Future unclear for security certificate detainees: (In)security certificates

(In)security certificates

Almrei survived 155-day hunger strike...
Photo: Darren Ell

Court struck down terror law, but five detainees remain in legal limbo

In February, critics of Canada’s security certificate process won a noisy victory. So three months later, why did a detainee come close to quietly starving to death?

It was front-page news in every national paper for days: The Supreme Court had unanimously ruled security certificates unconstitutional. For years, the families and supporters of five security certificate detainees had been arguing exactly that, for many reasons. The men were indefinitely held without charge. They and their lawyers were denied access to the evidence against them.

Parliament was given one year to rewrite the controversial measure of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In the meantime, the five men remain in legal limbo. Four have been released on strict bail conditions. Only Hassan Almrei, who has no family in Canada, remains in the specially constructed Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, a.k.a. Guantanamo North.

Paul Copeland, Almrei’s lawyer, explains, "It’s much harder to propose bail for him because there’s no one to propose for him to live with."

…but remains behind bars in Gitmo North

On May 11, Almrei ended an unfathomable 155-day hunger strike, coming to a confidential agreement with the government. He was demanding improved conditions, including protection from harassment by guards.

According to Copeland, a week before the strike ended he was locked in his cell "as punishment," and began refusing even juice and water.

NDP MP Bill Siksay, who has been an outspoken critic of security certificates, visited Almrei on the final day of the strike. "I was so worried about him that day," he says. "He seemed very weak. He was still quite lucid and clear thinking, but he was in pain."

Siksay is skeptical that the security certificate legislation can be reworked. "I don’t think you can tinker with the process. It’s completely flawed from the beginning." The problem, he believes, is that this "lesser" immigration process is being used to deal with serious allegations of terrorism, rather than the Criminal Code.

There is also concern that the changes will follow the Air India model of "special advocates" or "security cleared lawyers," which would still prevent the accused from knowing the evidence against them. In Britain, where this approach has been attempted, some lawyers have walked off the job in protest.

Activists continue to protest security certificates

Until new legislation is proposed, activists are faced with the challenge of keeping public focus on the issue.

Amy Miller is an organizer with the Coalition for Justice for Adil Charkaoui, the Montreal-based security certificate detainee who brought the constitutional challenge of the process to the court.

Charkaoui and the others on bail aren’t anywhere close to free, she says. They remain under constant surveillance, with restrictive curfews, making it virtually impossible to get a job or move forward with their lives.

"In fact, their families join them in this new ‘prison.’"

On Saturday, organizers will host a full day of workshops and panels aimed at confronting the role of the "national security" agenda in racism and Islamophobia.

Racism, Islamophobia and "national security"
Teach-in and strategy forum
At Pavillon J. A. de Sève, UQÀM (320 Ste-Catherine E.), May 26, 1-9 p.m.
For full schedule and more info: www.adilinfo.org

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