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July 20, 2010

Fundamental or No Rights? – The Toronto G20 Arrests

SS Editorial

G20 Summit

There are now over 1100 individuals who have been arrested for breach of the peace, or on more serious charges, as a result of Toronto’s G20 protests in June. This is the single largest mass arrest in modern Canada.

The vast majority of those arrested were often nowhere near the G20 summit site and were detained for nothing more than voicing opposition, often in government ‘designated’ safe protest zones. But protesters were repeatedly gassed, shot at with plastic bullets, ‘kettled’ or corralled (including scores of bystanders), and denied access to a lawyer while in detention.

Many have expressed deep shock at these events and have demanded an independent national inquiry by Parliament. But, if we look at how anti-war and terror suspects have been treated, this violation of fundamental Charter rights should come as no surprise. Neither Liberal nor Conservative governments have respected fundamental rights when it comes to defending the interests of the state.

What is different this time is that the kind of surveillance and fundamental disregard of a few Canadians’ civil rights, especially in terms of due process, has been extended to many Canadians in the country’s largest city in front of the world’s media.

Cloaking a War

Canada went to war in Afghanistan after the 9/11 strikes determined to uncritically support the United States. A Canadian Anti Terrorism Act was passed and the Immigration Act was amended to allow for secret surveillance, indefinite detention and deportation of terror suspects by the mechanism of security certificates.

One of the first injustices has been the treatment of Omar Khadr who will face a US military commission in August for the death of a US soldier in a 2002 battle in Afghanistan. Khadr, at the age of 15 or as a child soldier, was captured and interrogated both at Bagram Air base and at Guantanamo. He faced over 100 interrogations where he was psychologically terrorized, threatened with gang rape, and deprived of sleep to wring a ‘confession’ out of him - which interrogators actually admitted in court testimony.

Omar Khadr is not only the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo. He is also the last westerner. He is the only citizen of a western nation who has refused to bring him home and try him in a proper court. The Federal and Supreme Court of Canada has ruled four times that Khadr’s fundamental rights under the Charter have been violated and that he should be brought back to Canada. The Conservative government has repeatedly appealed these decisions, thus running out the procedural clock and leaving him to American military justice.

In Afghanistan itself, there is a question of war crimes over Afghan prisoners turned over to Afghan authorities who routinely torture captives. This question has almost provoked a constitutional crisis. The Military Police Complaints Commission was told it didn’t have jurisdiction and, then, when it could proceed, the government censored the documentation to the point of meaninglessness. It has taken the threat of forcing an election to get the Conservatives to allow an all-party committee access to most of the documentation.

Renditions and Security Certificates

Canadians of a middle-eastern origin have also faced discrimination. Mahar Arar, who received ten million dollars compensation for Canada’s complicity in his American kidnapping to Syria to be tortured, was one of four Canadians held in Egyptian and Syrian prisons to be forced into making false confessions.

Within Canada, another five middle-eastern Canadians have had security certificates taken out against them. The Supreme Court finally ruled that citizens cannot be held indefinitely (in a special Kingston jail). Now Canada follows a house arrest regime of round the clock surveillance worthy of the People’s Republic of China as a humane alternative. One of these people actually asked to go back to jail to be freed of the pressure.

An even more egregious case is that of Abousfian Abdelrazik. Essentially the Canadian government exiled him when he was visiting Sudan by refusing to renew his passport (which resulted in two years of jail and torture). Mr. Abdelrazik then camped out at the Canadian embassy in Khartoum until the Supreme Court ordered his return. Even now, because he remains on the United Nations’ blacklist of suspected terrorists, it is illegal for him to fly or work. Canada’s unions have given him a job to test whether he has any remaining rights as a citizen.

Generalizing Discrimination

The war on human rights under the cover of fighting terror has also been carried into Canadian society.

The federal government has absolutely refused to recognize American war resisters as legitimate refugees, unlike the Vietnam war era. And the federal government has systematically cut human rights funding to both government and non-governmental bodies.

Ottawa forced the chair (who died shortly after) of Rights and Democracy, and many of its board members, to quit, and eliminated the public funding of Kairos (Canada’s major faith based human rights organization). And the International Research and Development Centre, a government social sciences body, was also forced to cut its funding for human rights. Their crime? All three organizations fund Israeli and Palestinian human rights monitoring.

So when it comes to the G20 summit, can it be a surprise that the Ontario government secretly amended the Public Works Protection Act to allow police to claim, falsely, that they could stop, demand identification, and search anyone within five meters of the perimeter fence. As well, under the Foreign Mission and International Organizations Act, the RCMP is allowed sweeping coercive powers that are undefined.

Many Canadians rightly demand an independent national inquiry as to how this legislation, and arbitrary and violent police acts, can operate in defiance of Canadians’ fundamental rights. But don’t expect much. The Conservatives have already prevented the Public Safety parliamentary committee from taking a vote on whether to have an inquiry. The Toronto Police Service Board review will be independent but its recommendations cannot be binding.

We need to insist on our rights to fundamental freedoms and due process. But we also need to ask how is it that capitalist nation-state needs trump these when it comes to the global economy or the global order supporting it.