not just for themselves but for all people in Canada; here were the wives and mothers of the Secret Trial Five, who had vowed earlier to keep coming back to Ottawa until their loved ones were returned to them.
Nervous security officers ran down and began tapping us on the shoulders, ordering us to sit down (there's that old command-and-comply thing again). Their repeated demands were met with silence as we waited for the motion to be fully read by McDonough, and the group eventually sat down for the rest of Question Period before heading back out into the blizzard to meet with MPs.
The holes in the dam of secrecy and paranoia which CSIS relies on to pursue secret trials, already starting to grow with the NDP motion, began to get bigger on Tuesday morning, when Tory MP Inky Mark (of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette, Manitoba) uncapped a pen and signed our campaigns' joint statement calling for the abolition of the certificate process. This was followed in due time by Bonnie Brown, Liberal MP from Oakville, ON, Colleen Beaumier, Liberal MP of Brampton West, ON, and Waterloo, ON's Andrew Telegdi.
The latter have the distinction of being the first members of the Liberal caucus to publicly add their names to the statement, something many others have expressed a private willingness to do in principle, but have been fearful of stepping out of line. It's that old command-and-comply routine, and yet as we see time and again, it is so liberating when you simply walk away from that ridiculous paradigm and stand up for what is right. We appreciate the courage of Mark, Brown, Telegdi and Beaumier, and hope that as we make our way out in the next few weeks other Liberals and Tories will follow suit.
As the bitterly cold day drew to a close, there were smiles on everyone's faces: we had some good news to take back to the detainees, whose stories are increasingly discussed in the "corridors of power." Among some of the highlights from those corridors was a liberal member getting carried away and delivering a lecture to us on why security certificates violate the fundamentals of the liberal society he believes in; an MP surprising us with proposed steps far stronger than what we dared to ask him to take; and a Bloc member recalling the human rights violations under the War Measures Act
during the early 1970s in Quebec, telling us that the current situation of panic and bad judgments as a result of that panic reminded him of that era, but that the human rights violations were worse now.
One of the main successes of the past few days was that it allowed the people who are directly affected by secret trials to talk together about what they are going through: how to deal with it and to work together to approach the politicians directly. More important, we had a bit more of something to bring home which is in such short supply these days: hope. Not in the naive sense that the battle has been won, more in the practical sense that in order to sustain ourselves for what is still a long haul, we occasionally need to charge our spiritual batteries and see the fruits of our labour. As author Barbara Kingsolver notes in Animal Dreams, "the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof."
As we returned home late Tuesday night, we received the following inspirational bit of news from Naava Smolash, who has been busy organizing against secret trials in Victoria:
"Members of VIPIRG's No One Is Illegal Victoria dressed in orange prisoner costumes Saturday at a ceremony in front of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada building to mail hundreds of signed postcards calling for an end to Secret Trials in
"At Saturday's action, 'civilian' supporters handcuffed
their wrists to the detainees in a show of solidarity. 'Our human rights as Canadians are tied to the human rights of Canada's political prisoners,' said participant Annie Banks as she handcuffed herself to a 'detainee.' The demonstration was also offered in support of the families of the detainees, who converged on the office of the Prime Minister in Ottawa on Monday, once again asking for a meeting with
the Prime Minister as the Security Certificates process came under review.
"'No One Is Illegal Victoria gathered hundreds of postcards condemning the Security Certificates signed by members of the local community, including faith groups, law students, musicians, 'soccer moms and ordinary Canadians,' said participant Branden Beatty,
who submitted cards signed by his roommates and by people he spoke with buying books at the Times-Colonist Book Sale.
"Passersby who stopped to learn about Secret Trials in Canada also signed cards at Saturday's demonstration. 'By gathering in front of the Immigration office we are saying that Canadians do not accept injustice in our name and in our country,' said 'detainee' David Ball. To bring the ceremony to a close the 'detainees' threw their handcuffs in the air with a cheer and a call to 'free the five in 2005,'
and then proceeded down the street to a nearby mailbox, to mail the postcards to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Demonstrators also sang, to the tune of "let my people go":
When Muslims were in Canada
Let my people go!
Oppressed by these draconian laws
Let my people go!
Go down, CSIS,
way down to tulip land
tell Anne McLellan
to Let my people go!
Five men we hold in Canada
Let my people go!
with no respect for internat'nal law
Let my people go!
Go down, CSIS,
way down to Ottawa
tell Anne McLellan
to Let my people go!
They're held on Secret Evidence
Let my people go!
In trials that would make Kafka wince
Let my people go!
Go on, CSIS
admit you're wrong and make amends
tell Anne McLellan
to Let my people go!
There is much happening in the coming weeks around the issue. On March 14 and 15, consideration of bail for Mohammad Mahjoub, detained since June, 2000, is again before the Federal Court in Toronto (9:30 am, 330 University Ave., check in at 651-5800 ext. 1 or email@example.com to confirm exact times).
On March 21, Adil Charkaoui's security certificate hearing resumes in Montreal, followed March 26 by a major march in Montreal against secret trials.
On Monday, April 4 in Toronto, ON Trial, a major benefit for the families of the detainees will feature readings from Kafka by Ann-Marie Macdonald, Linda McQuaig, Nino Ricci, Linda Griffiths and many more.
On April 22, Monia Mazigh joins Toronto's secret trial families in a major public event on ending deportation to torture and stopping secret trials at Bloor Street United Church at 7:15 pm.
Stay in touch, and keep those letters and cards going to MPs, Paul Martin, Joe Volpe and Anne McLellan. They are listening, but they will only act if we keep telling them to! And don't forget to congratulate the new MPs who have signed on to stop secret trials for their support (their emails are on the Parliamentary website)
(report from Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada)
Alex McDonough's statement to the House of Commons:
" Mr. Speaker, New Democrats stand in solidarity with family members of those being detained under so-called security certificates.
Families are in Ottawa today pleading for their loved ones to be accorded rights, supposedly guaranteed by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Canada is a signatory.
Earlier today I tabled a motion calling on this government to charge or release these detainees, held for up to four years, with no charges laid, no presumption of innocence, no due process and no opportunity to defend themselves in a fair and transparent judicial process.
I urge all members of this House to join me in calling for an end to these draconian security certificates, which violate the Canadian Constitution and our international obligations.
Let us end this practice that has torn families apart, separating these men from their parents, their wives and their children.
"That, in the opinion of the House, the government should:
(a) either lay charges against individuals being held under Security Certificates and allow those accused to undergo a fair and transparent judicial trial or immediately release them;
(b) comply with the United Nations' Convention against Torture and Other Cruel or Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by refusing to deport detainees to any country where there is a substantial risk of torture or death as a result of an act of torture;
(c) halt the use of Security Certificates and re-write the security provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to make
them consistent with our constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture; and
(d) provide leadership, in partnership with other levels of government and civil society, to end the racial profiling, attacks on civil liberties, targeting of Arab and Muslim individuals and communities, and other ethnic and religious minorities across Canada, through a plan of action and allocation of appropriate resources.