Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What happened at CSIS today

Six people were arrested today following a sit-in in the lobby of the building that houses the Toronto offices of Canada's national spy agency, CSIS. The group, made up of folks from Burlington, Hamilton, Dundas, Durham, and Toronto, had been seeking a meeting to discuss the secret "evidence" which has been used to detain five Muslim men a collective 164 months, or 13 and a half years, behind Canadian prison bars without charge or bail.

Sponsored by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, the group chose the date of October 20 because it marks three years in solitary confinement for secret trial detainee Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee held in Toronto's Metro West Detention Centre and one of the five Muslim men currently detained without charge or bail. Next week in Ottawa, secret trial detainee Mohamed Harkat will attend the public portion of his secret trial, after which the judge will retire with CSIS and government lawyers to discuss the evidence (if any exists) without Harkat and his lawyer present. Mohammad Mahjoub, held since June 2000 in Toronto, is currently in solitary confinement; Mahmoud Jaballah has been detained since August,2001, and Adil Charkaoui detained since May, 2003.

"We sit here because we have tried just about every channel available to us," the group wrote in a statement. "But time is not on ourside. These men are shadows of their former selves, often broken in body,and scarred in spirit. Their families are traumatized, their communities fearful. And each day they wake brings the same nagging question: why are they being held behind bars, and why is Canada attempting to deport them totorture?

"We sit here not because we despair, but because we hope. Perhaps our willingness to take some risk, to practice some truth-seeking, Gandhian non-violence, will open some minds, some hearts, some souls, to the crime ofsecret trials in Canada and the pain they have inflicted on individuals, families, communities."

The group were charged with failure to leave premises when directed as well as engaging in a prohibited activity on private property and released shortly after their arrests. Those arrested and charged are Kirsten Romaine, Rae Mitchell, Diana Ralph, Chris Shannon, Barney Barningham and Matthew Behrens.

About ten people entered the lobby shortly after 11 am and sat on benches that they imagined were for... well... sitting. Security came within a few minutes to ascertain why they were sitting on those benches.

"Because benches are made to be sat upon," explained one. A member of the group called upstairs to CSIS requesting that a meeting be held immediately to discuss transfer of the secret "evidence" to the lawyers of the detainees, so they can defend their clients. Other security officials showed up to make extensive explanations about the fact that, even though CSIS is a federal government agency, it is housed in a building that is "private property."

Police were eventually called in and, after asking them almost a dozen times to leave, were eventually forced to make arrests.

One particularly interesting exchange between a resister and a police officer went like this:

officer: Well, you'll have your 15 seconds on the news tonight.
resister: I hope these men will be released.
officer: Are they illegal immigrants? What are the charges?
resister: No charges. They're refugees and permanent residents, and this could now be done to citizens.
officer: Well, it could be me or you next.
resister: Yes, it could be, that's why we're doing this. We're trying to generate public support for these men.
officer: I think it's very important tthat you're doing this. If the public doesn't know about this, these men could just disappear. It happened in Chile, it could happen here.
resister: We think they should get a fair and open trial so they can defend themselves. There must be checks and balances.
officer: I agree, there must be checks and balances.

Another arrestee reports that the arresting officer apologized for having to make the arrest, for after having heard about the reason for the protest, the officer felt a sense of shame that he would be hauling such folks out of the CSIS building.

The six plan to contest the charges, a right that thus far remains unavailable to the five secret trial detainees.

For more info: call (416) 651-5800, write Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, click here, or email

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