Under suspicion: since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Arabs and Muslims around the world have become targets of discrimination.
Bill C-36 was fast-tracked through Parliament in six weeks. It became law just three months after the terrorists' crashed airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States. The law allows for "preventive arrest;" police can hold suspects for up to 72 hours without charge and without any crime having been committed. Police now have wider powers to spy on Canadians and to seize the property and assets of suspected terrorists.
It's important to note that Bill C-36 (the Anti-Terrorism Act) does not target any specific group of people; it applies equally to all 31 million Canadians. At least, in theory, it applies to everybody. Mr. Khouri, however, believes the notion of equal application of the law means nothing on the street. He says members of the community he speaks for are being given special attention by authorities. He says there have been reports of several dozen Arab and Muslim Canadians being wrongfully detained and questioned since the bill was passed.
Mr. Khouri is not alone. Advocates for refugees and immigrants, people who work to protect civil liberties, the Canadian Bar Association, and others have called on Ottawa to change the Anti-Terrorism Act. The main concern is that the legitimate dissent that is an essential part of a healthy democracy will suffer in the attempt to control terrorism.
* First Nations blocking a highway to advance land claims;
* Environmentalists trying to stop logging;
* Anti-globalization protesters demonstrating to prevent the signing of a trade agreement;
* Unions picketing a factory; or,
* Hecklers giving a politician a hard time?
There are fears that the heavy hand of the Anti-Terrorism Act might be used against those whose opinions the authorities just don't like. All the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, Arabs, and males, so that makes people with those characteristics more suspect than others. But, who is the next most suspicious group? And, the next?
The federal government says not to worry. The provisions of the Act will only be used against the bad guys; innocent folk have nothing to fear. But, Thomas Sophonow, Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin, and David Milgaard were innocent. These four, and others, have done serious jail time, convicted under Canada's Criminal Code for crimes they were later proven not to have committed. The people who work to protect our civil rights say that under the Anti-Terrorism Act miscarriages of justice are even more likely to occur. Raja Khouri and his fellow Arabs and Muslims fear they are the most likely citizens of Canada to become victims of such judicial errors.
In an interview with CBC's The Current in August 2003, Solicitor-General Wayne Easter acknowledged that containing Islamic extremism is the number one priority of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Mr. Easter points out that his officials face a very difficult job in "Balancing off individual freedoms against the need for national security."
The American statesman Benjamin Franklin pointed out 250 years ago that those who are willing to exchange freedom for security usually end up with neither. And, it's in Mr. Franklin's home country that some of the biggest problems are surfacing.
The Patriot Act was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush just six weeks after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Not a lot of time for in-depth analysis of a complex, 342-page bill. Mr. Bush might feel inclined to quote John Curran, a Lord Mayor of Dublin in an earlier time. In 1790, he said that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Understandably, Americans were feeling jittery in the aftermath of the terrible crimes committed against them. They needed to feel better protected; authorities wanted to make sure they could keep close tabs on the lunatic fringe.
No civilized society, can allow bigots, extremists, or criminals to terrorize the innocent. However, if the innocent are to be able to live their lives in safety, they have to accept some restrictions. Here's how The Economist put it in September 2002: "More safety, less liberty. It is a trade-off. A balance must be struck."
That said, there are many who believe the government of President Bush has placed unnecessary controls on society. Civil rights activists say the Patriot Act became law with too much haste.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one of many critics of the legislation. "With this law," says the Foundation, "we have given sweeping new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies and have eliminated the checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that these powers were not abused." Most of those checks and balances were put in place in the 1970s. That's when it was discovered the U.S. government had been spying on at least 10,000 American citizens, including the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.
The powers given authorities are very broad. Internet surfing is monitored, phones are tapped, homes and businesses are searched, mail is opened, even library borrowing is recorded. And, all of this is done without the knowledge of the people being investigated.
Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are worried that law enforcement officials are using the Patriot Act to cast a very wide net indeed. People who oppose the World Trade Organization, anti-abortion protestors, Aboriginal rights groups, and AIDS activists are worried. They have all expressed concern they might be targeted for surveillance even though they are engaged in legitimate political activities.
