Canada’s security apparatus has a long history of unfairly targeting minorities and subjecting them to abuse, a panel of activists at McGill’s Faculty of Law said Friday, calling for a halt to the government’s issuing of security certificates to non-citizens living in Canada.
Security certificates grant the government power to deport foreign nationals suspected of posing a threat to national security with limited review from a federal court.
Mohammad Mahjoub, one of the panelists, was arrested in 2000 after the Department of Justice issued a security certificate against him for his alleged ties to the Vanguards of Conquest, an Egyptian Islamist group. A federal court ruled in December, however, that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had obtained its evidence against Mahjoub through torture.
“A day after September 11  happened, I was taken from the general population and put in segregation for two months and a half,” he said. “I was on suicide watch, in a dark cell without windows […] it was severely cold.”
Mahjoub alleged that he was subject to abuse and humiliation from his jailors and said that he was regularly strip-searched, sometimes “up to ten times a day.”
“The Canadian official tried to sexual[ly] assault me, they strip searched me at any moment. I kept fighting for my rights,” he said. “When they tried to sexual[ly] assault me, I went on hunger strike for 24 days.”
A GPS system attached to his ankle was cut off on February 1 after five years of surveillance.
“My family couldn’t take the house arrest any longer. My eldest son tried to commit suicide,” he said. “His phone was tapped, his mail was tapped, his internet was tapped. They didn’t leave anything to us.”
“My family told me, ‘we can’t accept you anymore.’ I became like cancer. We ended up separating, divorced,” he added.
The Canadian government has issued five security certificates in the last ten years, according to Patil Tutunjian, a panelist and a lawyer involved in a security certificate case. Two certificates were struck down in 2009, and the remaining two are currently subjects of a court case, she said.
Mohamed Harkat, a native-born Algerian and permanent resident of Canada who was arrested in 2002, has a certificate pending review before the Supreme Court.
“You can’t imagine the amount of money they spent [on me],” Mahjoub said. “They tortured me for 15 years mentally. It’s worse than to torture physically, because the pain doesn’t go away.”
Tutunjian noted that staff at the Department of Justice seized documents belonging to Mahjoub’s defense, and that CSIS had admitted to wiretapping conversations between him and his lawyer.
David Austin, another panelist, said the security certificate controversy is linked to a system of racial profiling that is endemic in Canada.
“We’re living in a dark moment in the history of humanity, especially for Arabs and Muslims or people who can be confused of being both,” he said.
The harassment and profiling of black people by police is “not separate” from Mahjoub’s case or the experiences of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, he added.
“We need to understand the continuity, [the] different forms of a similar process, which are not new by any stretch,” he said.