Protesters Trick-or-Treat Across Canada as CSIS, Page 2
Edgecombe pops in to the meeting and we proceed to treat the police to a 90-minute lecture on the security certificate, and on their responsibilities to uphold human rights law. We remind them of their obligation to refuse orders which are contrary to Canada's international legal obligations. We then cut if off abruptly with the explanation that while the police are getting paid to be there, we're not, and we want to eat.
The following afternoon at 4 pm, as we prepare in a downtown Ottawa church for the arrival of out of town trick-or-treaters, the national day of action is already underway. In the small central Ontario community of Mount Forest, a number of people enter the office of local MP Murray Calder, having pledged to stage a 23-and-a-half hour occupation in solidarity with secret trials prisoners who must endure that amount of time daily in the hole. Led by feisty 70-year-old resister Francis Barney Barningham, the group also includes Francis Mont, who powerfully recalls his years in a police state and compares them to developments he sees here in Canada.
"I spent my first 27 years in a police state in Eastern Europe," Mont explains. "In that system we had no rights and we were considered guilty until proven innocent. I remember when our neighbours were dragged off by the police, in the middle of the night, because the mother was overheard telling her son not to buy tickets to a Russian movie. 'We don't watch garbage' she was heard telling her son. We never saw them again.
"Thirty years ago I came to live in Canada and became a Canadian citizen, because I loved this country for its humanity, tolerance, compassion and sense of justice. Here I was innocent until proven guilty. It was unthinkable that this would ever change. Now the unthinkable has happened and the principle is broken. Once exceptions to the rule are made, precedent established, it will be a lot easier to abuse justice. Five today, ten tomorrow, how many next week? Who will be next?
"Since Sept. 11, I can see fear and paranoia slowly turning this beautiful country into the same kind of police state I have escaped from 30 years ago. Now the state has concentration camps they can throw people in, whenever they don't like them, without having to justify their actions. It is the Soviet 'Gulag' all over again, on our soil this time. I will be damned if I watch it without protest. Our leaders are destroying those fundamental values Canada was built on. Maybe they don't know where it will lead. I do."
Much of the local press is out, as is an executive assistant to Calder who is never around, but who shows up today because Barningham has written ahead to explain the purpose of the occupation. Barney is eventually arrested and escorted out of the office by OPP. Once outside, they explain that the office has decided not to press charges, but that if Barney re-enters the office, he will be charged with breaking and entering (simply for opening the door!). They are also saying they retain the right for the next six months to lay unspecified charges against him.
The following day, another vigil will be held at the office of Owen Sound MP Ovid Jackson. Among the signs held there, which have made their way from the Mount Forest protest, is one about internment which reads:
1942: Japanese Canadians
2001 Muslim Canadians
When Will We Ever Learn?
In Ottawa on Thursday night, we scan the assembled folks and wonder how it is that people who have never been seen at a local activist event suddenly turn up at the church, commit to being there the next morning, and then are never seen from again. Were they there to gather "intelligence"? Were they there because they heard that Laura Shevchenko's vegan chili was a winner? Were they bored because their TV wasn't working?
In any event, it didn't really matter, for as a group of people, we have nothing to hide. As Kirsten Romaine points out, unlike CSIS, we deal with problems out in the open through dialogue. Nonetheless, there is still a certain sense of anxiety hanging over the event, as this is the first time in CSIS history that a group of people have gone not only to demonstrate, but to enter the facility to enter a dialogue about redefining national security to meet the needs of the majority of people, not the greed of the small group of white males who run the country.
In such an atmosphere, one cannot help but let one's mind wander about the myriad possibilities inherent in this scenario: declarations of a security zone around the perimeter, preventive arrests and detentions, charges under the anti-terrorism act for threatening a national security institution, charges of guilt by association for our support of the detainees and their families. While we would certainly not allow the threat of such charges to deter us --it would be good to fight them in open court -- they nonetheless are a bit more intimidating than the standard fair of provincial and criminal charges we're used to seeing at such gatherings.
Among our points of discussion are ideas about how we will respond to police repression on the day, targetted arrests of individuals who are not placing themselves in a position of risk, and jail solidarity in the face of potential conditions that would likely include non-association with one another (which would be ironic given that the whole security certificate regime works on guilt by alleged association).
