Human dignity undermined for three imprisoned immigrants

Three men in the Kingston Immigration and holding Centre hsve been on liquid-only hunger strikes for more than two months

Ibrahim (left) and Yusuf Mahjoub, sons of Mohammad Mohjoub, ask for their father’s release from prison next to portraits of other detainees during a protest outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office in Ottawa Monday June 12, 2006. Mahjoub has been held without charge on a security certificate since 2000.
Ibrahim (left) and Yusuf Mahjoub, sons of Mohammad Mohjoub, ask for their father’s release from prison next to portraits of other detainees during a protest outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office in Ottawa Monday June 12, 2006. Mahjoub has been held without charge on a security certificate since 2000.
Credit: 
Photo by Tom Hanson / The Canadian Press
Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08
Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08

Imagine you stopped eating today, and ate nothing again until the end of the term, perhaps even longer.

That’s life for Mohammad Mahjoub, Mah-moud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, who have been on liquid-only hunger strikes for more than 66 days, 55 days, and 55 days respectively.

Now imagine you were carted off to prison today, and were held in custody for the next five or six years of your life, kept in the dark as to why exactly you are there and unsure of when you’ll ever be
allowed to go home. Well that too, is life for Mahjoub, Jaballah and Almrei, who have been held without charge for more than half a decade, on secret evidence that neither they nor their lawyers are permitted to see. These men are currently imprisoned at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC) in Millhaven, better known as “Guantanamo North.” They are being detained on Canada’s controversial security certificates, which allows Citizenship and Immigration Canada to remove any person considered to be a security threat.

In the case of Mahjoub, Jaballah, and Almrei, that “removal” means they face deportation to countries
in which torture and eventual death are inevitable. Barbara Jackman, a refugee lawyer involved, told the CBC, “It’s not like we’re even arguing whether they will be tortured … The Government accepts that they will be tortured.” According to the UN Convention Against Torture, there is no justification
whatsoever for it, not even in exceptional circumstances. Ironically, Canada has signed this convention and officially condemns any practices of torture, though apparently if someone is deemed a possible security risk, that’s enough of a justification to trump the UN Convention and send someone back to torture. On Dec. 10, 2004, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the use of security certificates to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely and on secret evidence was in fact constitutional, and that non-citizens and permanent residents can be subjected to a different standard of legal treatment. In the case of Mahjoub, Jaballah and Almrei, that different standard of legal treatment entails denying them their basic human rights, perhaps because they are less human than Canadian citizens. Evidently, these men have an awful lot to fuss about, but their peaceful protest of self-starvation has little to do with the fact of their arguably unjust incarceration.

On Jan. 8, they released an open letter to the public in which they are simply asking the federal government to hear them out regarding the conditions of their confinement. The government however, will not hear their concerns, despite an outpouring of public support, massive letter writing campaigns
and protests across the nation. In reading their letter, any rational person can see that their demands are simple: Enforced supervision to prevent humiliating belittlement from guards, adequate medical care, access to media, educational programs, adequate visiting time with family, and permission to use calling cards rather than the prison’s expensive long distance plan.

The list does go on, yet it’s clear that all they are asking is to be permitted basic dignity within the
walls of their prison cells. They write: “We have been very patient and done our best to deal with a process where it is impossible to defend yourself … But sometimes there is only so much human beings should be required to accept before they raise their voice in peaceful protest.”

The simple fact that they’ve consumed nothing but orange juice and the occasional clear broth for ore than two months just to be heard is in itself baffling, and the fact that our government still has
yet to enter into negotiations with them is absolutely appalling.

On Jan. 26, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day made a surprise visit to the KIHC, though he declined to speak with all of the men. So here we have it, a nation that prides itself on its legal traditions, yet observes policies of imprisonment dubbed by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, a Justice of the UK
House of Lords as “anathema in any country that observes the rule of law,” a nation that stands tall as
a moral role model worldwide in its assertion of basic human dignity, yet denies that very same dignity
to those within its own borders; a nation in which convicted criminals are afforded more rights than those who have yet to be proven guilty.

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