by STEFAN CHRISTOFF
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is conducting regular interviews and interrogations with hundreds of Arabs and Muslims across Canada at their work places, homes and in the vicinity of local mosques, say national and Montreal-based Arab and Muslim community groups. The groups are reporting major increases in the numbers of calls from distressed community members concerning CSIS interventions. According to the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations in Canada (CAIR-Canada), CSIS intelligence gathering activities have increased over the past year.
"Community members who have been approached by CSIS across the country are calling our office on a weekly basis," says Sameer Zuberi, CAIR-Canada's communications coordinator. "This hike in CSIS visits is alarming to CAIR-Canada as it casts a blanket of fear and intimidation that is spread over our entire community."
In response to increased CSIS activity, CAIR-Canada has shipped thousands of copies of a publication designed for Canadian Muslims dealing with CSIS and other Canadian authorities, entitled Know Your Rights Guide, to local mosques and community centres.
"I got a call from a CSIS agent a couple of months ago asking for a meeting at a café downtown on Peel street," says former Concordia student Mohammed over the phone from Kuwait, where he is currently working as a mechanical engineer. He asked that his last name not be used due to fears of possible repercussions. "I was asked numerous questions concerning my own involvement in the Muslim community [and] was asked by the CSIS agent to not bring a lawyer to the meeting. The agents acknowledged that they had no specific incriminating evidence against me but explained in a non-direct fashion that they simply wanted to gather information on our community, leading me to feel suspect in Canada simply because of my religion."
"People are being targeted by CSIS for simply belonging to a certain ethnic group with certain religious beliefs without any obvious rationale for such targeting," says Bassam Hussein of the Centre communautaire Musulman de Montréal. "I was recently visited by a mother of four in Montreal who was seeking help due to CSIS harassment against her and her husband," says Hussein. "CSIS went to her husband?s employer to inquire about him, the employer was terrified when CSIS contacted him and two weeks later, the employer let the husband go."
The 2007 Conservative federal budget "earmarks new funding for CSIS," according to the Ministry of Finance Web site, to the tune of $80-million over two years in addition to the approximately $200-million already allocated to Canada's national spy agency. Media representatives from CSIS did not return repeated requests for an interview from the Mirror before deadline.
CAIR-Canada recently reported that approximately 30 per cent of all CSIS visits in the Muslim community are occurring at the workplace, often putting individuals' careers in jeopardy.
"Community members feel that their civil liberties are being seriously compromised under the pretext of fighting terrorism," says Hussein. "Community members who I know are being contacted by CSIS are simple people working hard to live in peace and raise their families."