Home News Exception is the rule: panel discussion on Canadian national security policies

Exception is the rule: panel discussion on Canadian national security policies

by Archives October 23, 2007

On Sunday evening, a group of about 200 gathered at the CEDA community centre in St-Henri to participate in a discussion and critique of Canadian national security policies.
The primary issue is the impending renewal of security certificate legislation, a legal process through which the Canadian government can detain and potentially deport refugees or non-citizens who are suspect of being a threat to national security.
The Federal Supreme Court struck down the existing legislation in February 2007, after an inquiry led by Montreal French teacher and security certificate victim Adil Charkaoui, who found the legal mechanism to be unconstitutional and in violation of charter rights.
The evening was dubbed “The Other Arars: When the ‘Exception’ Is the Rule,” a title event organizer Mary Foster explains is meant to reflect how certain scenarios many view as extraordinary have become legitimized through legal processes.
The discussion opened on a viscerally emotional note, with Ottawa resident Abdullah Almalki speaking about the 22 months he spent in Fara Felastin, a Syrian jail, after being detained in 2002.
Almalki gave a vivid account of his treatment at the hands of Syrian Intelligence agents, of the elaborate methods of torture that he was subject to and of the “dark and rat-infested cell” he was confined in for the duration of his stay.
Almalki’s arrest in Syria was made possible because the RCMP had leaked false information to Syrian intelligence regarding his affiliations to terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
“Situations like mine are a simple matter of governments having their way with you by proxy,” Almalki said. “If you fit the profile of someone who could be a threat to national security, for example by merely being a strong Muslim, the authorities will go to any means to get that confession out of you.”
Almalki was eventually released to Canada and acquitted of all charges in Syrian Supreme Security Court because of insubstantial evidence. He is now at the center of a Federal inquiry into the RCMP’s involvement in cases of overseas detainment.
Specialist lawyer Yavar Hameed then presented a legal analysis of security certificate legislation, a discourse that stood in sharp contrast to Almalki’s moral condemnation, but that was no less relevant.
Hameed focused on dissecting the separate legal standard that exists for non-citizens under security certificate legislation. He argued that the process operated using many elements of criminal penal law, yet it remained a part of immigration legislation, allowing for considerably lesser standards of human rights.
Those facing certificates are viewed as guilty until proven innocent, denied right to proper legal representation, denied access to the evidence purported against them and subject to grave consequences that can go as far as indefinite incarceration or deportation. These trespasses are seen as legally legitimate under the umbrella of national security.
Following Yavar Hameed, Dominique Peschard, social rights activist and vice-president of la Ligue des Droits et Libertés, gave a brief overview of the history of Canadian use of national security practices. He spoke of racial profiling and demonstrated many instances where governments had used torture as an adequate means of obtaining information.
He closed his remarks by recommending that better methods of “watching the watchmen” be implemented.
The panel discussion was brought to a close by Adil Charkaoui’s eloquent condemnation of security certificate legislation.
Charkaoui reiterated many of the concerns that had been voiced earlier in the evening, presenting a well-constructed synthesis of the argument and proposing a possible resolution.
The consensus collectively reached is that security certificate legislation should be entirely abolished.
“A double standard in matters of human rights cannot be tolerated. Matters of national security should be subject to criminal law standards and processes,” said Hameed.
“We have a right to be treated like citizens. Not citizens like Almalki or Arar, but like white people,” concluded Charkaoui.

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