End the use of security certificates and secret trials!
By PHILIP FERNANDEZ*
TORONTO (11 September 2003) -- CURRENTLY, five men of Arab origin are being held in Canadian prisons, in solitary confinement with no opportunity to see their families, or to have regular contact with their lawyers, or to any modicum of humane treatment. They are treated like criminals without being charged with any crime, and in some cases have no idea of why they have been detained in the first place. They are victims of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) "security certificate" which accuses them, without having to provide any proof, of having alleged terrorist links. These men are Hassan Almrei, held since October 2001, Muhammad Mahjoub, held since June 2000, Muhammad Jabbalah, held since August 2001, Mohammad Harkat, held since December 2002, and Adil Charkaoui, held since May 2003. They were arrested and detained on the basis of alleged terrorist links.
The use of the security certificate is medieval. It is part of the retrogression that is being imposed by the Canadian state as part and parcel of the anti-social offensive being imposed on the people. The Canadian state is using the security certificates to criminalize national minorities who have come here as immigrants and refugees and to violate their right to conscience, to domicile, to association and other civil and political rights which modern society has given rise to. The fact that this is being done with impunity underscores the need for us in Canada to bring into being a modern citizenship law based on fundamental law which recognizes and guarantees the fundamental rights of all members of the polity and puts an end to arbitrariness and discrimination between residents, naturalized citizens and those born here.
While the Canadian state has used the argument of threat to national security in the past to deny citizenship to residents for political reasons, as in the case of Hardial Bains, the founder of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and its leader until his death, or to deport individuals for being a "security risk" to Canada since 11 September 2001, security certificates are being used in the context of the US-led war against terrorism. Anti-terrorism laws that the Chrétien Liberals have passed, such as Bill C-36 and Bill C-42 coupled with the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (Bill C-11) and the new Citizenship Act (Bill C-18) give the Canadian state broad powers to persecute anyone in Canada under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Section 17 of Bill C-18 goes so far as to allow the Canadian state to annul the citizenship of a naturalized citizen if it is found that the person has "demonstrated a flagrant and serious disregard for the principles and values underlying a free and democratic society." Given that most of the naturalized citizens in recent years have come from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, it is not difficult to see who is being targeted.
The use of the security certificate permits the Canadian state to arrest and detain anyone without that person being charged with an offense. The person's lawyers are not permitted to know the exact allegations against their client nor do they have access to all the evidence being used against their client, but only to a summary which is a subjective rendering of the so-called facts. The information used against the detainee can come from a foreign source under the seal of secrecy in order to protect the source or in the interests of "national security." The CSIS-approved federal judge who reviews the documents provided by CSIS on which the security certificate is based, renders a decision which is final and without appeal, a decision relating only to the so-called reasonable character of the alleged facts rather than their truth. All the alleged facts are decontextualized and give credence to innuendo. If the judge validates the security certificate, the person will face deportation. In short, once a person is caught in this web, there is little protection of any kind.
The CSIS security certificate is an instrument of a police state. The use of the security certificate violates all the principles of fundamental justice and norms of an enlightened and civilized society. It contravenes the principles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Convention on Refugees, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other conventions and agreements to which Canada is a signatory.
The right of the accused to a fair trial and the principle of innocent until proven guilty is thrown into the mud. Secret evidence against the accused is presented behind closed doors and the arguments made by the crown prosecutors are heard by the judge in the absence of the accused or defence counsel. The right of the accused to confront their accuser is also denied.
The Chrétien government has taken these measures under the hoax of protecting Canadians and upholding rule of law. Real life has shown that not only do these measures neither protect Canadians nor uphold rule of law but hold both in utter contempt. Furthermore these responsible are protected by impunity.
Humanity's experience reveals that when arbitrary powers are exercised by a government and its officials on behalf of a ruling elite and laws conditioned upon the latter's values and interests, no one is safe. The fact that the Canadian state can disregard the fundamental rights of people through the arbitrariness of the security certificate shows that anyone can be targeted with impunity. If one section of the polity can be so lawlessly attacked, so can others.
