Most Canadians do not normally associate the words “Canada” and “torture” in the same breath, yet living reminders of the increasingly disturbing connections will be travelling with three dozen supporters throughout Central and Eastern Ontario from May 1-8.

The Caravan to End Canadian Involvement in Torture is being organized by the group Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, which grew out of the ongoing campaign to end secret hearings and security certificates. A group of black-hooded, orange jumpsuit-wearing “detainees” symbolizing the human rights abuses rampant in the so-called war on terror will be a central feature of walks through dozens of communities, vigils at the offices of MPs, and public educational events.

The Caravan kicks off May 1 with a “Torture Tour of Toronto,” highlighting local businesses and government institutions directly or indirectly connected to torture. A group of Caledon East high school students will be joining the caravan for the torture tour.

On May 2, Gary Connolly, a teacher at Robert F. Hall Secondary School, will begin a week long “Fast Against Torture” to support the Caravan’s demands. Several of his students will fast for a day as well. Also on May 2, renowned Canadian author and torture survivor Marina Nemat, author of the best-selling Prisoner of Tehran, will join the Caravan in Aurora. By the time the Caravan arrives in Ottawa, there will be demonstrations at CSIS, the RCMP, the Canadian Border Services Agency and the Prime Minister’s office, among other locations.

The Caravan will focus on the cases of three Canadians tortured based on information that could only have originated in Canada. Torture survivors Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin have experienced years of untold suffering in Syrian and Egyptian dungeons that continues today even though the men are back in Canada. An expert fact-finder concluded in these cases that “they suffered severe physical and psychological trauma while in detention.”

Their cases are not as well known as that of Canadian Maher Arar, whose case helped reveal the U.S. practice of “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping and forced removal to overseas torture). A Canadian inquiry concluded Arar was tortured in Syria based on completely untruthful allegations that originated in Canada. He was cleared of any suspicion, and won significant compensation, though he lives with the scars of a year in a grave-like cell and physical and mental torture.

The Arar Inquiry, as well as the United Nations and Amnesty International, recommended a similar inquiry for these three cases. Although Prime Minister Harper announced an inquiry, Mssrs. Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin are not allowed to attend the inquiry that has their names on it, nor are their lawyers, because it is completely secret. It is known as the Iacobucci Inquiry, named for the former Supreme Court judge who chairs it.

“What does this say about the Canadian government: do they still believe the lies and unfounded allegations against these men, who have never been charged, tried and convicted of any crime?” asks Matthew Behrens, coordinator of the Caravan.

“The horrific case of the torture of Maher Arar is often viewed as a mistake, an exception to Canada’s otherwise respectful record when it comes to human rights promotion. But these cases reveal what is in fact the tip of a growing iceberg. When it comes to Canada and the so-called war on terror, human rights take a definite back seat to undefined and secret ‘national security’ concerns.”

“We see increasingly that whenever the government wants to hide something, it’s not because of national security concerns, it’s because these things being revealed would prove politically embarrassing or inconvenient to the government.”

The Caravan is demanding a full, open inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the torture of Mssrs. Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin.

Their cases represent one of the many ways in which human rights have taken a back seat in Canada’s own war of terror, a topic that will be addressed at nightly public events and school talks along the journey.

The Caravan will focus attention on additional related issues, including:

âe¢ Based on secret allegations neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see, as well as the lowest standards of any court in Canada, five individuals are fighting deportation to torture under “security certificates.” The “Secret Trial Five” have faced years in Canadian solitary confinement fighting a policy declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.

âe¢ A refugee claimant who came to Canada on September 5, 2001, was illegally transferred to the U.S. on September 12, 2001, with the false and racist allegation that as a Muslim who knew something about airplanes he might have been involved in 9/11. He faced five years of torture and jail before being returned to Canada, and now seeks a public inquiry to find out how and why this happened.

âe¢ The Security Intelligence Review Committee found in February 2008 that Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, “uses information obtained by torture.”

âe¢ The Canadian Border Services Agency, which annually deports upwards of 14,000 children, women and men to uncertain fates (often based on bias, faulty information and findings for which no appeal is provided), “has no explicit policy governing use of evidence suspected of coming from torture,” reported Canadian Press on March 24, 2008.

âe¢ Under the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada is turning away countless at-risk individuals who subsequently face increased risk of deportation to torture from the U.S.

âe¢ Canada is one of the few countries in the world that’s refused to condemn the illegal U.S.-run detention and torture centre at Guantanamo Bay.

âe¢ Canada has hosted scores of CIA flights (providing landing and refueling) that may have been involved in renditions to torture. A secret government probe was conducted but we have not seen any results, other than the assurance that nothing wrong occurred. If complicity in torture, which appears to be a Canadian government pattern, is seen as acceptable then of course they would conclude nothing was wrong!

âe¢ The government of Canada maintains an ongoing relationship (teaching, training) with the U.S.-based “School of Assassins” (aka WHINSEC), a torture and terror training centre that has graduated tens of thousands of military officials who have gone on to commit horrific human rights abuses throughout the hemisphere.

âe¢ Canadian troops in Afghanistan are at risk of being charged with complicity in torture for transferring detainees to Afghan and U.S. forces that are known to engage in torture and murder of detainees. The federal government insists it has no problem with such transfers.

Ultimately, Caravan members wish to point to the manner in which democracy becomes eroded when torture directly or even indirectly becomes part of the government’s practice.

“Torture is democracy’s antithesis. Whether it is the federal government’s refusal to release documents about the torture of Canadian-captured detainees in Afghanistan, the holding of completely unaccountable secret inquiries into the torture of Canadian citizens, or the use of secret hearings and the lowest available standards of justice to deport people to torture, we see that the government’s efforts to protect institutions involved in such heinous practices are actually undermining the principles of openness, fairness, and equality that are supposed to be hallmarks of democracy. Democracy really is on the line, and that affects all of us here and across Canada,” Behrens added.

The Caravan’s demands are:

1. A full public inquiry regarding the role of Canadian officials in the torture of Canadians Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin.

2. An immediate and permanent halt to all secret hearing “security certificate” proceedings, an end to all deportations to torture, and the closure of Canada’s Guantanamo Bay.

3. Immediate implementation of all the recommendations of the inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the torture of Maher Arar, with emphasis on the need for a strong, independent, civilian oversight body regarding all “national security” agencies including the RCMP and CSIS.

4. End all cooperation (landing rights, refuelling) with rendition to torture flights, and institution of a full, mandatory inspection regime of all foreign aircraft landing in Canada to ensure this country is not even unwittingly an accessory to kidnapping and forced removal to torture.

5. Canada must immediately condemn the illegal detention and torture centre at Guanatanamo Bay, Cuba, declare itself in opposition to the U.S.-led program of extraordinary rendition to torture and use of black sites for ghost detainees and take such necessary steps to remove itself from international relationships (civil, military, and economic) that implicate Canada in torture.

Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture

For more information on the caravan, contact Matthew Behrens of Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture at [email protected]