Maher Arar Case:
Exposes Canadian Ruling Class Racism and Hypocrisy on Immigrants
By Nita Palmer
On December 6th 2006, the mask of Canada’s “multicultural mosaic” slipped away for an instant, uncovering the racism of the Canadian government with the resignation of RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli. Zaccardelli resigned his post after massive criticism was sparked by the testimony he brought to the commission inquiring into the government of Canada’s handling of the case of Maher Arar. This case involved Syrian-born Canadian, Maher Arar, who was deported to Syria by US authorities in 2002, where he was imprisoned and tortured for 10 months. His case is just one of a number of cases of injustice that have been, and continue to be waged against immigrants, refugees, and working people in the Government of Canada’s home front of the “war on terror”.
Maher Arar’s Fight for Dignity
Maher Arar lived and worked in Canada for many years. On September 26th 2002, on a flight back to Montreal through JFK airport in New York, he was pulled aside by authorities and questioned about his supposed ‘links to al-Qaeda’, about his political views, and about which mosques he goes to. He was denied the right to a lawyer and held in prison in the US before being deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured physically and psychologically for almost a year. Eventually, hard work by his family and friends in Canada brought media attention to his case and pressure on the government of Canada to have him released. He was released on October 5th 2003.
Although Arar was detained by US authorities, it was with the eager help of the RCMP’s “Project A-O”, a “national security” branch of the RCMP which conducts investigations into so-called terrorist suspects. The RCMP had been investigating Arar for suspected, “links to terrorist organizations”. What was the basis for their investigation of Arar? Simply that he had met with another man, Abdullah Almalaki, another framed-up “suspect” in their war on terror. The RCMP gladly passed on their false evidence about Arar to the FBI. The evidence they provided to the FBI included a statement that described Arar and his wife, Dr. Monia Mazigh, as “Islamic extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist movement”, and mentioned completely falsely that Arar had been in Washington, DC on September 11th 2001, with the intention of linking him to the events of 9/11. In this way, the RCMP and the FBI co-operated in framing up Arar and deporting him to Syria.
Zaccardelli’s Resignation, Arar’s Fight: Symptoms of a Racist Government
Zaccardelli’s resignation has once again brought Arar’s case into the spotlight. But Zaccardelli alone is not responsible for the injustice committed against Maher Arar. Nor is Arar’s case unique. The brutal systemic racism that prompted the framing-up of Arar has framed up countless others in Canada’s “war on terror”. In fact, three other men – Abdullah Almalaki, Ahmed El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin - all Canadian citizens, were also investigated by the RCMP’s Project A-O, imprisoned in Syria in the same prison as Arar during the same period, and faced accusations of the same kind as those faced by Arar. Like Arar, none of the men were ever charged with a single offence in Canada. The commission of inquiry into Arar’s case also looked into these cases, and found that, “there is reason to believe that Canadian officials had a pre-existing policy governing some of their actions and that policy played a part in Mr. Arar’s removal from the United States and his imprisonment and torture in Syria.” How many others like them are victims of these racist policies?
The one common link that Arar, Almalaki, El Maati, and Nureddin share is that they are all Muslim. As Canada’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan heats up, so too do the attacks on Muslims here in Canada. The reason that these men were investigated by Project A-O is simply that they were Muslim, unlucky enough to be chosen as targets by the RCMP. Other legislation has been passed under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act which is specifically targeted at immigrants and refugees, and has been used particularly against (surprise!) Muslim men. The security certificate legislation allows non-citizens to be detained and held indefinitely, without charge if they are suspected by agencies like the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) of potentially having links to “terrorist activity”. Currently, there are five men -Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui – who are held on security certificates in Canada. None of these men or their lawyers have been allowed to see the evidence against them, making it virtually impossible to launch a real challenge against their imprisonment.
Yet another attack against Muslims by the government of Canada came with the arrest of the ‘Toronto 17’ – 17 young Muslim men arrested in a police sting operation in Toronto in June 2006 on allegations that they were involved in or had links to terrorist organizations. Before they even stepped into the courtroom, they had already been convicted by the Canadian media, who splashed their names and the allegations against them across every newspaper, TV station, and radio wave in Canada.
The government of Canada also turns a blind eye to the brutal torture and human rights violations at the US’s Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Nearly 500 people are held there, including Omar Khadr, a 19-year-old Canadian citizen, who has been held there since he was 15. Despite the fact that Omar has been beaten, tied, threatened with rape, and used as a human mop to clean urine off the floor, the Government of Canada remains complicit in his detention.
These are just a few examples of Canada’s part in the racist and Islamaphobic campaigns that are being waged against immigrants and refugees, especially those who are Muslim or Arab, in imperialist countries around the world. From France to the UK to Canada to the US, the attacks on poor and working people, particularly Muslims and Arabs, has increased a thousand fold since the so-called war on terror began.
The “War on Terror” at Home and Abroad
Imperialist countries, including Canada, are facing a coming economic crisis of greater magnitude than ever before. In response, they have launched an era of wars and occupations to plunder the resources and the trade markets of oppressed countries around the world – from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Haiti, to Sudan, to Somalia. But at the same time they have launched this international “war on terror”, they have also launched a “war on terror” on the home front – creating an atmosphere of fear in the Muslim and Arab communities and among regular working people in Canada, especially immigrants and refugees. Even while they create a racist fear campaign against Muslims and Arabs, they desperately need our labour to keep their economy running - especially the labour of poor immigrants and refugees, who often receive the lowest of wages and work in the poorest of conditions, increasing the profits of their employers. The last thing the ruling class – the government and the big business owners in Canada - need is to have immigrants and refugees begin demanding their rights, which would threaten their position as the owners of the wealth in Canada. Therefore, they make examples out of people like Maher Arar, like the Toronto 17, in order to say “this is what we can do to you. Do you want to stand up to us?”
The racist policies that are implemented to stop immigrants and refugees from demanding their rights are also an attack on all working people in Canada, as the government uses its anti-Arab, anti-Muslim fear campaigns to stop us from uniting for our rights like healthcare, jobs, and education. Furthermore, the attacks on immigrants and refugees, Muslims and Arabs, in Canada under the guise of “national security” also serves to drum up support for Canada’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan. It’s an age-old ploy, as simple as convincing people that their families and their lives are at risk if they don’t give unconditional support to the government.
Unite Against All Attacks on Immigrants and Refugees!
The government of Canada is currently tightening the noose around the neck of immigrants and refugees in Canada. But the noose is being lowered over the necks of all working people in Canada as well. As their economic crisis deepens, the ruling class of Canada will put into action more attacks on working people in order to save their profit. From attacks on unions, to lower wages, to longer work hours, to poorer and poorer working conditions- The time that we must begin organizing for our rights is NOW. The time we must begin organizing for immigrant and refugee rights is NOW. The time we must begin organizing for an end to racist and Islamophobic attacks on Muslims and Arabs is NOW. Maher Arar’s case, and the countless other cases of attacks on the democratic and human rights of immigrants and refugees by the Government of Canada are only the tip of the iceberg. These cases must serve as a wake-up call for working people in Canada: We must fight for our collective rights, and fight for them now.
Stop Attacks on Immigrants and Refugees!
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