Mahmood Jaballah. Mohammed Majoub. Hassan Almrei. Mohamed Harkat. Adil Charakaoui. You might not recognize these names, but you should. All five men have been imprisoned for years at a time with no access to the charges or the evidence against them. Two are now out on bail, complying with severe restrictions, including in one case, being banned from speaking Arabic. All five men could face deportation to countries where they will be tortured. And this is happening in Canada-a country that prides itself on promoting human rights and civil liberties.
The Secret Trial Five, as they are known, are all being held on “security certificates”-a draconian measure introduced 20 years ago that allows Canada to imprison non-citizens indefinitely without charges. Even the detainees’ lawyers are not allowed to see the evidence against their clients. And what does it take to get an immigrant thrown in jail? Two signatures-one from the immigration minister and one from the minister of public safety, in this case, Stockwell Day. Yep, the same guy who has been quoted saying he believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and that homosexuality is a “mental disorder that can be cured by counselling.” CSIS officials make their case behind closed doors, and two politicians get to decide whether or not a person will have to endure years of Kafkaesque hell.
So, why should queer people in Canada care about five Muslim men who have been accused of terrorism? Some would argue that restrictions on human rights are a necessary precaution, in the face of the Osama Bin Ladens of the world. But according to Gary Kinsman, a sociology professor at Laurentian University, Canadian gays and lesbians should be alarmed, because the ways that Muslim men are being targeted by the RCMP and CSIS mirrors the ways that gays were targeted in the 1960s and ’70s. Kinsman has studied the RCMP’s surveillance of gays and lesbians in Canada. This included the purging of thousands of queer people from the Canadian civil service, and the use of the “fruit machine”-a device that was designed to identify homosexuals by showing people pornography and measuring the dilation of their pupils. The theory was that homosexuals were vulnerable to blackmailing by Soviet agents, who could have extracted state secrets by threatening to reveal their sexuality.
“It’s important to remind people that lesbians and gay men were major targets from 1958 onwards,” says Kinsman. “The RCMP would go to community organizations and ask about people’s practices. They would harass people’s families. In the 1970s, the RCMP conducted pretty specific surveillance on gay and lesbian organizations. At the first gay march in Ottawa in 1971, the RCMP was watching. They targeted not just individuals, but entire social movements. And people had no idea what evidence had been collected about them.”
According to In The Shadow Of The Law, a report published by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, in “hundreds” of instances, Arab and Muslim people in Canada “are being visited for interviews by security forces without warrants, and taken away for interrogation. Although the full extent of Bill C-36 [so-called ‘anti-terror’ legislation swiftly passed by Parliament in 2001] was not implemented in these cases, it has been used as a threat to ‘encourage’ voluntary interviews by citing the risk of preventative detention allowed under the Act. Victims of such police conduct have been afraid to come forward publicly for fear of further retaliation.”
Some may not be surprised that Stephen Harper’s government is unwilling to repeal the most egregious elements of Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation. And the pressure from the US to join George Bush’s War on Terror continues to escalate. The US State Department’s annual Country Report on Terrorism called Canada a “safe haven” for Islamic terrorists, saying that political fallout from the Maher Arar case has created a chill between Canadian and US intelligence agencies.
Kinsman believes it’s the increasing integration of Canadian and US foreign policy that leaves us vulnerable to terrorism, not the imagined actions of individual Arab and Muslim immigrants. He cites Canada’s newfound role in Afghanistan and the logistical and material support that Canada is providing to the US occupation of Iraq.
Kinsman rejects the notion that immigrants should be the targeted, especially in the those cases involving security certificates, where the government hasn’t been required to produce one shred of evidence to support the (top secret) charges being levelled at Jaballah, Majoub, Almrei, Harkat and Charakaoui.
“We should remember that until 1976, it was illegal for lesbians and gay men to immigrate to Canada,” said Kinsman. “If gays and lesbians have learned anything about our history, we should stand in solidarity with the people who are being targeted today.”
And despite the millions of dollars spent and thousands of lives ruined by the RCMP’s campaign against homosexuals, not one confirmed case of Soviet blackmail ever emerged.
This month, the Supreme Court of Canada will be hearing Adil Charakaoui’s appeal of his detention, ruling on whether or not security certificates are constitutionally valid. Let’s not leave it to future historians to condemn security certificates as a black mark against Canada’s human rights record.