Mr. Speaker, it is with a sense of urgency that I move concurrence in the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. The report is entitled, “Issues raised by the use of security certificates issued under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act”.
The report deals with a motion that was passed at the standing committee on Tuesday, February 6. I will read the text of that motion in the report to give folks a sense of the issue. The motion reads:
Whereas the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has a mandate to consider issues raised by the use of security certificates under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act;
Whereas the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has visited the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre (KIHC), where three of those subject to security certificate are currently held;
Whereas a life-threatening hunger strike by KIHC detainees Mohammad Mahjoub (day 75), Mahmoud Jaballah (64) and Hassan Almrei (64) has long passed a critical stage;
Whereas a key complaint of the detainees is the lack of an independent ombudsman, a concern originally flagged by the 2005/2006 annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator that found "the detainees...no longer have the benefits and legal protections afforded by ombudsman legislation."
Therefore be it resolved that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration:
a. acknowledge the emergency nature of the hunger strike and open discussion with regard to a resolution;
b. call on the Government of Canada and the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to mandate the Office of the Correctional Investigator, which has jurisdiction over all federal inmates except for those held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, to now assume jurisdiction over the KIHC, investigate current and ongoing complaints of those currently on hunger strike, specifically urgently addressing issues such as:
1) Medical attention in the living unit by Medical Licensed Practitioners namely doctors in the living unit;
2) Detainees be released before dawn from their cells in order for them to be able to observe religious prayers as called by their religion;
3) They be allowed conjugal visits as it is offered to inmates;
4) They be allowed to access canteen facilities adhering to their religious beliefs;
5) Daily head count should be done away with immediately;
6) When transferred from the living unit to the administration building, be also accompanied by a supervisor from Correctional Services Canada;
And prepare an independent set of recommendations for resolution of said grievances.
And be it further resolved that the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration be asked to respond urgently in writing, to members of this Committee, outlining the Department’s actions in light of the passage of this motion.
And be it further resolved that these protocols be put in place on a permanent basis in order to deal with these detainees and any future such cases.
And be it further resolved that the Chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration report this motion to the House of Commons.
That is the report and the motion that was passed by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I should also note that a similar motion, not quite as detailed, but also calling for the Correctional Investigator of Canada to have jurisdiction over the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre was recently passed by the Standing Committee on Public Safety.
I am very concerned about the situation at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, or KIHC, which is attached to Millhaven Institution, a maximum security federal penitentiary. KIHC is a maximum security prison within a maximum security prison specially constructed to detain those held under security certificate provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
That section of the act can be used to detain those people who are subject to deportation order who are suspected of a serious crime related to terrorism or organized crime. There are currently six men who are subject to security certificates, three of whom, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, who are being held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.
Three others have been released on bail subject to some of the most severe conditions ever imposed in Canada, which, for Mohamed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui, amount to house arrest for them and their families. There is no downplaying the kind of conditions that the men who have been released on bail face and the difficulties that it means for them and their families. They are very strict and severe bail conditions.
All the men held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre and the men released on bail have been held without ever having been charged, without ever having been convicted and without knowing the evidence against them. They have been detained for over five and six years.
I do not believe there is a place in Canada for indefinite detention without charge or conviction. I believe that it is a fundamental violation of human rights and civil liberties and flies in the face of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The issue has been argued before the Supreme Court and a decision is imminent.
However, I believe the security certificate provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act should be repealed and I have a motion on the order paper to that effect.
If the Criminal Code does not allow for serious crimes related to terrorism or organized crime to be addressed, then the Criminal Code should be fixed. If the police and security agencies do not have the resources to properly investigate such serious crimes, then that issue should be addressed and the problem fixed.
However, to suspend due process, to detain indefinitely without charge or conviction, is wrong. No one here believes that we should let such crimes go uninvestigated and unpunished but to suspend our whole justice process, our whole court process and all our legal processes is unconscionable and, I believe, unconstitutional.
There is a serious problem, given the circumstances of these men. It is not possible for Canada to deport them to the countries where they are citizens, namely, in the case of the detainees in Kingston, to Egypt and Syria. We know, unfortunately, that torture is practised commonly in both countries for folks who are detained or imprisoned. Canada does not and should not deport people to face torture or death. By accusing these men of somehow being related to terrorism, allegations that have never been proven in a court of law, we have set them up even further as targets for torture should they be deported back to Syria or Egypt.
