Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Canada’s new brand of ‘terrorists’ — British MPs

During my 14 weeks of training as an intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) a few years ago, I spent countless hours memorizing what, according to the law, constitutes terrorism — a definition that was somewhat altered following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. There were those who had committed terrorist attacks, those who were planning to commit a terrorist attack, and those who abetted, or helped, others in the commission of, or planning for, a terrorist attack.

The main difference in how the law interpreted what constitutes terrorism was that prior to 9/11, an individual, or group, needed to have committed an act of terrorism to face charges of terrorism, whereas after the legal changes (promulgated in Bill C-36), intent and support were now sufficient to investigate and prosecute someone on terrorism charges. What this meant was that someone who donated money to a terrorist organization, raised funds for it or provided material support, could now be accused of engaging in terrorism, provided, of course, that a proper investigation by intelligence agencies determined that one had indeed engaged in such activities. At an extreme, the new law meant that the more than 100 Canadians who in recent weeks have chipped in to purchase a plane ticket for terror suspect Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Sudan-born Canadian national who has been stranded in Sudan since 2002, could technically be accused of aiding a terrorist. (Abdelrazik has been cleared of terrorism charges by Canadian and Sudanese authorities, but remains on the 1267 UN watch list, which targets individuals associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and Ottawa has yet to provide him with a passport).

Pushing the definition of what constitutes terrorism one step further, the Canadia Border Services Agency (CBSA) in early March barred British MP George Galloway, an outspoken critic of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, from entering Canada, on grounds that he represents “a threat to national security” — a decision that was not overruled by a Federal Court judge on Monday.

The main fault of Mr Galloway, who was scheduled to give a speech at a “Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar” forum in Toronto on Monday, was that on March 11 he, along with about 50 British and Scottish volunteers, delivered money, humanitarian aid and vehicles to war-torn Gaza directly rather than through a recognized international aid agency or the UN. By doing so, Galloway sought to demonstrate that it was possible, despite the Israeli/Egyptian blockade imposed since 2006 — which the UN and aid organizations say has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in the territory — to deliver aid. In other words, he refused to abide by a state-sponsored system that has ensured that, despite Israel’s claims to the contrary, Palestinians remain in a state of destitution.

In a letter dated March 20, Ottawa said that during his visit to Gaza, Galloway gave Hamas — listed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, the European Union and Canada, among others — US$45,000.

Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said that those who support, promote and help terrorist organizations should not be allowed to come to Canada.

The problem with the CBSA and the Federal Court’s decision is that Galloway has denied the charges that he supports, promotes and helps terrorist organizations, and no investigation has been launched by CSIS or other Canadian intelligence agencies to prove him right or wrong. In other words, beyond the questionable wisdom of branding Hamas a terrorist entity, an assumption of guilt underlies the Canadian government’s decision to bar him entry, which contravenes the presumption of innocence that lies at the core of the Canadian legal system. Based on my experience at CSIS, if there is any intelligence supporting the claim that Galloway gave money directly to Hamas, it came from a single-thread, or “uncorroborated,” Israeli source of questionable credibility — which sadly is often enough to convince allied agencies to act.

It is therefore quite feasible that Mr Galloway was denied entry into Canada not because he is a terror suspect or, risibly, poses a threat to national security, but rather because he has been a supporter of the Palestinian cause, has been critical of Israel, and opposed the neo-imperialistic interventions in Iraq — which Ottawa ostensibly opposed — and Afghanistan, where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers have been deployed since 2001. The decision is also reflective of the position the Conservative Stephen Harper administration (as has the Liberal opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff) has taken on Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in December and January, which was overwhelmingly supportive of Jerusalem’s actions.

By twisting anti-terror legislation and disregarding the process by which an individual can be accused of engaging in terrorist activity, the Canadian government has with Mr Galloway’s case entered the realm of preventing free speech and once again shown its disregard, if not contempt, for the fate of ordinary Palestinians.

No comments: