Abousfian Abdelrazik’s extraordinary story first hit the news on April 28, 2008, the day the Sudanese-born Canadian walked into the Canadian embassy in Khartoum and informed staff that he wouldn’t leave until he was booked on a plane back to Montreal.
His decision to go public was a courageous one. If the embassy threw him out — as the consul indeed threatened to do — it was almost certain that Sudan would arrest him again, and he would pay the heavy price of torture or even death.
But, after five years of exile, including two ghastly prison terms, Abdelrazik was desperate, and his gamble paid off. The Embassy granted him “temporary safe haven” and Canadians across the country began mobilizing in support of him.
When they learned that the Canadian spy agency CSIS had engineered his arrest in Sudan in the first place, and that two CSIS agents had travelled to Sudan to interrogate him in one of Sudan’s notorious prisons, people across Canada were outraged. It was Maher Arar all over again — it was Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El Maati, Muayed Nourredine. The story of the involvement of Canadian officials in overseas detention and torture of “suspects” was becoming horribly familiar even as the labels “terrorist suspect” and “associated with Al Qaeda” were becoming less than convincing.
That’s why, in response to the government’s position that it was illegal to donate to Abdelrazik, because he was on some kind of blacklist, and, further, that no travel document would be issued until he had a paid for plane ticket, people from every part of the country and all walks of life, banded together to buy him a plane ticket home.
Co-ordinated under the name of Project Fly Home, this powerful act was spontaneous, a mass uprising against the carte blanche that “national security” gives to government power, an expression of solidarity and true citizenship which brought together a former Toronto mayor with a retired Ottawa postal worker, an immigration lawyer in Montreal with the vice-president of an oil company based in Calgary; a student in Halifax with a WW2 vet in small town BC; librarians, law professors, film-makers, union organizers, farmers, nurses. High-profile people such as Stephen Lewis, Warren Allmand, and David Orchard made their donation alongside scores of people whose name had never before been published. Three of Canada’s unions joined the revolt: the Conseil centrale de Montréal métropolitain-CSN, the Postal-Workers (CUPW), and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC); while others, such as CUPE, PSAC, FNEEQ, CAW, CAUT and NUPGE, endorsed the campaign to bring him home.
The purchase of the plane ticket effectively cornered the government, triggering a series of events that led, on June 4, 2009, to a stiffly worded federal court decision, ordering the government to bring Abdelrazik home within the month. He was reunited with his daughters and son in Montreal on June 26, 2009, after a six-year separation.
Abdelrazik has now been home 10 months. This should have been a period of healing and recuperation from six long years of trauma, with its burning memories of physical violence, endless interrogations, lies and betrayal, and powerlessness. But his struggle is not over. He remains in a kind of prison without walls: sanctions created by the UN Security Council and imposed by Canada. As Abdelrazik says, in this situation he cannot feel that he is truly “home.”
In 2006, shortly after his release from his second period of detention, Abdelrazik’s name was added to the UN Security Council’s “1267 list” — a timely move that effectively delayed his return to Canada for another three years.
The 1267 sanctions regime, named after the number of the Security Council resolution that established it in 1999, imposes a travel ban, an asset freeze and an arms embargo on listed individuals and organizations.
Easy to get on the list, it is nearly impossible to get off. There are no procedural safeguards, no evidence, no specific charges, no trial; no clear “case to meet” and in any case no opportunity to be heard before one’s freedoms are torn up and thrown away. It is enough to be named as someone who is suspected of being associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban to be listed. It takes active lobbying on the part of one’s state and the unanimous consent of all members of the Security Council — including the state that requested the listing in the first place — to get off.
In the court order that was to bring Abdelrazik home, Federal Court Justice Russel Zinn wrote that “there is nothing in the listing or de-listing procedure [of the 1267 regime] that recognizes the principles of natural justice or that provides for basic procedural fairness.”
