Sunday, February 18, 2007

Protest groups seek abolition of controversial security certificates

Catherine Solyom
CanWest News Service; Montreal Gazette

Sunday, February 18, 2007

MONTREAL - A coalition of about 70 groups rallied Saturday in downtown Montreal seeking the abolition of the controversial security certificates that have kept five suspected terrorists jailed or under house arrest for several years without trial.

The protesters called on the Harper government to close what they call the "Guantanamo North" detention centre in Kingston, Ont., and said the use of security certificates is a reminder of dark episodes in Canadian history.

Sixty years ago, Italians, Germans and Japanese in Canada were arbitrarily detained in the name of national security - today it's Muslims, said some of the protesters.

"We've built a special jail for Muslims," said Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal. "But we don't want to wait another 50 years for an apology."

The protesters, representing a broad coalition of groups from the Council of Canadians to Human Rights Watch, had one thing to celebrate: They were elated by a Federal Court judge's decision Thursday to release Egyptian Mohammed Mahjoub, one of the three detainees at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, after six-and-a-half years behind bars and an 83-day hunger strike.

Mahjoub will have to abide by strict conditions, however, while still under threat of deportation, said Adil Charkaoui, who was himself released from detention two years ago today.

"It's still hard to live under serious accusations without the means to defend oneself in a court of justice," said Morrocan-born Charkaoui, who now teaches high school in Montreal but must wear a court-ordered tracking device around his ankle day and night.

Also calling for an end to the security certificates, through which foreign nationals believed to pose a security threat can be detained indefinitely without charge, was Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.

"We have a charter of rights not to be nice, but because rights need to be protected," said Telegdi, who visited the detention centre on the grounds of Millhaven penitentiary Monday, where two other men remain.

Syrian refugee Hassan Almrei and Egyptian Mahmoud Jaballah have been detained since 2001 and are on their 75th day of a hunger strike. The holding centre was opened in April 2006 at a cost of $3.2 million.

"Their treatment is in line with a dark age in Canadian history, when the government discriminated against people on the basis of ethnicity," Telegdi added. "The charter must apply to all of us, all the time."