Today those being accused of links with terrorism are the ones being persecuted, but within the broad brush that the Canadian state is using to define what terrorism is, and within the context of the struggle against the vicious anti-social offensive being waged by Canadians in defence of their rights, the state can and will target anyone as has been the case in the past in this country and elsewhere. The state agencies routinely criminalize those who are in the forefront of the struggle for new political and social arrangements that favour the interests of the people of Canada, who are fighting to end arbitrariness and for a rule of law which favours the broad masses of the people.
A rule of law worthy of the name is based on the premise that the law applies to everyone equally and that nobody can be above the law. Yet, this is precisely what is absent in Canada. The case of Adil Charkaoui, a 30-year-old permanent resident originally from Morocco and living in Montreal, serves as a good example. He was questioned by CSIS three days after September 11. He was also interviewed by US authorities in New York last year but no charges were laid even though he was warned that he had been placed on a list of suspected terrorists. This May, he was arrested in Montreal and taken into custody. In an interview he pointed out that he had been pressured by CSIS to be an agent for the state by spying on Arabs and Muslims living in Montreal, which he refused to do. Because he refused to submit to this blackmail, he was served a security certificate and taken into custody, under the pretext that he had travelled to Pakistan, among other things. Tens of thousands of people have travelled to Pakistan. Are they all suspects now?
It is unacceptable that the Canadian state is using the CSIS as the arbiter of who is a terrorist and who is not. This is an organization implicated in all sorts of terrorist and criminal activity from helping to organize the Air India disaster in 1985 which killed 329 people, to the bombing of oil-wells in Alberta, to the organizing of racist attacks against national minorities in Toronto through the setting up of the Heritage Front, to barn-burning and bombings in Quebec in the late 1960s, as well as assisting Canada Post to engage in spying and intimidating union official and so on. Volume V of the MacDonald Commission's hearings into the "wrongdoings" of the RCMP which contains all the illegal and criminal activities conducted against CPC(M-L) has yet to be made public. CSIS has carried out these activities with impunity on behalf of the Canadian state. It is hardly qualified to uphold rule of law.
What we have in Canada is not a rule of law. To call impunity rule of law is self-serving, just as we have a definition of terrorism that is self-serving. It is in the interests of a desperate elite to have these measures to protect the status quo and deny the right to conscience. These measures are in contempt of the requirements of a modern, democratic and enlightened society in order to preserve its integrity and serve the interests of the people living within its borders and internationally.
To turn problems facing the polity in the economic, political, cultural and social spheres into law and order matters is one of the major problems today. The use of the security certificate is the odious embodiment of state-terrorism and is an assault on the rights and dignity of all Canadians. The use of the security certificate by the state to persecute national minorities and others who are fighting for their rights must be ended by involving all Canadians to demand
(a) that those currently imprisoned under the security certificate be released immediately or be charged with concrete crimes and evidence presented in accord with fundamental justice and rule of law,
(b) that the use of secret certificates be scrapped as an unacceptable and gross violation of an individual's fundamental rights.
These demands must be taken up within the context of the fight for a modern citizenship law which ensures that everyone is accorded equal treatment as members of one polity. This is consistent with the nation-building project that Canada requires today.
A modern citizenship law which does not discriminate between those who are naturalized citizens and those who are born here and which does not isolate Canadians' rights to conscience in the name of what are called "Canadian values" is a prerequisite. It must objectively lay down the rights and duties of all citizens as equal members of the polity and outlaw the discretionary powers of officials based on anti-social criteria. It is urgent to unite as one against all racist attacks against this or that national minority community, and to ensure that the rights and claims of all those to live in Canada are guaranteed in the fundamental law of the land. Only the united struggle of the Canadian people can end the lawlessness, arbitrariness and state terror and provide the security of the people of Canada with a guarantee.
* Philip Fernandez is the Ontario spokesperson of the People's Front.
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