Tuesday, February 13, 2007

MPs meet with detainees on hunger strike

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 | 12:41 AM ET
CBC News

Members of Parliament gathered at a Kingston prison Monday to learn more about three detainees on a hunger strike who have been held for more than six years without charge.

The MPs, who are members of a parliamentary committee on citizenship and immigration, spent more than three hours with the detainees. The parliamentarians said it was a fact-finding mission.

They want Ottawa to appoint an ombudsman to deal with the detainees' complaints.

"They've lost a considerable amount of weight, 40 or 50 pounds each," said Liberal Blair Wilson of British Columbia.

"Some of them have severe sores in their mouths. They've got hernia problems."

Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei and Mahmoud Jaballah were detained six and a half years ago on security certificates. They've been in the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre ever since, where they say they face excessive restrictions and harassment by guards.

Strike began 80 days ago

They began their hunger strike 80 days ago. They say they are refusing to eat any solid food in protest of their living conditions and to call attention to their fight to remain in Canada.

All are appealing deportation orders.

"Whether they're terrorists or not is not the issue," said Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis of Ontario. "We're here to address today [that] that these men need to be treated fairly, humanely, and no more mind games."

Citizen and Immigration Canada considers the three men to be a national security risk. The federal department issued security certificates that allow the men to be held indefinitely without charges, based on evidence that the men are not allowed to see.

The three detainees launched a constitutional challenge that was heard by the Supreme Court in June. They are still waiting for a decision.

Norman Doyle, the only Conservative MP who went to Kingston Monday, said he is sympathetic to their cause.

"I think they are sincere in what they are trying to accomplish," said the MP from Newfoundland and Labrador.
He and the other MPs say they will keep pushing for action in the detainees' case. They will also continue to visit the three men.

Day says men can return to home countries

But in Ottawa, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the detainees do have a choice in the matter.

"They are allowed to leave the facility at any time should they go back to their country of origin," he said.

But the men insist they can't return home. Mahjoub's wife, Mona El-Fouli, said Monday that her husband can't return to Egypt because he will be persecuted there.

At the same time, she is afraid he won't survive much longer on his hunger strike.

"When I hear his voice, it's very scary and I'm living now with the stress that anything can happen any minute. And what am I going to tell the kids?"