Six arrests made at CSIS
Sit-in demands secret evidence being used to detain Canada's secret trial five
By MATTHEW BEHRENS*
TORONTO (20 October 2004) -- SIX PEOPLE were arrested today following a sit-in in the lobby of the building that houses the Toronto offices of Canada's national spy agency, CSIS. The group, made up of folks from Burlington, Hamilton, Dundas, Durham, and Toronto, had been seeking a meeting to discuss the secret "evidence" which has been used to detain five Muslim men a collective 164 months, or 13 and a half years, behind Canadian prison bars without charge or bail.
Sponsored by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, the group chose the date of October 20 because it marks three years in solitary confinement for secret trial detainee Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee held in Toronto's Metro West Detention Centre and one of the five Muslim men currently detained without charge or bail. Next week in Ottawa, secret trial detainee Mohamed Harkat will attend the public portion of his secret trial, after which the judge will retire with CSIS and government lawyers to discuss the evidence -- if any exists -- without Harkat and his lawyer present. Mohammad Mahjoub, held since June 2000 in Toronto, is currently in solitary confinement; Mahmoud Jaballah has been detained since August, 2001, and Adil Charkaoui detained since May, 2003.
"We sit here because we have tried just about every channel available to us," the group wrote in a statement. "But time is not on our side. These men are shadows of their former selves, often broken in body, and scarred in spirit. Their families are traumatized, their communities fearful. And each day they wake brings the same nagging question: why are they being held behind bars, and why is Canada attempting to deport them to torture?
"We sit here not because we despair, but because we hope. Perhaps our willingness to take some risk, to practice some truth-seeking, Gandhian nonviolence, will open some minds, some hearts, some souls, to the crime of secret trials in Canada and the pain they have inflicted on individuals, families, communities."
The group were charged with failure to leave premises when directed as well as engaging in a prohibited activity on private property and released shortly after their arrests. Those arrested and charged are Kirsten Romaine, Rae Mitchell, Diana Ralph, Chris Shannon, Barney Barningham and Matthew Behrens.
About ten people entered the lobby shortly after 11 am and sat on benches that they imagined were for...well...sitting. Security came within a few minutes to ascertain why we were sitting on those benches.
"Because benches are made to be sat upon," explained one. A member of the group called upstairs to CSIS requesting that a meeting be held immediately to discuss transfer of the secret "evidence" to the lawyers of the detainees, so they can defend their clients. Other security officials showed up to make extensive explanations about the fact that, even though CSIS is a federal government agency, it is housed in a building that is "private property.
Police were eventually called in and, after asking us almost a dozen times to leave, were eventually forced to make arrests.
One particularly interesting exchange between a resister and a police officer went like this:
OFFICER: Well, you'll have your 15 seconds on the news tonight.
RESISTER: I hope these men will be released
OFFICER: Are they illegal immigrants? What are the charges?
RESISTER: No Charges. They're refugees and permanent residents, and this could now be done to citizens.
OFFICER: Well, it could be me or you next.
RESISTER: Yes, it could be, that's why we're doing this. We're trying to generate public support for these men.
OFFICER: I think it's very important tthat you're doing this. If the public doesn't know about this, these men could just disappear. It happened in Chile, it could happen here.
RESISTER: We think they should get a fair and open trial so they can defend themselves. There must be checks and balances.
OFFICER: I agree, there must be checks and balances.
Another arrestee reports that the arresting officer apologized for having to make the arrest, for after having heard about the reason for the protest, the officer felt a sense of shame that he would be hauling such folks out of the CSIS building.
The six plan to contest the charges, a right that thusfar remains unavailable to the five secret trial detainees.
Below is a statement the group presented during the sit-in.
For more info. call (416) 651-5800.
Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada,
PO Box 73620,
509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, www.homesnotbombs.ca, email@example.com
STATEMENT FOR THE CSIS SIT-IN
October 20, 2004
Today is a sad anniversary. It marks three years in solitary confinement for Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee held at Metro West Detention Centre without charge or bail on secret evidence neither he nor his lawyers are allowed to see.
Hassan is one of five Muslim men collectively held 164 months, or 13 and a half years, on CSIS secret trial security certificates. They are Mohammad Mahjoub, father of two, held since June, 2000; Mahmoud Jaballah, father of six, held 9 months in 1999, cleared of allegations, re-arrested in August 2001, held since then despite CSIS admitting there's no new evidence; Mohamed Harkat, married, held since December, 2002; and Adil Charkaoui, father of two, held since May, 2003.
None of these men has been charged with, much less convicted, of any crime here in Canada. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights experts agree that all their lives are at risk if deported. Their lives continue to be degraded by the indefinite incarceration which has led one Federal Court judge to conclude we have a Canadian version of Guantanamo Bay.
All the men have called on the government to charge them if there is a case, and to try them in an open, fair trial with full disclosure of the case against them. Otherwise, they should be released immediately.
* We sit here because we want CSIS to hand over the secret "evidence" to us, which we will pass on to the lawyers of the detainees.
* We sit here because we cannot do otherwise. These men are our brothers, as they are yours. And as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, no piece of paper can make them any less so. We are obligated to be here, in respect of international laws and covenants Canada has signed and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in honour of that human bond which calls us to respect and cherish one another's dignity and humanity.
* We sit here because we are rapidly running out of options. We have tried many times to meet with representatives of CSIS, but each time we have been met with locked doors and cordons of police, whether here in Toronto or in Ottawa. We have organized long-distance walks, educational fora, countless vigils and letter campaigns; met with MPs, sought meetings with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister; spent countless hours in court during the open portions of the secret trials; written many letters to and received many phone calls from the detainees themselves. We have fasted with the detainees; we have laughed with them, cried with them, shared their hopes and dreams.
* We sit here because we have tried just about every channel available to us. But time is not on our side. These men are shadows of their former selves, often broken in body, and scarred in spirit. Their families are traumatized, their communities fearful.
And each day they wake brings the same nagging question: why are they being held behind bars, and why is Canada attempting to deport them to torture?
* We sit here not because we despair, but because we hope. Perhaps our willingness to take some risk, to practice some truth-seeking, Gandhian nonviolence, will open some minds, some hearts, some souls, to the crime of secret trials in Canada and the pain they have inflicted on individuals, families, communities.
Perhaps it may be considered a tad indelicate for us to be sitting where we are. But too often, we have been locked outside of the building, and our pleas for a meeting ignored. Today we are here to say we cannot, we must not, be ignored. Too many lives are on the line, and concepts like conscience and rule of law in Canada are in danger of being disappeared just as these
men have been.
Together, let us find a humane solution.
*Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada
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