Fighting Security Certificates

Representatives from respective community groups lashed out against the issuance of Canadian security certificates and other immigration security measures during a panel discussion in the Hall Building on Sunday.

The Government of Canada has issued security certificates to foreign nationals it deems can pose a threat to Canada. While no actual charges have been laid, the government has used secret evidence to reach a decision. The outcomes of approved security certificates consist of detention and deportation. Twenty-eight security certificates have been issued since 1991.

The common fear for those issued security certificates is that, upon being deported back to their country of origin, they will run a high risk of being to tortured.

“Ask any Canadian, left or right, if [he or she] thinks it’s correct to throw someone in jail without knowing why,” said Hassan Almrei, a Syrian-born refugee from Toronto who was detained for nearly seven-and-a-half years on suspicion of having terrorist links.

Almrei staged three hunger strikes during his detention in various Ontario prisons from 2001 until his release 2009—the last ending after he fasted for more than five months at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.
“My mouth was my only weapon,” said Almrei in regards to his aim of attracting public attention. He still has no idea why he was detained.

Matthew Behrens, a community organizer with the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, deemed the amount of money the Canadian government spends on immigration security as unnecessary.

A recent federal study reports that a sum of $45 million dollars was spent to detain immigrants and refugees from 2008 to 2009.

Behrens noted the decreasing number of persons administered security certificates in recent years to encourage more support for his and the other campaigns.

“[The Canadian Security Intelligence Service] has been restrained from using one of its most draconian [measures],” he said.

But Mostafa Henaway, of the Immigrant Workers’ Centre, pointed out that CSIS still has the power to deport immigrants it deems as risks to national security.

“How long [immigrants] are here for or allowed to stay rests in the hands of CSIS,” he said.

Ottawa resident Mohamed Harkat is currently living under house arrest after being subject to a federal court decision to issue him a second security certificate in December of last year.

Like Almrei, he also spent part of his detention in solitary confinement. Harkat was denied travel to Montreal for the event held by the People’s Commission, but his wife Sophie Lamarche-Harkat was present.
She has been acting as a human rights campaigner since her husband was arrested in 2002.

“We will have to fight this battle, which will be long and painful,” she said, noting that her husband received his deportation papers in January.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 22, published February 8, 2011.