Vic Toews and torture: A shameful legacy

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporting member of

On July 8, 2013, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced his resignation from Stephen Harper's government, as well as his departure from politics altogether. He mentioned personal reasons for this move. We still don't know if his torture legacy came back to haunt him, or if the recently publicized American spying program PRISM quietly affected his political career.

But who really cares, because for his supporters Vic Toews will always be remembered as Mr. Tough On Crime, the man who defended the "rights of victims," or rather some particular victims, to be precise.

Indeed, when Vic Toews became Justice Minister, he meticulously implemented the political agenda of his boss Stephen Harper and he continued to do so after he was appointed Public Safety Minister. It is not a secret that the tough-on-crime package was one of the five priorities of Stephen Harper when he was elected prime minister in 2006.

But for the Muslim men arrested in the 'war on terror' and for all human rights advocates in Canada, Vic Toews will always be remembered as Mr. Who Authorized Torture.

Vic Toews became Justice Minister in 2006, and few months later, Guantanamo North, a six-inmate facility within the maximum security Millhaven Penitentiary near Kingston opened its doors to hold four Muslim men who were detained under the controversial security certificate procedure. While they were held in isolation, it was reported that the detainees complained about the conditions of their incarceration, where it was extremely hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. It was also reported that "they had no access to dental care, that they were harassed by the guards, and that floodlights in a courtyard they could not access kept them up at night."

One of the detainees, Hassan Almrei, embarked on a 155-day hunger strike while incarcerated in isolation at this infamous institution. Vic Toews didn't budge as he continued to forcefully implement his boss's agenda.

Soon after, when the majority of security certificates were quashed by the courts and the detainees freed from strict conditions, Vic Toews didn't order the closure of Guantanamo North. The $3.2-million facility remained vacant until Omar Khadr came to live in it in 2012, after his repatriation from Guantanamo Bay. By that time, Vic Toews was already Public Safety Minister. He quietly authorized the intelligence agencies, as well as border agency CBSA to accept all types of information, even when that information was extracted from torture. The objective was considered "noble," as this was justified to save the lives of innocent people. Of course, didn't Mr. Toews also mean the lives of those who were tortured? Well, obviously this question didn't preoccupy Mr. Toews. It didn't bother him that Omar Khadr, a teenager at the time of his arrest, was ill-treated by the Americans in Bagram and also later in Guantanamo. Mr. Toews was on a mission; he had to finish his job. Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, complained to the Public Safety Minister and asked him to withdraw the "torture directive". Mr. Neve's request fell on deaf ears.

Last April, Vic Toews didn't even allow a reporter to interview Omar Khadr. He claimed that the interview posed a security risk. So far, I haven't figured out how this is possible but maybe Mr. Toews knows better than us and has his own reasons to believe so. I still don't know why Vic Toews, himself a son of immigrants with a strong background of religious minority (Mennonites) who escaped the torture and oppression of the Soviet Union, became the key implementer of a systematic policy that mainly targeted another religious minority -- in this case, people who adhere to the Muslim faith. If you have the answer, please let me know.

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and in 2011, a novel in French, Miroirs et mirages.

Photo: mostlyconservative/Flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.