Deporting the Truth on Immigrants: The Globe and Mail on the Pakistani 20

An En Camino Media Alert

September 25, 2003

On August 14th, nineteen men were arrested in police raids under the claim that they posed a threat to national security and "might, in fact, perhaps be a sleeper cell for al-Qaeda according to a Canadian immigration official". This number increased to twenty-one following the arrest of two more men just a few days later. Twenty of the men were from Punjab Province in Pakistan, while one was from India. The men were arrested under the post 9-11 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which allows foreigners to be arrested and detained without evidence or charges, if there is a reasonable suspicion that they might be a threat to national security. This evidence has yet to be produced by immigration officials in the case of the detained men.

Part of the case against the detainees is that they lived in clusters of four or five, in sparsely furnished apartments in Toronto, Mississauga or Scarborough, moving frequently and keeping a minimal standard of living.

This alone ought to have raised the eyebrows of thoughtful journalists. In order to assess whether living in crammed apartments, moving frequently, and living badly were signs of being a possible sleeper cell, a reporter might consider asking how rare these life circumstances really are for immigrants. Might it be possible that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of immigrants in Toronto who live in cramped apartments, move frequently, and live badly -- and have nothing to do with terrorism?

What options do Canadian immigration officials think that a Pakistani, Indian, Bengali, Sri Lankan, Mexican, Jamaican or other single male moving to Canada has? Rent, furniture and tuition are not free. Life in Canada, in fact, is not particularly cheap, especially if you spent a large portion of your savings on obtaining a student visa to get here.

Faisal Zafar, the uncle of recently released Saif Ulla Khan, says "…those guys just wanted to make a life in Canada. They are not terrorists…" (G&M, Aug 30)

The Globe and Mail's coverage of the detention of these men has been sparse. The G&M did not report the story until August 23rd, nine days after the men had been arrested. From August 14th to September 24th, fourteen articles and two letters have been written about the detained men. 14 articles in 42 days. Yes, there was a Blackout, a Hurricane, and an upcoming Provincial Election. But this is a case with serious implications for the future of immigrants in this country. Indeed, given that the Ontario Tories campaign platform featurs a 'Made in Ontario Immigration Policy', the G & M could have treated the case as an election issue and solicited the candidates' opinions on the case. Instead, 18 men remain in detention with no charges at the Maplehurst Detention Centre in Milton, Ontario, hardly discussed.

2 of the 14 articles in the Globe focused on the fact that students at the Ottawa Business Centre, the fraudulent college which is in the forefront of the story, received federal student loans up to $8910. (For comparison, Ontario's own Minister of the Environment, Chris Stockwell, is known to have pocketed upwards of $77,000 over 3 years. To be fair to the Globe, this was reported in G&M, June 17, 2003). There was also no mention of why the owner of the school, Luther Samuel, was not among the men arrested. Mr. Samuel admitted to selling false registration records for $400. Is it possible that Mr. Samuel was not arrested because he does not have a Muslim name and is therefore not a suspected terrorist according to Canadian government standards? If there is some other reason, readers won't find it in the Globe.

Wallace Immen's article, on August 25th, describing the results of a survey that showed that 81 percent of interviewed people in Ontario believed terrorism was a threat, intermixed with general comments about the status of the detainees, juxtaposed terrorism with the detainees, making an unfair link between the two.

On August 29th, the G & M ran an editorial piece on the detainees, addressing whether the detentions were a legitimate response to the danger of terrorism or an arbitrary act based on ethnic background. The editors suggest that the detainees were arrested more due to their pattern of behaviour, not because they were Muslim or Pakistani. But the pattern of behaviour described is no different from that of thousands of immigrants and refugees from diverse backgrounds, as the editors ought to have known and said. The editors then compare Canada favourably with the US. In Canada the hearings are public and transparent and the detainees have access to lawyers. In the US, 700 'illegal' immigrants were disappeared from communities after 9-11, held in deplorable conditions, with their names not released, their hearings not public and without access to legal counsel. But this, too, is unfair. Pointing to a place where human rights violations are more severe is a diversion from the issue of violations in Canada, that are no less gratuitous or irresponsible for being less deplorable than violations in the US. Detention can be candy coated, with the process being marginally more open in Canada, but without proof or evidence and charges, the arrest and detention of suspects is criminal whether in Canada or the US, no matter how nicely it is done.

The editors criticize Amina Sherazee, lawyer and member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, for stating that the process is akin to the Nuremberg Laws of the 1930s. The editors state that "…all Canadians have a stake in the national resolve to fight terrorism and should resist engaging in that sort of verbal intimidation...". Sherazee was making a relative analogy, not a direct comparison of the detentions to the Nuremberg laws. That the analogy has some usefulness was confirmed in a letter to the editors that the Globe ran on August 27. In it, Mark Wylie quotes Winston Churchill referring to Nazi Germany as saying"…the power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and in particular denying him a judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation for all totalitarian governments" (G&M, August 27).

But leaving the issue of the merits of the analogy aside, when the G & M calls a statement by a human rights advocate frustrated by the arbitrary actions of a powerful state 'verbal intimidation', it is doing what it accuses Sherazee of doing: losing its sense of proportion. Sherazee is not the editor of the nation's newspaper, she is not an immigration authority or a government official. She is a human rights advocate trying to protect the civil liberties of people in Canada. Who is 'intimidating' who?

One also wonders where the editors' indignation about racial profiling is, or whether they believe that 'all Canadians have a stake in fighting against' it. According to the editors the Canadian government has 3 vans of evidence and should be given a month to come up with a strong case. Perhaps the government should have had a strong case prior to arresting and detaining the men.

An article by Victoria Burnett on September 5, 2003, about the issue of the detained men being raised during Bill Graham's (Minister of Foreign Affairs), visit to Pakistan, failed to point out the irony that a representative of Canada where individuals are being detained without charges is going to Pakistan to discuss issues of democracy.

The G&M does not address the racism underlying the detentions and barely even questions Ernie Eves for comments such as "The first thing is that we should be making sure that these people aren't allowed to enter the country in the first place if they're doing it illegally" (G&M, Sept 6). Perhaps this is what First Nations people should have said when the Europeans first began occupying their land illegally. Who exactly are these people that Ernie Eves is referring to?

In addition, not a single article in the G&M mentions Project Threadbare, the coalition of community that formed in Toronto in response to the arrest and detention of the twenty-one men. Nor do they mention the public events that have been organized by the coalition, demanding the release of the detainees.

At the present time, three of the men have been ordered to be released because there is insufficient evidence against them. For Muhammed Naeem, whose fiancee Saif Ulla Khan who paid $4000 in bonds, both of whom face deportation to Pakistan for immigration violations, being released will not undo the disruption in their lives and the humiliation they have endured. And there is no consolation for the other eighteen men, who wait for the next set of reviews at the Maplehurst Detention Center.

Come to a Rally for the Detainees

Saturday, September 27 at 11:00am
Immigration & Refugee Board offices (outside)
74 Victoria Street
(east of Yonge, north of Adelaide)

For more information on Project Threadbare, call (416) 579-0481 or email project_threadbare@yahoo.ca, website: www.threadbare.tyo.ca

Write to the Globe and Mail and demand fair coverage of the detainees cases, comments@globeandmail.ca

Write to the editor of the Globe and Mail Letters@GlobeandMail.ca

Copies to: encamino@tools4change.org

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