The whole question of our obligations under the international agreement on torture is a very serious one. I think there is absolutely no excuse for Canada to deport people to face torture or death.
Indefinite detention without charge or conviction should not be a possibility in Canada. Deportation to torture or death must never be an option for Canada.
It is ironic that in the past couple of weeks we have seen six former Canadian foreign ministers write an op-ed piece on the website of The Globe and Mail that criticized the current government for not publicly criticizing the Americans for the abuses happening to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. They pointed out that these people had not been charged or convicted and were subject to secret trials. They were criticizing the Government of Canada for not speaking out against American policies when those exact same kinds of policies are applied here in Canada. They criticized our government for not speaking out about what was happening at Guantanamo Bay when those exact same circumstances are happening here and when some of the men detained here are on a very serious hunger strike.
It is unfortunate that those former foreign ministers did not write about Canadian policies and criticize Canada for taking exactly the same kind of measures that the United States has taken, especially when the level of frustration of the detainees here has led them to take the very difficult step of going on a hunger strike.
I thought it was also strange to see in Parliament 10 days ago or so the foreign affairs critic for the opposition take on the government and the foreign affairs minister and criticize him for not speaking out about the abuses at Guantanamo Bay. Again, nothing was mentioned about Canada having exactly the same policies and the fact that three of the people detained under those provisions here in Canada are on a very serious and long term hunger strike.
That is the background to the current situation at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. The three men who are currently detained there, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, are on a hunger strike. Mr. Mahjoub has been on a hunger strike for 82 days and Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Almrei for 71 days each. This is a serious situation.
I think everyone recognizes that the hunger strike has now reached a very critical phase, which is why the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration made an emergency visit to the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre yesterday to visit the men who are held there.
I think I can safely say that all the members who attended are very concerned for the health of the detainees. I am particularly concerned for Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Mahjoub, both of whom I believe are now at risk of life threatening consequences for their hunger strike.
All hunger strikes are extremely risky, especially those of this duration. These men have had no solid food in that entire period. At this time Mr. Mahjoub is taking only water and Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Almrei are taking water and regular orange juice.
To put this in context, Dr. Michael Peel, writing in the British Medical Journal, has recommended that hunger strikers who have lost over 10% of their body weight should be monitored daily. Both Mr. Mahjoub and Mr. Jaballah indicate that they have lost 45 to 50 pounds, putting them at or over the 20% mark.
It is still not clear as to whether daily monitoring of their health is taking place, and that has been one of the difficulties of the situation. Health professionals, often nurses from Millhaven Institution, present daily at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, but they have not examined the men daily due to one of the key issues of the hunger strike.
I also want to point out that the well known hunger strikers at the Maze prison in Belfast in the early 1980s died after hunger strikes of 49 to 61 days.
It should be very clear from these facts that this hunger strike at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre has reached a very serious stage. I do not believe that Canadians want to see men detained without charge, without conviction and without knowing the evidence against them die in detention, but I feel very strongly that we are soon approaching that kind of possibility.
What are the key issues that Mr. Mahjoub, Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Almrei want to see resolved? A key is the need for an independent grievance procedure. Currently there is a three step internal process which has not worked well to resolve all issues.
As detainees at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, the men have no access to the Correctional Investigator of Canada, whose job is to act as an ombudsperson for prisoners in federal correctional institutions. When they were detained at the provincial facility in Ontario, the Metro West detention facility, they had access to the Ontario ombudsperson's office, but they lost that when they were transferred to the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre in April 2006.
The Correctional Investigator is essentially the federal prison ombudsperson. He has a mandate under part III of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to act as an ombudsman for federal offenders. The primary function of the office is to investigate and bring resolution to individual offender complaints. As well, the office has a responsibility to review and make recommendations on the Correctional Service's policies and procedures associated with the areas of individual complaints to ensure that systemic areas of concern are identified and appropriately addressed.
I would like to quote from the Correctional Investigator's last annual report, for 2005-06. In that report, Mr. Sapers said:
The second policy issue that concerns my Office is the situation of individuals detained pursuant to national security certificates. A national security certificate is a removal order issued by the Government of Canada against permanent residents and foreign nationals who are inadmissible to Canada on grounds of national security. A recent decision has been made by the federal government to transfer security certificate detainees held under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act from Ontario facilities to a federal facility, pending their removal from Canada.