It is in fact a regime of political control, and has explicitly been used as a bargaining chip in the Afghan conflict: five leading Taliban members who agreed to cooperate with the U.S. in Afghanistan were removed from the list in late January. People who have no use, nothing to offer the powerful players of the security council — like Abdelrazik — remain on the list.
The implications are far-reaching, and touch many. Take the example of the 504 people, including several Canadians, who were blacklisted by the Philippines in 2007. Comprised of international activists who had criticized human rights abuse in the Philippines, the blacklist was accompanied by the claim that they had “links” to “Al Qaeda/Taliban.” An absurd claim, but not without strategic merit: coming from a government source, and re-packaged as part of a spy agency’s secret “Security Intelligence Report” (SIR), this allegation could well have helped land some of these activists on the 1267 list. Similarly, an Iranian activist informed me that Iran was seeking the listing of some of its dissidents based in Europe, where they were out of Iran’s reach, but not out of the reach of the 1267 sanctions regime. Even if this rumour turns out to be baseless, it reflects the potential chill effect of such a regime.
Regulations implementing the 1267 regime in Canada state that no Canadian shall “provide or collect by any means, directly or indirectly, funds with the intention that the funds be used” by someone on the 1267 list.
This means that anyone who pays Abdelrazik a salary, provides him with a loan, or simply offers him a gift could be charged, with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
It means that he can’t have a bank account. The Royal Bank refused to open a bank account for him on the grounds that this would violate the Canadian 1267 regulations. The Caisse populaire subsequently agreed to open an account, only to freeze it, with Abdelrazik’s entire savings, shortly afterwards.
Though late last week Abdelrazik’s lawyers were able to obtain an exemption which will allow him a monthly stipend from his bank account, this represents no more than a window in the 1267 prison for Abdelrazik. His access to funds remains under the discretion of Foreign Affairs officials in Canada and security council representatives in New York.
For this reason, Project Fly Home, endorsed by dozens of organizations across Canada, has continued to organize support for him since his return to Canada, seeking accountability for the past as well as freedom from the 1267 prison in the present.
Last fall, Project Fly Home organized a speaking tour — endorsed by the Canadian Labour Congress, CUPW, the National Campus and Community Radio Association (NCRA), the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), CAIR-CAN and the Council of Canadians — which brough Abdelrazik from Halifax to Winnipeg.
In January, Project Fly Home launched a six-month campaign leading up to the anniversary of his return to Montreal. The campaign makes three specific demands of the government: immediately lift the sanctions on Abdelrazik in Canada; contact the embassies of each Security Council member to inform them that delisting Abdelrazik is a priority for Canada; and revoke the 1267 regulations in Canada.
Project Fly Home points out that there is a precedent for lifting sanctions on listed individuals in Canada: in 2003, the Liberal government ceased applying sanctions to Canadian Liban Hussein, at a time when his name was still on the list.
Beyond the injustice of this sanctions regime, the group also highlights the continuing, absurd inconsistencies in Canada’s policy towards Abdelrazik. Since 2007, Canada’s official position has been that Abdelrazik should be removed from the list. Both of its security agencies, CSIS and RCMP, have issued statements declaring that they have nothing against Abdelrazik. Yet the government continues to impose the sanctions and has made no serious attempt to have him delisted. Indeed, when Abdelrazik asked to meet with government officials to discuss how he could be removed from the list, he was cynically and cruelly referred to delisting guidelines on the website of the 1267 committee.
Today, April 28, the anniversary of Abdelrazik’s entry into the Canadian embassy, Project Fly Home is hosting a “Sanctions-busting Telethon.” People are invited to come out to the telethon or call in to the toll free number to offer a symbolic donation to Abdelrazik in defiance of the sanctions. Though this simple gesture risks 10 years of imprisonment, many are willing to make it, to support Abdelrazik and join in a 10 challenge to a regime that is so obviously unjust, to the principles of racism and arbitrary power that underpin it, and to a trend that ultimately endangers all of us.
Mary Foster is a member of Project Fly Home and an organizer with The People’s Commission Network.