TORONTO/OTTAWA: Canadian citizens tortured in Syria tell stories during 'Caravan to Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture'

20 May 2008
TORONTO/OTTAWA: Canadian citizens tortured in Syria tell stories during 'Caravan to Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture'

by Murray Lumley

When I asked Abdullah Almalki how the torture he experienced in Syria had affected him, I did not realize the emotional punch it would deliver. He told me about it during an Amnesty International lunch at the United Church in Napanee, Ontario. The event was part of the 'Caravan to Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture,' that took place 1-8 May 2008.

Abdullah told me that before Canadian law enforcement harassed his family, and before his rendition to Syria during a visit to his sick grandmother in May 2002, he and his wife had run a successful export business. Abdullah had been 'profiled' by Canada's police and security agencies as a Muslim judged to have the talent to be an Al Qaeda organizer. He was tortured 482 days of twenty-two-month-long incarceration in Syria, an experience that has left him physically and mentally incapacitated, with his reputation ruined, unable to restart his business. Medical experts have said that he is still suffering 'traumatic stress disorder.'

At several meetings throughout the province, Caravan members and local audiences heard Abdullah and two other Caravan participants, Ahmad Abou-El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin—all Canadian citizens—present their stories, including the torture methods used on them at the infamous Fara Felasten prison in Damascus with its coffin-sized cells. Maher Arar remained a year in this prison during 2002-2003. The "Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar" established the complicity of the Canadian officials in his torture.

Some of us in the Caravan dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods to represent detainees suffering the effects of torture in places like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and secret prisons around the world, called 'black sites' in classified U.S. governmental documents. Over fifty people, including several CPTers, participated in this public pilgrimage.

We stopped at several locations, including a razor-wire-girded hotel near the Toronto airport where refugee claimants and their children are held and governmental agencies directly involved in assisting torture by proxy in Syria: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) offices, and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). (CBSA agents have arrested and deported immigrants back to countries that use torture). We also stopped at prisons where Canadian Muslim men have awaited deportation to torture, indeterminate incarceration, and house arrest.

As we walked the streets of small town Ontario between Toronto and Ottawa, citizens signed petitions and postcards asking the Canadian government to turn the presently secret Iacobucci Hearings—which are investigating the torture of these three Canadian citizens in Syria—into public hearings. The three Canadians with us who were tortured asked, "Who is being protected by keeping it secret?" We then presented petitions and postcards to the Office of the Prime Minister in Ottawa.

In Canada, human rights laws prevented the RCMP and CSIS from using torture to interrogate Abdullah. They allowed Syria to do it.

Is this the Canada we want?