The recent wave of “anti-terror” arrests in Toronto has sparked a national debate about the threat of terrorism in Canada and the issue of security. The following points should be noted:
- All those arrested must be treated as innocent until proven guilty. This precept is the cornerstone of our justice system and, in order to guarantee a fair and open trial, must be consistently applied to all those now facing charges;
- What have been reported in the press are alleged acts and not proven facts. Only a trial by the public courts system — and not the media — can determine the difference. All media has a responsibility to report on the case fairly and accurately and without resorting to sensationalism;
- Members of government and other public officials should not publicly comment on the case in any way that undermines the precept of “innocent until proven guilty” or that compromises the integrity of a fair and open trial. So far both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day have already suggested that those charged are guilty;
- The Muslim community and the Islamic faith should not in any way be held responsible for the alleged acts of individual suspects. Every effort should be made to ensure the safety and security of Muslims and to prevent any kind of backlash against the Muslim community. All acts motivated by Islamophobia and hate should be opposed and condemned;
- Canadians should bear in mind that this recent wave of arrests is not the first. Two years ago, as many as 26 Muslim men were arrested in Toronto in a sweep called “Project Thread” that received widespread international attention and that, according to at least one government official, had uncovered “an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell” in Canada. This statement was proved to be false, not one of the men was ever formally charged (or convicted) of committing a crime, and most were deported from Canada. No effort was made to clear their names or restore their reputations.
It is critical that this recent wave of “anti-terror” arrests and the media coverage about it not be exploited to perpetuate divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims and that relationships of solidarity and support between communities be expanded and deepened.
The arrests should also not be exploited in order to justify Canada’s deeply unpopular participation in the occupation of Afghanistan or the use of repressive measures that curtail civil liberties in Canada such as secret trials and security certificates.
The anti-war movement in Canada has an important role to play in defending civil liberties, opposing racism and Islamophobia and supporting the Muslim community.
Why should the news be greeted with some hesitancy?
>by Sami Khan
So 17 Canadian young men have been arrested outsideToronto under the new anti-terrorism act — the secondtime this has happened, after Mohammad Momin Khawaja was charged and detained in March 2004.
Over the past 20 years, through each of these cases,the Canadian intelligence establishment has excelledat demonstrating its incompetence with regards to“anti-terrorism” and its calculated desire to hidepossible mistakes under the guise of “NationalSecurity.”
And already, in the latest case, the authorities havemade sensational accusations, which don’t seem to tellthe whole story.
Reuters: “The group possessed three tons of ammoniumnitrate — or three times the amount used in the 1995federal building bombing in Oklahoma City that killed168 — and were preparing to make bombs, MikeMcDonell, assistant commissioner of the Royal CanadianMounted Police, said.”
The rest of the story
The Toronto Star reported, under the headline “RCMPbehind bomb material” that: “sources sayinvestigators who had learned of the group’s allegedplan to build a bomb were controlling the sale andtransport of the massive amount of fertilizer… At anews conference, the RCMP displayeda sample of ammonium nitrate and a crude cell phonedetonator they say was seized in the massive policesweep when the 17 were taken into custody. However,they made no mention of the police force’s involvementin the sale.”
It is hoped that, through due process, as more facts arerevealed about the case, the guilt or innocence of theaccused will become clear.
Sami Khan is a Toronto writer.