In Ontario facilities, the detainees could legally file complaints regarding the conditions of confinement with the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman. That Office had the jurisdiction to investigate complaints filed by the detainees pursuant to the Ontario Ombudsman Act.
The Immigration Holding Centre has been built in Kingston within the perimeter fence of Millhaven Penitentiary. The Canadian Border Service Agency entered into a service contract with the Correctional Service to provide the Border Service Agency with the physical detention facility and with security staff. The Border Service Agency has a contract in place with the Red Cross to monitor the care and treatment of detainees in immigration holding centres, including the new Kingston holding centre. The Red Cross, a non-government organization, has no enabling legislation to carry out a role as an oversight agency.
The transfer of detainees from Ontario facilities to the Kingston holding centre means that the detainees will lose the benefit of a rigorous ombudsman's legislative framework to file complaints about their care and humane treatment while in custody. The Office of the Correctional Investigator is concerned that the detainees will no longer have the benefits and legal protections afforded by ombudsman legislation. Pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, a non-profit organization with no legislative framework, such as the Red Cross, is unlikely to meet the protocol's requirement for domestic oversight.
I believe that the loss of what the Correctional Investigator called the “rigorous ombudsman's legislative framework to file complaints about their care and humane treatment while in custody” has led us to the situation of the hunger strike. I also believe that the government and the Minister of Public Safety should immediately move to appoint the Correctional Investigator to meet with the men and find a solution to the hunger strike and a resolution to their concerns. That is what the motion from the standing committee has called for.
The minister has said that he is unable to respond to the specific issues raised by the detainees due to the fact that they have court actions under way. That may be true, but I believe the minister has an obligation to make sure that someone has a mandate to resolve the hunger strike.
This step that has been recommended by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration would allow a resolution. I think it is a very helpful suggestion to appoint the Correctional Investigator, and is one that is workable, but it must be undertaken urgently. The decision needs to be made today and that mandate extended today.
There are many issues that must be addressed at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. These men have been detained for over five and six years and have never had a private family visit or a conjugal visit with their spouses. Trailer visits are possible for convicted criminals at federal institutions, but no provision has been made for these detainees, who have never been convicted of any crime, to have this time with their families.
Another key issue is the restrictions placed on their religious practice. They have requested that they be allowed to rise and shower in time for their morning prayer, but this request has been denied. They have also complained that loud music from the guards' room interferes with their prayer.
Allegations of harassment by some of the guards at KIHC must also be resolved. This situation has led to a request by the detainees that a supervisor always be present when they are transferred between the two buildings at KIHC. Supervisors have often been refused, thereby limiting the men's ability to have medical checkups and treatment, visits with family and access to the gym, and to meet with the media.
There are many administrative issues that also need to be addressed. I think they are issues of petty harassment, frankly, made to make the daily lives of these men inconvenient and unpleasant.
Why, for instance, in an institution that holds only three detainees who can be observed 24 hours a day, are formal standing counts required three times a day? Why are they required to wear a prison uniform when being transferred between the two buildings of KIHC?
Why are they not allowed to dial their own telephone calls? Why, unlike prisoners held at other institutions, can they not cook their own meals? Why are not more culturally appropriate foods available to them in the canteen?
English is a second language for all of the detainees, so why are interpreters not provided to them when they need to deal with important issues to ensure clarity? And why is there no programming of any kind for the detainees?
All of these issues need to be addressed.
The situation at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre is very serious. The hunger strike by the security certificate detainees has reached a very serious stage. The government and the Minister of Public Safety must take immediate steps to find a solution. Appointing the Correctional Investigator to meet with the detainees, investigate their grievances and make recommendations for solutions will make an important difference.
Detention without charge, without conviction and without knowing the evidence against one remains a serious violation of civil liberties and human rights in Canada, but leaving those detained under security certificate provisions with no independent process to resolve their grievances regarding specific conditions of their detention is also unfair and unjust and has forced the detainees to take the only action they have at their disposal, that action of a hunger strike.
We cannot let people die in custody in Canada because we were unwilling to solve specific problems related to their detention. The government and the minister must act today before it is too late.
I think the concurrence motion in the report from the committee offers a workable and helpful solution for this situation. I would urge all members to support concurrence in this report.