Hello Anna Maria:
While listening to your story this morning I realized I needed to set the record straight about some of what was said by former Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day.
I do know MacDonald Scott, mostly from being with him at many street protests and having heard him speak passionately and tirelessly about injustices to migrants. Congratulations on your interview with ‘Mac’ as he is more commonly known. I agree with Mac’s assessment of CBSA’s promise to investigate itself with respect to migrants who are held for indefinite periods, with some dying while in custody – that it is like having the fox who guards the henhouse investigating itself.
I can also apply this metaphor to the statements made by Mr. Day. I have at least second hand knowledge that some of what he said is untrue. My friend Mohammed Mahjoub, one of the Muslim refugee claimants held under a Security Certificate, elected to leave his family in Toronto in 2009 and go back to the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre – KIHC (a specially constructed place at Millhaven Penitentiary just for four or five of the ‘Security Certificate Five, all Muslim men) where he had been held with the others up to 2007 when they were released to supervision due to the Supreme Court’s striking down the Security Certificate provisions (which were re-established one year later). Mr. Mahjoub elected to do this after being released to his family, myself and one other man as his supervisors, in 2007. Mr. Mahjoub said his reason for returning to KIHC was the unbearable harassment by CBSA agents of all members of his family, not just him. I visited him at the Centre two times and spoke with him by phone many times over the year. He was the only inmate there for that year.
When he returned to KIHC for that one year, he was allowed to engage in his religious practices such as listening to the Koran on a portable CD player as well as to pray five times per day on a special prayer rug. But it was not long until at least one of the guards assigned to him began to harass Mr. Mahjoub, deliberately entering Mr. Mahjoub’s cell/room and walking on his prayer rug – which is a violation of Mr. Mahjoub’s practices. Eventually guards complained about Mr. Mahjoub’s CD, saying it was too loud and it was eventually removed from him or broken, I can’t remember which. Mr. Mahjoub appealed to the KIHC Commander, a woman, but she refused to act by removing the offending guard. Mr. Mahjoub, who by then had been incarcerated since 2000, had learned that the only power he had was to start hunger strikes which he did in this case. He lived for several months on water and juice and lost nearly 100 pounds. He is a large man but his weight loss was very apparent. He and I were on the phone weekly as I tried to ascertain how he was doing. I even visited him when he was taken to a Kingston hospital for observation for his health, but under what I thought was extreme guarding. During the hunger strike, I and many friends and members of parliament who were sympathetic – such as Bill Siksay – made appeals to the government to take some action to save Mr. Mahjoub’s life. It was during this time that Minister Stockwell Day visited KIHC without interviewing my friend. He reported to the House of Commons that he had looked in the refrigerator and cupboards and that there was plenty of food and drink. This was seen at the time in the House and the media as completely insensitive to a man who might be dying. The issue was not one of food availability but of an inmate who was being denied his Charter rights to practice his religion. Mr. Day did not exhibit any care at all about Mr. Mahjoub’s health or his Charter rights and just made a joke of Mr. Mahjoub’s suffering. So Mr. Day’s statement regarding providing freedom of religion for all immigrants being held, is in practical terms – false and his other statements about how well immigration inmates are treated is worth little.
The other part of Mr. Day’s comments that are objectionable were his negative statements about the organization, ‘No One Is Illegal’. With the dramatic increase of migrating people in the world due to environmental disasters such as widespread droughts, we will be seeing more and more people on the move. The Syrian war and resulting fleeing of refugees was at least partially brought on by several years of drought in Syria and surrounding areas.
Nations such as Canada cannot continue to treat these people who arrive on our shores unsponsored, as criminals and lock them up indefinitely. ‘No One Is Illegal’ is far ahead of people like Mr. Day in recommending humane treatment and freedom for undocumented people or those with no nationality. I think it is criminal of our government to continue to lock up families and incarcerating children which would not be allowed under criminal law, but is permitted as Mr. Scott said, because Immigration law has a much lower standard – which is the reason for how badly my friend Mr. Mahjoub has been treated for 16 years now. He now lives under a kind of house arrest, unable to work, in a limbo that is hard to understand. He cannot go back to his home country for fear of being tortured and/or killed and he has no decent life in Canada up to the present.
I hope you will set straight some of the untruths expressed by Mr. Day.
Murray Lumley, Toronto