Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conservatives Shut Groups Out of Hearings on Secret Trials

The legislation under which the canadian state claims the right to throw out due process and hold secret trials based on secret evidence -- a process used in recent years exclusively to target racialized Muslim men -- was ruled unconstitutional by the Surpeme Court earlier this year. The Court gave the government a year to fix things, and recently, despite a nation-wide day of action calling for the abolishment of secret trials, which included a decent action here in Sudbury, the Conservatives have responded to the Court by introducing legislation that that will tinker with the secret trials process but not fundamentally change its flawed and unjust character.

The most recent development is that groups working on the issue have been denied standing in the supposedly public hearings on the new legislation. Here is the material released today by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada:

Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada

For Immediate Release

Groups outraged at being shut out of public hearings on new security certificate legislation

Conservatives accused of forcing Bill C-3 through Parliament despite broad public opposition

Ottawa, 27 November 2007 – Groups who have been on the forefront of the campaign against security certificates are demanding an opportunity to be heard in public hearings on the proposed new legislation, Bill C-3. The request was made in a strongly-worded letter sent today to the Parliamentary Committee charged with reviewing C-3. The letter accused the Conservative government of attempting to force the unpopular bill through Parliament without public debate.

Community organizations and human rights groups are normally allowed to comment on proposed legislation before it is adopted. However, groups who applied to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security were informed on Friday that the application process had closed. It closed on Thursday, less than two days after the bill was referred.

“We were more than disappointed to learn that we are being denied the opportunity to appear before the standing committee,” said Adil Charkaoui, whose constitutional challenge led to the Supreme Court ruling in February.

“It is shocking that no Muslim community association, none of the groups who work directly with the detainees - Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee (Ottawa), the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui (Montreal) and the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada (Toronto) – no family members, and none of the detainees’ lawyers are being given a chance to respond,” said Mary Foster of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui. “They have the most intimate knowledge of these cases, they are the most immediately affected. They are in a position to speak about the serious social consequences to targeted communities. They brought the issue to the attention of the public. But now they are being shut out and silenced.”

International organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and CAIR-CAN, all of whom have actively engaged on the issue for years, are also absent from the witness list.

“This is a matter of an undemocratic law being forced through Parliament in an undemocratic manner,” stated Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. “The addition of this special advocate changes nothing. If they succeed in forcing through C-3, we will be in essentially the same position as before the Supreme Court decision: secrecy, no fair trial, indefinite detention, house arrest and deportation to torture on the basis of suspicion ... It’s outrageous.”

“The Conservatives have created a false emergency which is serving to silence opposition. Where is the emergency? They are simply fear-mongering, trying to scare the public and opposition parties into accepting a new security certificate without debate,” said Marie-Ève Lamy, of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui. “Let’s recall that the government has had since last February, when the Supreme Court decided to leave this illegal law in place for another year. Why did the Conservatives leave it until the last minute? Why are they pretending that they can’t ask the Court for an extension, as has been done in the past? This is a kind of bullying that cannot be tolerated in a democracy.”

“Bill C-3 raises issues of profound importance for Canadian society. It directly affects the fundamental rights of tens of thousands of people living in Canada who don’t have citizenship, and has far-reaching consequences for all of us,” said Foster. “Yet it is being railroaded through Parliament at a pace that allows for no serious opposition. Why? Are the Conservatives afraid of an open and democratic discussion on this issue?”

Community organizations in Montreal and elsewhere are responding by organizing a popular day of action against the new security certificate on Friday, 7 December. Visits will be organized to the riding offices of MPs who voted for the new law at second reading, to deliver a strong message that C-3 is not wanted by their constituents.


Interviews, more information: tel. 514 222 0205 (Montreal); tel. 416 651 5800 (Toronto); tel. 613 276-9102 (Ottawa)
Source: Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui; Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee; Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada
Background: www.jerome.koumbit.org/adil

Text of letter to Standing Committee

November 27, 2007

To: Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

We, the undersigned, hereby request to be heard by the Standing Committee on Public Safety concerning Bill C-3.

Several of the undersigned first applied to be heard on or before Friday, November 23, only to learn that the witness list was already closed. This apparently occurred on Thursday, less than two days after the Bill was referred to committee. We vigorously object to the profoundly undemocratic decision to close the witness list so quickly, thereby excluding many of the groups most directly affected by the security certificate process.

However, it is perhaps not surprising that the Committee has decided to shut the door on the groups working with the men currently held under security certificates and their families. This decision is eerily consistent with the secretive character of the security certificate process itself, left intact by Bill C-3. The most directly affected individuals are shut out of the process, deprived of their basic democratic right to speak out in their own defence, while their fate is decided by others, without their participation.

Bill C-3 perpetuates a two-tiered justice system which discriminates against the tens of thousands of Canadian residents who are on their way to becoming citizens, and has far-reaching consequences for all of us. The new law, like the old one, allows Canadian residents to be indefinitely deprived of their liberty or deported to a country where they are at risk of torture or execution, all this on the basis of secret allegations. The addition of a special advocate does not change the fundamentally unfair and discriminatory character of the procedure, which still violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The government would have us believe that Bill C-3 must at all costs be adopted before February 23, 2008, when the Supreme Court's decision declaring the former security certificate provisions null and void will take effect. Yet the government knows full well that it has many other options. These include charging the current security certificate detainees under criminal law if there is a case against them. The government could also ask the Supreme Court to extend the February deadline. Extensions have been granted by the Supreme Court under similar circumstances in the past. The government is using the February deadline argument to rush Bill C-3 through Parliament and silence opposition, after having created a false sense of urgency by presenting the Bill at the last moment and exploiting the fear of terrorism.

Bill C-3 will have long-lasting effects on the rights of Canadians residents who are in the process of acquiring citizenship. It maintains a system that violates our most fundamental values of fairness and due process. Should the Committee maintain its decision to refuse to hear groups representing those most directly affected by Bill C-3, this will reinforce public perception that the process of adoption of the bill is as unfair as its content.

Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui, 514 222 0205
Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, 613 276-9102
Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, 416 651 5800


thwap said...

where's the opposition on this?

Scott said...

Hey thwap.

I'm not sure how things might have shifted in the last week or so, and I'm on the road at the moment so I can't consult the various emails and updates I've got so I can be sure, but generally speaking the opposition are quite weak on the issue as a whole. In particular, even those MPs who oppose it don't really seem to have a good grasp on the issue. From what I understand, there has been little deviation from the ideology that the objects of this legislation are "terrorists" and rightfully belong in that category, as opposed to seeing it in the more accurate, broader context of attacks on particular racialized groups and on access to due process and so on.

If I recall -- and like I said, I'm a bit hazy on the details -- the NDP is opposing it on very narrow grounds, the Bloc is supporting it, and the Liberals are being allowed to vote their conscience but the leadership seems largely to support it and the number who have said they will vote against it is not huge.

As to where the opposition is in terms of inclusion in the hearings, I haven't heard much at all on that point.

thwap said...

Sigh. At least the NDP is opposing it. I think I'll tell them to make more noise about it in Parliament.

Scott said...

I'm home now and had a quick look at some of the older emails, and one of them said that on second reading "the Bloc and the Liberals voted with the government" so I'm not clear now whether there is space for Liberal MPs to dissent or not in terms of party discipline....anyway, we must keep hammering away at them...