Following the examples of the US and Britain, the Canadian government has launched its own so-called anti-terrorism bill which, according to Muslims, will target them more than anyone else. Despite horrible experiences with the US Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty bill of 1996 that has targeted Muslims and people of Arab descent, almost exclusively on secret evidence, Canada is going ahead with its own Bill C-16.
One of the aims of the bill is to withdraw charitable status from charities “with terrorist affiliations.” The decision to deregister a charity, however, will be based on secret evidence provided by the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) — the Canadian spy agency — and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Intelligence agencies, by their very nature, are prone to treat everyone as guilty until they can prove their innocence. Existing Canadian laws, especially the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, state that a person or organisation is innocent until proved guilty.
The bill, which was tabled in the House of Commons in mid-March, immediately drew sharp criticism from Muslim groups in Canada. “Due to widespread North American cultural stereotyping, that often equates Muslim with ‘terrorist,’ their charitable organizations in this country could be disproportionately targeted for investigation,” warned Dr Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. “There is a very real danger that innocent Canadians and worthwhile philanthropic, educational, or developmental groups could be irreparably damaged in the investigation and reporting process.”
Dr Elmasry noted in particular that the role proposed for CSIS gives it such broad and secretive powers that a targeted charitable group or NGO would have no recourse for appeal. He pointed out that “Agencies like CSIS rely heavily on foreign services. Any foreign government could thus fabricate intelligence reports about its own political opponents, saying this or that Canadian charitable organization is giving support to what it believes are terrorist interests.”
Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s solicitor general, claims that “the new act provides a fair and open process to prevent abuse of Canada’s charities,” but Muslim leaders differ with his assessment of the new law. Mumtaz Akhter, chairman of Human Concern International of Ottawa, pointed out: “More than 40 per cent of the world’s refugees, its needy and its desperately poor, are in Muslim countries. And in many of these countries, local political groups are involved in violent acts against violent political enemies.”
Dr Ali Hindy, chairman of Salah-ul-Deen Mosque of Toronto, added, “Ill-defined and emotionally charged terms, such as ‘international terrorism’ and ‘national security,’ must not be invoked to deprive Canadians and their organizations of basic civil and human rights. We must be vigilant to ensure that no individual or group is subjected to guilt-by-association prejudices that would compromise their freedom to support genuine, legitimate humanitarian causes, no matter how unpopular.”
Muslims have established a three-member steering committee to work with other Canadian NGOs to ensure that the proposed Bill C-16 legislation adheres strictly to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a press release dated March 28, they have also urged Muslims to contact them at the Canadian Islamic Congress to ensure their concerns are heard and their rights are fully protected.
Given the Muslims’ experience in the US, it is understandbale that Canadian Muslims are worried. In the US, all those accused of terrorism or of being a “threat” to US “national security interests” have been exonerated, but not before they had spent between 18 months to three years in jail and only after their defence lawyers had forced the presiding judges to reveal something of the secret evidence. In each and every case, the arrests were based on innuendo and false accusations. There are at least 20 cases still pending in the US courts. Some US lawmakers have now proposed that the use of secret evidence be banned because it is unconstitutional and its use has been entirely arbitrary.
While Canada’s case may not be as extreme as the US’s agencies routinely cooperate with their US and Israeli counterparts poses a serious threat to Muslims’ human rights. After all, during the second world war, Japanese Canadians by the tens of thousands were herded into concentration camps, just as they were in the US, on mere suspicion. Today’s hysterical media campaign against the Muslims is creating a similar atmosphere of xenophobia, in which their rights would become the first casualty.
[Dr. Mohamed Elmasry can be reached at the Canadian Islamic Congress, tel: (519) 746 1242 or (519) 888 4567, ext 3753.]