ACJC is a pan-Canadian organization of Jews who support human rights and justice both in Israel/Palestine and here in Canada. Both because of Jewish ethical commitments to justice, and because our people have experienced discrimination and persecution, we have an obligation to stand in solidarity when any people are denied due process on the basis of their religion or ethnic identity. The security certificate process is one of the more serious post-9/11 assaults on the civil liberties and human rights of Muslims in Canada.
Our concerns about C-3: We believe that the security certificate process is a dangerously unjust law which violates many elements of natural justice and due process. Even with the modifications proposed in C-3, the law is irredeemably flawed in the following ways:
1. It discriminates against non-citizens violating the principle that all people in Canada are entitled to due process and human rights, regardless of their citizenship status.
2. It is unnecessary because current criminal law provides for crimes related to national security and terrorism, including due process and in camera hearings of sensitive material. These are currently applied to Canadian citizens and should similarly be available for non-citizens.
3. The Federal Court approved over 99% of CSIS’s warrant applications between 1993-2003 (including all the security certificates)–a rubber stamp approach to “justice.”
4. Once issued, a security certificate cannot be appealed, even if lawyers can demonstrate that the allegations are false. As a result, the detainees have no way to clear their names and go free.
5. The law allows the lowest possible standard of “evidence” which would not be accepted in a normal criminal proceeding. This is particularly serious because SIRC and the latest Supreme Court challenge by Adil Chakaoui have documented valid concerns that CSIS’s information-gathering methods are flawed and dangerously unaccountable. They alter and destroy notes. They use “evidence” derived from torture victims and unreliable informants. They threaten retribution if people refuse to spy for them. I have personal experience with their biased and distorted “evidence.”
6. The detainees and their lawyers are not entitled to see the allegations against them or who is making them. Even with the addition of a special advocate, this makes it impossible for the accused to defend themselves.
7. The definition of “terrorism” amounts to any suspicion of association, regardless of the number of degrees of separation, and the actual potential risk to Canadians.
8. The purpose of the security certificate is to deport detainees, even if they face substantial risk of torture and death. This violates international law and the Canadian Charter.
9. The only alternative to deportation is indefinite detention under extremely restricted circumstances. This puts enormous stress on the lives of the detainees AND their families, including young children.
10. All of this violates Canada’s international law obligations. Two U.N. committees, as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Canada around concerns about deportation to torture, arbitrary detention, and inhumane conditions of detention, as well as the inherent denial of due process and natural justice.
11. Most of all secret trials do nothing to actually protect Canadians from terrorism. In fact, they set precedents which make democracy more fragile for Canadians and damage our reputation abroad.
Last February, after years of demonstrations, lobbying, hunger strikes, international condemnation and legal challenges, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the security certificate law. C-3 not only retains all the horrors of the old law, but will actually enshrine a dangerous new principle—the idea of a “special advocate,” a lawyer who is security-cleared by CSIS and appointed by the government to review the secret information. The detainee is unable to instruct the special advocate because he or she does not know the case to be met. This is worse than window-dressing of an unjust law. It sets a precedent to allow governments to undermine due process in all our laws—to arbitrarily try people without even telling them what they are charged with and who made the allegations. The “special advocate” system has come under fire in the UK, and several high-profile special advocates have resigned in protest.
ACJC joins over sixty groups across Canada in the call for no new security certificates, with or without special advocates. We ask that you allow the security certificate process to expire on February 24.
My experience: I am an Associate Professor of Social Work, at Carleton University (currently on disability leave). My father was an international lawyer who worked on the Nuremberg war crimes trials and helped to articulate the Nuremberg and Geneva principles. He taught me that, as a Jew, I have a special obligation to work to protect the human rights of people unfairly targeted for oppression. I have spent most of my life working on and teaching about a broad range of social justice issues.
Following the 9/11 attacks, I researched the history and political background of the so-called “war on terror,” and particularly the background leading to the current war in Afghanistan. I have published a chapter in a refereed scholarly book The Hidden History of 9-11-01, which exposes the U.S., British, and Canadian government’s cynical manipulation of Islamophobia to justify wars of aggression abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home. When I learned about the security certificate process in 2003, I was appalled. Since then, I have done everything I can to strike down this unjust law. I also offered to welcome Hassan Almrei, one of the detainees to live in my home and to serve as his primary surety.
Over the past 4.5 years, I have come to know Mr. Almrei well. He has been consistently kind and respectful to me and my wife, lesbian Jews (another indication that he is not a fanatical terrorist), and we have learned the difference between being a devout Muslim (which he is) and being a “terrorist” (which he isn’t). Documents unearthed during the Arar Inquiry, reveal that CSIS has no criminal case against Mr. Almrei.
Mr. Almrei has spent most of his 6.5 years in jail in solitary confinement, including over a year at Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (because the other detainees have been put on house arrest). Solitary confinement over 30 days is considered a form of torture. For his first two winters, Mr. Almrei was subjected to cold so severe that two other inmates were hospitalized with hypothermia (one of whom died). Like the other security certificate detainees, he faces the constant threat that Canada will deport him to almost certain torture, worse than that experienced by Mr. Arar. This is a form of mental torture. Inherently, this illustrates, the security certificate process involves not just injustice, but torture.
I have sat through many of the kangaroo court proceedings to which Mr. Almrei has been subjected, watching CSIS representatives refuse cross-examination about even the most trivial aspects of their case on the grounds of national security. His lawyers have effectively disproved all of the public allegations against him. But the judge ruled that because of what she assumed (inaccurately) to be his religious beliefs, he remains a threat to Canada. This, I believe, is a form of religious discrimination.
The special advocate would not improve Mr. Almrei’s chances to receive a fair hearing, because he has no idea what wild allegations CSIS has made about him, from whom they gathered the supposed evidence, and under what circumstances. Therefore, neither Mr. Almrei nor his lawyers can effectively advise the special advocate on what questions to ask potential witnesses. And once the special advocate has seen the secret evidence, he/she can no longer consult with Mr. Almrei or his lawyers.
Conclusion: Last February, the Supreme Court upheld the right of all people in Canada to a fair trial, regardless of whether or not they are Canadian citizens. We believe that the Court’s suggestion of using a special advocate was poorly researched, and that in light of the difficulties experienced by British courts trying to use the special advocate model, it is likely that the Canadian Supreme Court might well reject C-3 even if it passes. We believe that the best way to assure compliance with the ruling to eliminate two-tiered justice is to allow the security certificate law to expire on February 24, 2008. Then the detainees can either be released or the government can finally be forced to lay criminal charges and to grant these men a trial with due process rights equivalent to those available to Canadian citizens.
Public Spokesperson ACJC