'It's such a fundamental violation of rights'; Protest calls attention to secret trials under Canada's anti-terror law
by Sudbury Star staff, October 22, 2007.
If Canadians knew the details of how their government is using unconstitutional legislation to treat immigrants, they wouldn't stand for it, activists protested during the weekend in Sudbury and cities across the country.
"It's an issue that needs more attention because so many people are not aware of the secret trials process, the way the government can arrest and detain people without due process. That's something that should be of concern across Canada," said Scott Neigh, a member of Sudbury Against War and Occupation.
About a dozen members of the local peace group demonstrated Saturday afternoon outside the Sudbury Courthouse, in tandem with similar rallies held across Canada.
"It's a problem that needs more sustained attention," Neigh said of the government's use of the Anti-Terrorism Act and its so-called security certificates to detain immigrants suspected of terrorism-related activity.
"There is such a lack of due process ... it's such a fundamental violation of rights," he said.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously, in February of this year, that the use of security certificates to detain suspects and keep sensitive information from the public violates the Charter of Rights. However, the court suspended the full legal effect of its ruling for one year, giving the government time to rewrite the law. The security certificates allow government officials to use secret court hearings, indefinite prison terms and summary deportations when dealing with non-citizens accused of having terrorist ties.
"At no point does the accused person, or their lawyers, get to see details of the accusations against them," said Neigh. "At no point do they get to respond to specific evidence. It's heard in secret by a judge. The standard for what's admissible as evidence is incredibly low - things that would be thrown out of a criminal court proceeding are admissible."
There's also concern that some of the information that CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service) submits may have come from foreign intelligence and been derived by torture or other questionable practices. And the standard for a judge's decision is also very low."
The government has been using such unconstitutional practices for several years already and it may take many more before the majority of Canadians realize fully the extent of the injustice that has been perpetrated, said activists Gary Kinsman, also a member of Sudbury Against War and Occupation.
"I think we're going to look back on this with a lot of shame, as a period of major violation of people's civil and human rights," Kinsman said during Saturday's rally. He drew parallels between the government's current methods to the approach in past decades to other "national security" risks such suspected communists, gay activists and black communities.
"One of the reasons why secrecy is maintained, why there are secret trials and the allegations against these individuals are made public is that if people actually knew what was going on, they would not tolerate it. That's crucial to why and how national security operates and it's only later on that these injustices are uncovered and when people learn exactly what happened, they're outraged."
The demonstrators in Sudbury and at least 11 other cities called Saturday for the release of Mohamed Harkat and four others.
Harkat, who came to Canada as a refugee from Algeria, has been detained on a security certificate since 2002. He remains under house arrest and must wear a tracking device.
Officials denied Harkat's request to attend a rally in Ottawa on Saturday, but he gave supporters a message via audiotape.
"I feel like an animal on a leash. I don't feel like a human being," he said.
Canadian intelligence officials allege Harkat is an Islamic extremist with connections to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
Harkat has never been formally charged with any crime, there has never been a trial, and he has yet to see the purported evidence against him.
He maintains his innocence and has said that he could be tortured if sent back to Algeria.
EDIT: And here is the article from the other local paper, Northern Life:
Group protests Canadian secret trials
Date Published | Oct. 22, 2007 | Northern Life
BY WENDY BIRD
A group of concerned Sudburians banded together on the weekend to demand an end to the so-called "national security certificate" process that allows the Canadian government “to indefinitely detain non-citizens in Canada with completely inadequate due process.”
“We are opposed to this process. We feel it should be abolished,” said Scott Neigh, a member of the group called Sudbury Against War and Occupation (SAWO).
“This is legislation that allows the federal government to possibly deport these people, even if they will be tortured (back in their homeland.)”
Neigh said there are currently five men, all of them Muslim, who are being subjected to this process in Canada.
“We feel they should either be released or, if they have done things that are violations of the criminal code, they should be charged and they should go through the same kind of trial process that other people who break the law go through in this country,” he said.
The group, which has a couple of dozen members, held a media conference in front of the Sudbury Courthouse Oct. 20. One speaker was Dr. Gary Kinsman of Laurentian University, who has written extensively on the history of the Canadian national security state and was recently awarded Laurentian University's Research Excellence Award.
Also during the media conference, a group volunteer read a statement from New Liskeard native Sophie (LaMarche) Harkat, who is married to one of the men who is currently under house arrest. Mohamed Harkat was accepted as a refugee in Canada before being arrested in December 2002. Never charged, and never given a fair trial, his certificate was upheld in 2005 under the unconstitutional security certificate process, Neigh said. Under the conditions of house arrest, Harkat is never allowed to be alone and cannot leave home without the permission of the government.
In February 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that some aspects of the security certificate process are unconstitutional and gave the government one year to change the law. The Conservative government is expected to introduce new legislation this fall. Critics charge that the changes to the legislation will likely be inadequate and will leave the unjust process largely intact.
SAWO is calling for the abolition of the security certificate process, added Neigh.
“No amount of tinkering can turn an essentially discriminatory process – one which explicitly treats the liberty of non-citizens with contempt and which is implemented in ways that target Muslim men of colour – into a fair one.
“It is a process that places arbitrary power in the hands of spy agencies and politicians, that replaces precise charges with vague concepts, that relies on secret suspicions, profiling and association instead of evidence, and that has no end except deportation to further torture. It assumes that immigrants are potential ‘threats to national security.’ It cannot be reformed and must be eliminated.”
End secret trials now!