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Touring Canada's Complicity in Torture

Caravan visits site in Toronto area to protest torture

by Tim Groves

by Jozef Konyari
by Jozef Konyari
by Jozef Konyari
by Jozef Konyari
by Matthew Berhens
by Matthew Berhens
by Jozef Konyari
by Jozef Konyari

On Thursday March 8th, a "Torture Tour" brought a roving protest of 50 people who traveled in Caravan to a variety of sites in the Toronto area that are complicit in torture. The protest came shortly after documents released through access to information revealed that the minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, had given CSIS permission to share information that could lead to torture, and to use information derived from torture. 


The tour arrived at locations and marked them as crime scenes using flags and yellow tape. Some members of the crowd wore vest that said crime scene investigators.  Several of the 16 high school students from Robert F Hall wore orange jump suits and some times black hoods over their faces. The crowd also carried signs and a banner reading "Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture". 


The first stop on the tour was the constituency office of Conservative MP Bal Gosal. As the crowd outside sang, a delegation entered the office. 


They presented the office manager with a petition raising the cases of three Canadian citizens, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin, who were “labeled as alleged threats to Canada's "national security," and all wound up in Syrian torture chambers … where they were interrogated and tortured based on questions that came from Canada.” 


The petition called for the conservative government to enact the recommendations of a parliamentary committee. These recommendations stated that the men be given an “immediate apology”, that "the Government of Canada issue a clear ministerial directive against torture and the use of information obtained from torture”, and to not exchange information with countries that might lead to torture. 


The delegation asked that the petition be read out loud in the House of Commons.


"I am concerned that it is the government's stance to say they are concerned, but not do anything,” high school student Naomi Allen told the office manager. "Make sure these men get an apology, because that is what they deserve." 


An organizer of the tour, Matthew Behrens, raised the issue of two directives to CSIS regarding torture that were revealed by the Canadian Press earlier this year, with the Constituency Manager


A two-page directive from December 2010 from Toews told CSIS that in exceptional circumstances where public safety was at risk, it could use intelligence that may have been derived from torture.  


Earlier this month, another directive from July 2011 was exposed, instructing CSIS that it could share information with foreign agencies even if there was a "substantial risk" that it would lead to torture. 


The tour visited several sites that are connected to torture in the Toronto area. 


They stood across the street from an airport hangar belonging to Skyservice Business Aviation, a company that flies detainees to countries that use torture for the Canadian government.  


"For a quarter of million dollars, they will fly someone to Egypt of Syria and not think twice about the fate of individuals they drop off" said Brenda Holtkamp. "Imagine making a profit off trade in human trauma, yet that is exactly what Skyservice does. 


Another stop was the Canada Border Service Agency's Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre. This is the location where CBSA officers bring people for processing when they have been seized by the agency, and held for deportation.


Two detention centres were visited on the tour. The Metro West Detention Centre, which houses convicted criminals; those awaiting trial for criminal offences and those being held for immigration violations.  The facility has housed men being held on security certificates.  


The second detention centre was specifically an immigration detention centre, housed in an old motel, formerly known as the Celebrity Inn.  The crowd of protestors positioned themselves across the street so that they could be seen through the barred windows, and waved back and forth with inside, who were noticeably excited to see them. 


Two corporations were visited on the Tour: SNC Lavalin, a company that built a jail for the government of Moammar Gaddafi, and Caterpillar, a company whose bulldozers are armored and used by the Israeli government to enforce the occupation of Palestine. 


The tour, which took place on International Women’s Day, also had a stop to speak out against violence against women; the location was the Airport Strip Club. After the official speaker, a member of the crowd who didn't think that a strip club was the best place to speak about violence against women was also given a chance to address the crowd.


Another stop on the tour was at an RCMP station.  The crowd gathered inside the lobby of the station waiting for RCMP representatives to respond to the forces complicity in the torture of Canadian men such as Maher Arar, and raising the fact that the force had never apologized. 

RCMP representative eventually told the crowd that they were “not is a position to comment.”

This was the 5th year of holding torture tours. 

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