For three days, the People's Commission on Immigration Security Measures held Public Hearings at a community centre in Montreal's St-Henri neighbourhood. The first popular commission of inquiry to take place in Quebec, it was set up to look into the injustices and abuses inflicted on immigrants in the name of national security, and to offer recommendations for change and action.
Under immigration 'security' measures, non-citizens are denied their rights to a fair trial, to protection from arbitrary detention and to protection from torture. Security certificates and similar policies raise serious questions about how the principles of equality, liberty, presumption of innocence and security of the person are practised in Canada. They increase the power of government officials over individuals and raise important questions about the future direction of our society.
The nine Commissioners, all anchored in communities who have felt the impact of racist 'security' measures, took turns questioning the thirty witnesses who appeared before the Commission during the Hearings.
The Hearings took place during an escalation in a land defense at Six Nations. With news of potential military intervention, one of the Commissioners, Kahentineta Horn, a Mohawk elder, Kahnawake, was unable to participate fully in the Hearings. However, the situation only served to highlight the context of colonialism which frames Canadian immigration policy.
The witnesses, coming from Hull, Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto, Sherbrooke, as well as Montreal, brought a wealth of experience and expertise to the hearings. The Hearings opened with Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada, Anglophone section, who detailed Amnesty's position that Canada is in violation of key international laws in its security certificate policy and practice. The same block of witnesses included Sophie Lamarche Harkat, who has been campaigning for three and a half years for the release of her husband, security certificate detainee Mohamed Harkat; and Victor Regalado, a journalist detained under a security certificate in 1982, after fleeing his native El Salvador for his political beliefs. Regalado, who was cleared of all suspicions and received his citizenship after 22 years, spoke about how the suspected presence of constant, unseen surveillance turns us into our own prison guards, causing us to screen what we say and how we act.
Over the next few days, Commissioners heard from Latifa Charkaoui, who has been forced by court order to become an agent of state surveillance of her own son, having to accompany him every time he leaves his home, while herself under surveillance; Dieter Misgeld, whose wife, an accepted refugee who fled political repression in Colombia, faces deportation to Colombia on secret evidence; Warren Allmand, the former Solicitor-General of Canada, who testified that, from time to time, he found errors in intelligence agency requests, and who argued that criminal law provides a better framework than immigration law for security cases; Suleyman Goven, a refugee from Turkish Kurdistan, who has lived in legal limbo without status for over a decade, and is finally suing CSIS for their serious abuses in his case; Arash A., a refugee from Iran, who spent 10 months in 'ordinary' immigration detention while struggling for his status; Johanne Doyon, the lawyer who is bringing a full challenge to the constitutionality of the security certificate to the Supreme Court in June; Sherene Razack and Gary Kinsman, who provided important historical analyses of racism and of the use of national security talk in Canada; from Ahmad Jaballah, son of security certificate detainee Mahmoud Jaballah, who testified that he had lost his childhood, having, from the age of 11, to cope with CSIS interviews, court hearings and public attention, on top of having to take on much of his father's responsibility in the family; and from many others.
After each testimony, the witnesses were questioned by the Commissioners as well as by members of the public. This was followed by an open period for those assembled to share their own experiences and commentaries.
The Commissioner's report of findings and recommendations is due on 6 June, one week before the Supreme Court hears a constitutional challenge to security certificates. The report will be launched in Ottawa, to bring it to the attention of Members of Parliament and others who are making government decisions on these issues. The launch will take place during a Caravan from Toronto to Ottawa for the Supreme Court hearings, which will establish a "Camp Hope" in Ottawa at the Supreme Court building for the three days of hearings on security certificates. (To find out how you can get involved or contribute: www.homesnotbombs.ca or, for Montreal-based actions around the Supreme Court hearings: www.adilinfo.org.)
Contact the People's Commission Network: QPIRG Concordia - Peoples's Commission Network c/o Concordia University 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest Montreal, QC, H3G 1M8 email@example.com
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