A long shadow on Canada's conscience
Why are death threats against a human rights lawyer not treated seriously?
Editorial of TML Daily, December 12, 2003 - No. 236
TORONTO LAWYER Rocco Galati announced at a press conference on December 4 that after receiving a death threat and having his request for protection from local Toronto police and the RCMP turned down, he has withdrawn from all of his "national security" related cases. At the time of this withdrawal, he had seven such clients, several of whom are being detained on security certificates.
The message left on his answering machine went as follows: "Well Mr. Galati. What's this I hear about you working with the terrorist now, helping to get that [expletive] punk Khadar off. Now you're a dead wop." It is reported that police traced the call to a phone booth in Mississauga.
His request for personal protection to the Toronto Police was rejected, Galati said. The RCMP said they would not act without local police first being involved. Solicitor General Wayne Easter had this to say about the situation: "The RCMP, CSIS, the other services that are involved in the security and public safety in this country will protect his rights as they will anyone else."
Galati has stated that he and his lawyer consider the threat to be a serious one, of an "institutional nature" rather than from a particular individual. They told reporters that "we suspect its an American [security] agency, or a Canadian agency or both." They said that the voice is familiar to them from such a call during a previous case in which their client subsequently disappeared.
One of Galati's clients who will be affected by his resignation is Mohamed Harkat. Speaking to CBC, Harkat's wife Sophie Harkat stated that while Galati's resignation would likely delay her husband's case even longer, she is supportive of his decision.
Commenting on the significance of these developments Galati stated, "It means that we now live in Colombia, because the rule of law is meaningless. It means that lawyers cannot represent anyone even in what you profess to be a democracy here in Canada."
Meanwhile, a CSIS spokesperson said Galati's conclusions were "absurd." A CIA spokesperson reportedly laughed and declined comment.
In all of this, the response of the government of Canada is puzzling indeed. Why is there no immediate investigation when a prominent member of the legal profession receives a terrorist phone call even though he has reason to believe it is "institutional"? Why no "terror alert"? Why are guarantees to his life, normally afforded even a mafia-type informant, not provided? How come the media aren't swarming police to find out what leads they are following? When the Canadian security agencies and the likes of the CSIS and CIA scoff at such allegations, a very important questions arises: Why? What do they know that we don't know?
In the opinion of TML, this casts a very long shadow on Canada's conscience. It shows that to defend their security, the working class and people will have to seriously see what needs to be done.
Canadian Islamic Congress expresses concern over Galati resignation
(8 December 2003) --The recent resignation of civil rights lawyer Rocco Galati from cases involving Muslims has raised concerns from the Canadian Islamic Congress that this will jeopardize their rights to competent legal representation. The national organization has called on both government and police to provide increased protection to all legal representatives in high-profile cases involving Muslim and Arab clients.
"After hearing of the death threats to Mr. Galati we are genuinely concerned for his well-being and for the well-being of any Canadian lawyer who accepts high-profile civil liberties cases," said Wahida Valiante, vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. "It is vital to the health of the Canadian justice system that intimidation tactics are not used to dissuade lawyers from facilitating a fair trial for their clients. We call on Canadian authorities to demonstrate through affirmative action that they will go to whatever lengths are necessary to protect Canadians from vigilantes bent on preventing justice."
Galati has become known for his defence of Muslims in high-profile national security cases. Since his involvement, he has received several death threats; his office has also been broken into. Last week, an anonymous caller left a threatening message on Galati's voicemail that ended "Now you're a dead wop!" Fearing for his life, Galati called a news conference in which he publicly announced his resignation from all national security cases involving Muslims.
"Following 9/11, many Muslims were unfairly detained in sweeping arrests that were, in many cases, unjustified," said Ms. Valiante. "It was through the diligent work of professionals like Mr. Galati that many of these people were able to have their day in court and be rightfully cleared. The safety of the Canadian Muslim community is now compromised, as lawyers may hesitate to accept their cases for fear of similar threats. We are therefore urging police to thoroughly investigate this case and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice."
She added that Canadian Muslims are further concerned that this incident will establish a precedent whereby citizens of any race or religion may be targeted and precluded from adequate legal representation, due to safety concerns on the part of lawyers.
Dr. Imtiaz Ahmad, vice-president of ISNA-Canada, echoed the same concerns. "This is not just a Muslim problem. It is a travesty for all Canadians, and our legal system, when a lawyer can't represent a chosen client in a court of law without fearing for his or her life," he said. "Today, Muslims are the most affected by this. Tomorrow, it will be someone else."
The CIC has also received support in its concerns over the Galati resignation from ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) and COMO, the Coalition of Muslim Organizations.
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