We rise early after a night on a church floor thinking alternately about CSIS, people like Hassan Almrei, who will mark 33 days of hunger striking that morning in his solitary confinement cell, and how to deal with the rhythmic and arrhythmic snoring bouncing off the church walls. Outside the church are two MELT officers who pester our bus driver with questions. "They asked me where you guys were going, and I thought to myself, 'Geez, if these guys don't know the answer to that, they really must be in trouble," the driver tells us.
We're on the bus at 7 am and informed by our on-site scout that CSIS is pretty much locked down with "essential" workers already inside the facility, likely making for a crabby workplace. Add to this the fact that a company which delivers coffee to the bunker will not be able to get in, and things might get pretty desperate in that confined, caffeine-less environment.
What seems to throw authorities for their first loop of the day, however, is when our bus takes a wrong turn on the freeway and we end up far out in the countryside, hoping to find an off ramp to turn around and head back to Ottawa. It is unclear whether CSIS radios ahead to Montreal that a sneak attack is on its way in la belle province.
Thanks to former Ottawa resident Janis Dahl, who redirects us in her bug costume (she is there to put a bug in the system), we get back on track. We eventually get our bearings and gather at the Ogilvie entrance to CSIS. We're greeted by a small crowd of folks led by Sophie Harkat, who is dressed with red horns and hair, and holds a trident and blood bag. "CSIS has made my life hell," she says, and her blood bag explains that this is what the spies have been trying to suck out of her and her husband over the past year. Sophie's husband Mohamed Harkat is detained on a security certificate in Ottawa, arrested on International Human Rights Day last December 10.
Our costumed crusaders set up at the main intersection, and our detectives and keystone kops scour the grounds with magnifying glasses, looking for secret evidence. One man is dressed in classic spy fashion, with newspaper held open at all times to cover his face, his sunglasses-covered prying eyes occasionally rising above the top of the paper. CSIS and RCMP videographers, who come dressed as CSIS and RCMP videographers, don't seem to be into the spirit of the day, and snap pictures of everyone who smiles for their file.
The psychological counselling couch (the subject of much discussion over police radios) is set up, complete with a cigar-chomping Freud aficionado, and we proceed to offer help for CSIS and local police to get over their irrational fears of Arabs and Muslims. But since it appears CSIS got all of its bureaucrats in early that morning, there is no one to counsel.
Perhaps as an organization which is so careless with taxpayer dollars that its agents purposely plan their interrogations of Muslims late at night so they can bill for double or triple time, CSIS would rather have the taxpayer foot the bill for its agents' counselling needs rather than take advantage of our once-in-a-lifetime freebie.
Things proceed with a theatrical piece of fun from Montreal, a game show called Who is the Terrorist? Hosted by a whip-wielding circusmaster named Denis Coderre (who also works as Canada's Minister of Immigrant and Refugee Rejection), we are asked to consider the case of one man with a placard taped to his belly that reads "soldier/terrorist." Both kill people, "Coderre" explains.
We are also introduced to Solicitor General Wayne Easter Bunny, who hops about handing out security certificates from his egg basket.
The certificates are official looking documents informing people that they have been declared a threat to national security. Signed by these two ministers of the Crown (Coderre and Easter), it states clearly:
"You will be detained until further notice.
"You will not be given access to the full information on which we base our suspicions.
"You will not be permitted to attend all the hearings in which we present our case to the judge.
"If the judge feels our suspicions seem okay, you will be deported. There is no appeal.
"We will not intervene if you are killed or imprisoned in the country to which you are deported."
A hyper Wayne Easter Bunny madly hops about eager to deliver these certificates to any and all, including police who are very reluctant to even touch the documents and who stage a retreat when the big rabbit comes their way.
(Interestingly, Wayne Easter used to head the National Farmers Union, which was part of an effort to fight "free" trade in the 1980s. According to a definition offered in CSIS' last report to Parliament, both Easter and the farmers would qualify as domestic terrorists as a result of this political stand.)
The certificate also takes pains to point out that according to CSIS, being a threat to national security does not include any of the following activities:
• stealing the lands and resources of native peoples and decimating their communities
• selling weapons to countries and individuals who may use them against you and your family here or elsewhere
• supporting military invasions of other countries (which just might provoke retaliation)
• stealing resources from other peoples (which might also provoke retaliation)
• destroying the environment
• closing hospitals, reducing funding for schools, ending housing and other social programmes
• lowering labour standards
• any activities associated with enforcing brutal economic sanctions and causing millions to live in poverty and misery;
• deporting refugees to death and suffering.