Opposition leaders’ tempers flared during question period in Parliament last week as Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of hiding human rights abuses from Canadians by denying parliament access to Canadian intelligence documents pertaining to the torture of terror suspects abroad.
A seemingly unfazed Harper replied that retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci will review the documents and quickly shifted his attention to the next question. Yet for human rights advocates across Canada, the evidence used to indict torture suspects is too flimsy, the grounds for targeting too racist, and the indifference to the equality clause in section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms too great, for Harper to have addressed the accusations so quickly.
Human Rights lawyer Paul Champ has represented many Canadian-born terror suspects, including Omar Khadr, a 23-year-old Canadian citizen who has been imprisoned and allegedly tortured in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since the age of fifteen. Champ claims, using the example of Maher Arar, that the grounds for the arrest of terror suspects are often rooted in racism, as opposed to evidence. “In the case of Maher Arar, the RCMP told the FBI that he is an Islamic extremist based on nothing,” Champ said. “Either because he wasn’t born Canadian or because he knew someone who was involved in terrorism.”
Since December of 2009, opposition parties in Parliament have demanded the intelligence documents, which could reveal whether Afghan detainees were illegally handed over by Canadian authorities to Afghan officials to be tortured, be made public. While Canada is a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, terror suspects Abousfian Abdelrazik, Abudllah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin and Maher Arar have all alleged that they were tortured abroad with the complicity of Canadian intelligence agencies. They all also allegedly feel that they were targeted because they are Arab and Muslim males.
For Champ, the fact that Canadian terror suspects tend to be Muslim and or Arab is not a coincidence, but rather a “racist” attitude adopted by security agencies. “Camping while Muslim” is the new “driving while black,” Champ said, referring to how he believes the Canadian Security Intelligence Service presumes that terror suspects are guilty simply because their behaviour conforms, in some way, to the conduct of members of the “Toronto 18,” the 18 men and youths arrested in 2006 for planning several bombings in Toronto and Ottawa. Six of the men have since pleaded guilty and two have been convicted. “They say, “Oh, Muslim terrorists go camping, therefore any Muslim who goes camping is a terrorist,” Champ said.
According to Champ, the racism within Canadian security services is not only limited to terror suspects either. The difficulties immigrants working in the public sector face in order to receive security clearance from CSIS is another instance of intelligence crossing over into racism, he alleges.
A Canadian federal government employee who arrived from North Korea in 1968, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reinforced Champ’s allegations on racism within the public sector. After putting in 20 years of service in the public sector, this employee said that she continually failed to receive security clearance. She attributed her “stalled career status” to a “racist element,” and took up the matter with with relevant committee in her department, but to no avail.
“Immediately I realized I was a kind of second citizen,” she said, adding that North Korea’s identification as an “axis of evil” country was the elephant in the room that likely halted her career path.