Shakir Baloch is one of the people who has already been caught in that widely thrown net. Mr. Baloch is a Canadian citizen. He is also a Muslim who was born in Pakistan. He entered the United States illegally in 1998 where he was trying to get his qualifications to practice medicine recognized. A week after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Dr. Baloch was arrested in New York City. He was held in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison. He was denied the right to contact his wife or a lawyer for weeks, kept under constant bright lighting and surveillance, and shackled. He says he was beaten up and subjected to racist taunting by prison staff.
He did eventually get a lawyer, William Goldman of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Mr. Goldman told the CBS News program 60 Minutes: "It sounds extreme, but the fact is I interviewed dozens of people in Shakir's situation, and one after another they told me this story--that upon entry someone would take their head and smash it into the wall and then make some statement about them being a 9/11 terrorist."
After seven months in custody Dr. Baloch was deported to Canada without his identification papers or money. There was never any shred of evidence he was involved in terrorism. Since his release, Dr. Baloch has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, contracted while in prison, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In all about 1,200 people were seized in the United States in the weeks following the September 11 atrocities. They were held in secret and the vast majority were deported in secret. Only the U.S. government knows who they were and it's not telling. None of those arrested has been charged with a terrorism-related offence. Human Rights Watch says the people were rounded up solely because of their religious or ethnic background.
In August 2002, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the U.S. government's behaviour post 9/11. It wasn't complimentary. The report says the government displayed "a stunning disregard for the democratic principles of public transparency and accountability." U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft has a different take. He told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the detentions were both legal and necessary to keep the nation secure: "Our efforts have been crafted carefully to avoid infringing on constitutional rights while saving American lives."
The magazine Mother Jones reports from a different point of view from Mr. Ashcroft's. In its July/August 2003 issue the journal wrote that investigators have been given "the authority to vacuum up vast amounts of information and to analyze and file intelligence on individuals and organizations, including political and religious groups and citizens not suspected of any crime." The U.S. government is now combining the information it collects into one huge database. All of this is going on behind dosed doors.
As the United States carried its war on terror into Iraq people with connections to that country were put under the microscope. Operation Liberty Shield has seen Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents fanning out across the U.S. They have been conducting "voluntary" interviews with people born in Iraq. More than 10,000 people have submitted themselves to "voluntary interviews."
Police are instructed to collect information of peoples' political beliefs and group memberships. This is then fed into that giant computer database.
Meanwhile, our American cousins need to get ready for the next step. One civil rights group reports that: "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act 2003, also known as the Second Patriot Act is by its very structure the definition of dictatorship."
1. George Orwell's book 1984 (first published in 1949) examines a world of the future in which an all-powerful government maintains a close watch on all citizens. The Ministry of Truth and the Thought Police make sure that nobody silos out of line because "Big Brother is watching you." In January 2003, an American Civil Liberties Union report said in part: "A combination of lightning-fast technological innovations and the erosion of privacy protections threatens to transform Big Brother from an oft-cited but remote threat into a very real part of American life. "Assign a group of students to prepare a synopsis of 1984 as a prelude to leading a discussion on how close redo has come to Mr. Orwells fictional creation.
2. In August 2003, 19 men living in Canada were arrested and placed in detention. At the time a Canadian government official was quoted as saying: "I guess the easiest way of putting it is there is a suggestion they might, in fact, perhaps be a sleeper cell for al-Qaeda." Canadian authorities were operating under immigration regulations where the standard of proof is much less than under the Criminal Code's demand that a conviction can only come after someone has been found "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Do you believe it is fair to have a lower standard of proof in immigration cases? Give reasons for your answer.
3. During the early 1950s, many people in the United States became fearful that the Soviet Union was inserting Communist sleeper cells into key sectors of the American society, such as the State Department and the movie industry. Senator Joseph McCarthy began accusing a number of senior government officials of being Communist Party members whose aim was to subvert the United States. Many people were called before a Senate subcommittee, of which Mr. McCarthy was the chair, and humiliated with a public grilling. Appoint a team of students to research these beatings and to role-play a scene from them as a prelude to a discussion about the current mood of fear in the United States.
In widely dispersed countries around the world, Arabs and Muslims are having a tough time. Ever since the fiery crashes of 11 September 2001, individuals and governments have been taking out their anger on innocent members of the same race and religion as the hijackers.
