Canada criticized for Hassan Almrei detention

posted on November 14, 2005 | in Category International | PermaLink

Original author: CTV.ca News Staff
Source: CTV.CA News
URL: [link]
Date: November 11, 2005

One of the detainees the United Nations had in mind when it recently criticized Canada's controversial use of the security certificate says he'll keep risking his life to get the law changed.

Canada was rapped on the knuckles last week, for its use of security certificates to detain suspects identified in its ongoing counter-terrorism campaign.

The certificates allow Canada to indefinitely detain non-citizens without charge, trial or the release of evidence against them.

In a stern rebuke, the United Nations Human Rights Commission said using security certificates may violate international law and called on Canada to change the way it acts toward foreign nationals who are detained in this country.One of those detainees is Hassan Almrei, who has been held behind bars for four years. A Syrian national, he came to Canada in 1999 on a fake passport. Allegations of his involvement in an al Qaeda forgery ring soon followed.

But allegations, says Almrei, is all they are. In a recent interview with CTV's Beverly Thomson, Almrei said there is no proof against him.

"I haven't been investigated yet," Almrei told the Canada AM host in his first television interview.

"No CSIS officer, or RCMP officer has came to this jail and ask me the question about these allegation," he said in his interview at the Toronto West Detention Centre where he's been held since October 2001.

During that time, Almrei says he's been confined to a small cell, with irregular trips to a "30 by 40 foot yard" for exercise.

"I am allowed to have five minutes -- not every day -- outside my cell for walking," he said. "Can you imagine that? I have to go on hunger strike to have 20 minutes."

As for the security certificate that makes his detention legal, Almrei says it not only violates internationally-recognized human rights, but also his right to due process in the Canadian judicial system.

"If I am terrorist I'd like to be in jail with charge," he said, challenging prosecutors to present all the evidence against him.

"I'd like the government to give me chance to defend myself and answer the allegation in fair trial," he added. (If) they found me guilty, send me to jail and shed no tear on me."

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan has said "the security certificate, albeit an extraordinary tool, is an important tool."

Citing fear of torture, Almrei is fighting Canada's attempts to deport him to his native Syria and has long protested his treatment during his four years of imprisonment.

Almrei believes his Internet surfing got him into trouble.

"Osama bin Laden won't send me his picture to save it in my computer. I didn't need it," he said, explaining that the digital evidence against him was actually pictures downloaded from such news websites as Al Jazeera and the BBC.

"If the allegation against me is true -- and I am member of Al Qaeda or linked to Osama bin Laden -- I think it's very stupid and naive for me to receive his picture and hide it or download it in my computer."

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former CSIS agent, believes there's a legitimate debate over whether Canada has gone too far.

On the one hand, Juneau-Katsuya told Canada AM agencies investigating terror suspects must be able to withhold certain evidence in order to protect their sources.

"In that respect, there's a certain understanding why they do it," he said, noting the other side of the argument too.

"Let's not forget what we're trying to protect as well -- which are some of the foundations of our societies and some of the principles of our justice systems -- as much as trying to catch the bad guys."

For Almrei, he feels the only weapon at his disposal is to go on repeated hunger strikes, even though he knows it is a risky proposition.

"If I die, there will be many, many questions."

Some of those questions are coming from the UN Human Rights Commission. It wants Canada to limit the amount of time someone can be held in detention in a case like this. The UN worries that national security concerns could trump human rights.

In the meantime, the only thing Hassan Almrei can do is wait.

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