Friday, October 17, 2008

Resistance outside the policy arena

Opposing security certificates is difficult because so much of the information is kept secret that it’s hard to even have a conversation about their merits. The formal processes that are in place for those that are subject to them, as we’ve talked about, are very restrictive. The policy process is also pretty limited, unless you’re part of government or a more formal organization. Even then, change is slow and incremental if it happens at all. Another constitutional challenge has just started, which is great, but for those of us without law degrees, what other avenues are available?

Well since the beginning on this decade, there’s been creative resistance coming from the detainees, the families of the men on security certificates, and other activists. There are 5 men on outstanding security certificates, although only 1 continues to be detained (Hassan Almrei’s 7th year in detention).

While being detained, three of the men went on hunger strikes to protest the detention conditions, and to demand better treatment, such as access to medical care. They were each on hunger strikes for 3-4 months. During this strike, they released an open letter that includes this paragraph:

“We have been very patient and done our best to deal with a process where it is impossible to defend yourself. And we will remain patient, because we know that ultimately, we will be let out, because we are innocent men. But sometimes there is only so much human beings should be required to accept before they raise their voice in peaceful protest. We do not want to be on hunger strike. It is hard on us and our families. But it is the only voice we have.”

The full letter is available here:

Four of the original five men were released at different times on strict conditions while the proceedings continue. For example, Mohammed Harkat is living in a home equipped with video-surveillance and tapped phones, and he was unable to attend his own birthday party, lest it turn into a “political event.” The men continue to speak out about security certificates though, in ways permitted by the courts, such as attending court for the most recent constitutional challenge.

An across-Canada campaign arose in protest of security certificates, centered in the cities where the men were originally detained: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. This is the position taken by No One Is Illegal Vancouver:

“We demand that the Security Certificate process be completely abolished.
For those currently still imprisoned under security certificates, we demand:
- The immediate closing of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre
- That they be released immediately; or, if any case against them actually exists, that they be allowed to defend themselves in open, fair and independent trials with full disclosure of the case against them.
- That they not be deported”

Most of the other anti-security certificate activist groups have similar demands around abolition, rather than revision.

There have been numerous protests, rallies, letter writing campaigns to politicians, sit-ins, street theatre, and press conferences to publicize the conditions of detention, the security certificate process and the contradictions that came up during the processes. The men subject to certificates have been very vocal during and after their detentions, as have the families and other advocates. Existing activist groups supported the campaigns, and new groups arose around the issue specifically. Coordinated days of action served to show resistance across the country to security certificates, such as the weekend of Oct. 22nd/07 when there were protests in a dozen cities across Canada (according to CP – I know of at least one that’s not listed in the article, so I’m sure there were many more that escaped the press’s attention). Also letter writing to the men on security certificates was encouraged to keep spirits up and keep communication open as a show of support. People were trying to do both negative (protest) and positive (support) actions to address security certificate detentions. This appears to have been effective by keeping it in the media and in the public realm, despite the efforts of the government to brush it (and these men) under the rug.

Most of the info here is from No One is Illegal Websites (Montreal & Vancouver) as well as the Campaign to End Secret Trials.


Barry said...

I found it interesting to read about all these alternative forms of so called resistance that are occurring around security certificates. I hadn't really heard of this before.
All this does sound empowering, but I question whether it is any more effective than the slow paced legal challenges. It seems to me like these types of support (or protest i guess) are PR for the legal challenge, but short of a legal challenge would be almost completely ineffective.

truthtopower said...

Almrei has now been detained for 7 years...more than 2,555 days. WITHOUT CHARGE. Without knowing the evidence against him. Without having been provided an opportunity to effectively defend himself. Without an opportunity to effectively mobilize people behind him (always labelled as the "suspected terrorist" unproblematically despite the fact the no one knows what his supposed crimes or potential crimes are) And that's legal here in Canada. I just can't wrap my head around that. We keep writing about it but it's somehow still just unfathomable to me.

Kay Thoms said...

I think it's the combination of these different approaches that offers a chance of success. I wonder if the legal challenges would be happening otherwise. Maybe, but maybe not.

I don't see other avenues open to people who aren't lawyers or politicians. The various forms of protest are probably cathartic, plus you have to do something - how can anyone sit back while this is going on?! I agree, Barry, I think sometimes empowering is just keeping spirits up and drawing attention to your cause, rather than actually achieving any concrete changes.

Barry said...

perhaps more people should get trained in law then, or enter the mainstream political arena...