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article was published in the
Toronto Star on Nov 7, 2001
|OTTAWA — The federal government's proposed new
anti-terrorism bill is obscene, insidious and an overly simplistic reflex
action to terror attacks, groups representing Canadian Muslims, Arabs and
Sikhs told a Commons committee yesterday.
"You might as well delete the Constitution from our landscape," said immigration lawyer Rocco Galati, speaking on behalf of the Canadian Islamic Congress, which represents 650,000 Muslim Canadians.
The bill grants excessive powers to law enforcement authorities, Galati said, adding abuses have already begun — an accusation the federal government flatly denied.
He initially said between 300 and 800 people were detained following the Sept. 11 attacks, but later said, "it's hard to tell" the exact number. He said those Muslims and Arabs arrested "on immigration holds" have been subjected to punitive segregation.In contrast, the Canadian Jewish Congress told the justice committee it supports the bill.
"It is terrorism, and not the measures taken to combat it, which represents the greatest threat to our human rights and cherished values of freedom and democracy,'' congress spokesman Eric Vernon said.
The group urged parliament to pass the bill quickly, but urged it to make some changes to protect the right to legitimate protest and provide greater transparency in identifying terrorist organizations.
Canadian Arab Federation president John Asfour said he had no information on the number of detainees, but warned the bill "is terrorizing and will terrorize Arabs.''
Asked to respond to that concern, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said "I don't believe it."
Galati claimed "hundreds" of Arabs and Muslims have been arrested and detained since the terror attacks in the U.S. He said they are refused normal toilet facilities, cannot use telephones, and often are stripped naked and left in the cell.
Galati based his claims on his own experience with clients (which include Toronto teacher Mahmoud Jaballah, an Egyptian refugee suspected by CSIS to be a member of the Egyptian Islamic terrorist organization Al Jihad), communications with other inmates in various jails, and information provided by Muslim lawyers.
Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan insisted that no one's civil rights are being withheld.
"I know that everyone in Canada who is detained is given access to lawyers as appropriate and under the law, those laws are followed.''
Caplan refused to give exact numbers of those detained since Sept. 11, but said on any given day between 400 and 800 people in Canada are detained on immigration violations because they are deemed to be a security risk, or a flight risk.
A spokesperson for Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay said he and Caplan have only signed one security certificate under the Immigration Act since Sept. 11 — which declares a suspect a threat to Canadian security — and only one other certificate earlier in the year before the September attacks.
Last night, spokesmen for the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association and the Muslim Canadian Civil Liberties Association put the number of Muslim and Arab people detained in the Toronto area in the dozens.
"We don't want to say they're not being mistreated because we don't know that they're not," said lawyer Faisal Kutty in an interview.
But the Muslim, Arab and Sikh representatives condemned Ottawa's definition of terrorist activity, saying it will unfairly target minority Canadians.
They said the sweeping investigative powers are unnecessary, poorly drafted, inherently flawed, and called for, at the least, an automatic expiry or "sunset" clause on its toughest provisions, although they differed on whether the time limit should be two to three years.
They warned sections protecting the "economic security of Canada" could be used to target environmental and ethical boycotts of products that disrupt financial markets or could be used against anti-globalization, anti-poverty, anti-logging protesters.
Arab federation lawyer Amina Sherazee said the bill would catch Louis Riel, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and the (Palestinian) intifada in its grasp.
"The bill fails the basic test of making us safer.''
Representatives of the Canadian Council of Churches said the ban on facilitating terrorism "could catch church groups who in good faith and after due diligence provide funds to their overseas partners for humanitarian or development assistance, only to discover that these funds may have been inadvertently diverted to a terrorist organization. This section should be amended to include a requirement of criminal intent