Canadians Detained Abroad
In the wake of the Maher Arar case, Amnesty International is currently campaigning on a number of other cases of Canadians detained abroad who are experiencing serious human rights violations. While the specifics of each case vary considerably, the ultimate goal of this work is to ensure that those in detention receive consular assistance and effective human rights protection without discrimination. We are calling on the government of Canada to:
- Adopt an official policy of refusing to receive and/or make use of information from other governments where there are credible grounds for believing that it has been obtained under torture. Similarly, cease to share information with other governments where there are credible grounds to believe that it may result in the torture, and/or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees and other serious human rights violations.
- Ensure that former detainees have equal access to civil remedies for human rights violations.
- Independently and thoroughly investigate all credible allegations of wrong doing by Canadian officials and ensure criminal prosecutions or disciplinary measures as supported by the evidence.
- Where there is credible evidence that a Canadian detained abroad has been involved in a criminal offence and is experiencing serious human rights violations – such as torture and/or unfair trial – actively pursue the repatriation of that individual to face appropriate justice in Canada.
- In cases where there is no legitimate basis for the person’s detention, actively pursue the immediate release and return of that individual to Canada.
Implement the recommendations of the Arar Commission (both factual and policy phases) and take such other steps as are necessary to address the findings of the Iacobucci Inquiry.
Current security-related cases include:
Huseyin Celil (China)
Huseyin Celil was sentenced to life imprisonment in China after an unfair trial in 2007. In the 1990s, he suffered persecution and detention in China for his work advocating for the religious and political rights of the Uighur people. He left China and eventually made his way to Turkey, where he was recognized as a refugee by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Mr. Celil was resettled to Canada in 2001 and beame a citizen in 2005.
In March 2006, Mr. Celil was arrested at the request of Chinese police in Uzbekistan, where he and his family were visiting his wife's parents. He was sent to China to face trial, and was held in secrecy without access to a lawyer, his family, or Canadian officials. He was subjected to threats that he would be 'disappeared' or 'buried alive' unless he signed a confession. China refused to recognize Mr. Celil's status as a Canadian citizen, and Canadian officials were not allowed to attend the trial.
Omar Khadr (Guantánamo)
It has been over ten years since Canadian Omar Khadr was seriously injured and captured by US forces in firefight in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002. After a short stop in Bagram, he has been in US custody in Guantánamo Bay ever since. At 15 years old, he never should have been on a battlefield in the first place.
Accused of throwing a grenade that ended the life of US Special Forces soldier Sgt Christopher Speer, his trial by military commission ended in a plea agreement in October 2010. He was sentenced to eight more years in detention, the first of which was to be served in US custody before he would be eligible for a possible transfer to Canada. Despite an exchange of diplomatic notes and an apparent commitment to “implement the agreement”, the government of Canada continues to delay any transfer decision. The matter is now before the Federal Court.
Bashir Makhtal (Ethiopia)
It’s been over five years since Canadian citizen Bashir Makhtal was “extraordinarily rendered” from Kenya to Somalia and on to Ethiopia. He now faces life imprisonment after a grossly unfair trial.
Bashir Makhtal was among a group of people fleeing the renewed fighting in Somalia at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007. Instead of safe refuge, they found themselves detained and illegally transferred to Ethiopia. While others were released, Bashir Mahktal was held in secret detention, with no access to lawyers, his family or Canadian consular officials. Eventually he was accused of providing support to an armed group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). In the absence of credible evidence, the basis for the charges seemed to be the role Mr Makhtal’s grandfather played in the founding of the ONLF.
Unlike some of the other security-related cases of Canadians detained abroad, several cabinet Ministers and MPs have advocated for Bashir Makhtal’s human rights in meetings with officials in both Canada and Ethiopia. However, these efforts appear to have stalled.
Maher Arar (Arar Commission)
Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen and father of two, was travelling home to Canada from visiting his wife’s family in Tunisia in 2002. While changing planes at New York City’s JFK airport, he was detained and held for 12 days by US authorities. He was then transferred secretly, via Jordan, to Syria, where he was held for a year and tortured.
Released without charge and allowed to return home to Canada in 2003. Following the 2006 report of the Commission of Inquiry into Actions of Canadian Officiasl in Relation to Maher Arar – headed by Justice Dennis O’Connor – Maher Arar received an apology and significant compensation from the Canadian government for its role in his treatment. The U.S. government, however, has not just failed but actively fought against any remedy or accountability.
Maher is now a human rights activist and runs prism-magazine.com. While some changes were made to Canada’s information sharing practices, many of the recommendations of the Arar Commission continue to collect dust.
Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin (Iacobucci Inquiry)
Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmed Abou El-Maati, were all of varying degrees of interest in the course of national security investigations in Canada. They were all detained by the same branch of the Syrian military intelligences as Maher Arar between 2002 and 2004 and brutally tortured. Mr El-Maati was also transferred to and detained in Egypt. None were ever charged with any crime. Upon their return to Canada all three said their interrogations were based on information that they believe could only have originated with Canadian investigators.
In 2008, the report of the Internal Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian officials in Relation to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, and Muayyed Nureddin (overseen by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci) confirmed that the three men were tortured. It also documented the many ways that "deficient" conduct by Canadian officials contributed to the grave human rights violations the men experienced. Commissioner Iacobucci expressed serious concerns about repeated and unjustified labeling of these men as imminent threats, associates of Osama Bin Laden, Islamic extremists, and terrorists. He concluded that these labels were inaccurate, inflammatory, unreliable and lacking investigative basis.
These unfair labels set in motion a nightmare of injustice for Muayyed Nureddin, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmed Abou El-Maati. The Canadian government must finally deliver justice to these men and act to ensure that no other citizen suffers the same fate. Unlike the case of Maher Arar, however, there currently appears to be little prospect that this will happen.