Even the Dutch, among the world's most tolerant people have been getting short tempered. A poll in the Netherlands in late 2001 asked Muslims what they thought of the terrorist attacks. Sixty-one percent said it was a bad thing. This shocked the Dutch: in what kind of community, they asked, can 39 percent of the people not strongly condemn the murder of 3,000 innocents? Such findings as these have prompted demands that immigrants integrate into Dutch society. "Learn the language, take courses in citizenship," the Dutch are saying.
A new government in Denmark late in 2001 began pushing more integration. Both sticks and carrots are being used. Courses in civics and language are now compulsory in Denmark as is, in some cases, job placement. Norway is following along.
For decades, Germany has had many thousands of "guest workers" from Turkey. They were never allowed to become citizens and have lived in their own communities, socializing, shopping, and praying with each other. The guest workers have also been targets of violent racists.
China is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse for cracking down on its Muslim minority. The government is using strong-arm tactics against Muslims living in the far-western province of Xinjiang.
In early 2002, Amnesty International reported that 3,000 people had been arrested for anti-government activities and that some of these had been executed. Chinese authorities claim these people are associates of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda extremists.
TERRORISTS IN OUR MIDST?
Nineteen men were picked up in a police sweep in Toronto in August 2003. Eighteen of those arrested were from Pakistan, one was from India, and all were Muslims.
Within hours the media were being told these men were suspected of being members of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell (Al-Qaeda is the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks). Under the post-September 11 immigration Act, foreigners living in Canada can be arrested and held quite easily. All that's needed is for there to be a reasonable suspicion that someone is a threat to national security; there doesn't need to be any evidence or proof.
One of the 19 men arrested had been taking flying lessons during which he had passed over the Picketing nuclear power plant east of Toronto. The flying school later pointed out that one of its standard flight patterns takes student pilots over the Picketing station. Other men had been spotted walking near the nuclear plant. Some were said to know a man who had links to an al-Qaeda tuna-raising group. All of those detained were enrolled in something called the Ottawa Business School. This turned out to be a nonexistent operation whose purpose seems to have been to provide people with documents that would help them get student visas to enter Canada.
Following the arrests, Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress said: "The authorities have created hysteria and created a national security scare. We are deeply troubled."
As we went to press, some of those arrested had been released after immigration hearings. Those who remained in custody appeared to be guilty of nothing more than immigration infractions.
It's not surprising then that people of Arab descent don't feel very comfortable in Canada. According to a 2002 survey carded out by the Canadian Arab Foundation, 92 percent of Arab Canadians believe that "What Canadians know about Arab culture stems from negative stereotypes and myths." Arab Canadians believe that 84 percent of "Canadians think Arabs are violent." More than a third of Arab Canadians say they "are made to feel uncomfortable by the way white Canadians look at them and one out of two encounters racism in daily interactions. At the same time, people of Arab descent living in Canada are overwhelmingly proud of being Canadian and of being Arab.
Mohamed Harkat, Hassan Almrei, Muhammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Adil Charkaoui came to Canada in the 1990s. At the time of writing, all were in prison; held there since 2000. The five are accused of having ties to terrorists but they have not been allowed to see what evidence the Canadian government says it has against them.
The five men are held under something called a "security certificate." This is a document signed by the Minister of immigration and the Solicitor-General. The ministers base their decision to sign the certificate on information given to them by the Canadian Security intelligence Service (CSIS). The document is then reviewed, in secret, by a federal judge. Solicitor-General Wayne Easter says there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that innocent Canadians are not imprisoned illegally under the security certificate system.
The families of the men held say that the secrecy of the whole process is unjust. Ahmad Jaballah, the 17-year-old son of one of the prisoners, says the government's failure to bring the men to trial in public is a sign it can't back up its claims.
According to the Washington Times, by July 2003: "About 165 communities nationwide have passed resolutions condemning the U.S.A. Patriot Act."
According to a Gallup poll taken in nine different Arab countries three months after the 11 September terrorism, 61% of those questioned believed that Arabs were not involved in the hijackings that destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon.
In the two years following the 9/11 attacks, U.S. authorities seized more than two million weapons during airport security checks, including more than 4,000 box cutters of the kind used by the hijackers.
Canadian Arab Federation http://www.caf.ca/caf.htm
The International Human Rights Law Group--http:// www.hrlawgroup.org/
Muslim Canadian Congress http://www. muslimcanadiancongress.org/
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|Publication:||Canada and the World Backgrounder|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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