Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the third reading debate of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (certificate and special advocate).
As we know, this legislation deals with the security certificate process that is part of Canada's immigration act. We are debating it tonight because in February 2007, as a result of an action in the Supreme Court, that process was ruled by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional.
In reality, the security certificate process is an expedited deportation process. It is a removal process for people who are considered to have violated immigration law. It is in the immigration law and applies only to permanent residents and visitors, not to Canadian citizens. My sense is that this expedited removal process should be used only for problems with immigration law. It should be used only for immigration purposes.
Unfortunately, that is not how I see it being used. I see it being used as a back door to dealing with issues of terrorism, national security, espionage and organized crime. I see it as a lesser mechanism for dealing with problems of our criminal justice system that we cannot get at with the Criminal Code, or that we apparently cannot get at, because I am not convinced that is in fact the reality of the situation.
I see this as a very deeply flawed process. It allows for indefinite detention without charge, without trial or without conviction for people who are accused of terrorism, espionage, threats to Canadian security, or participation in organized crime. Again, I want to stress that this is not a process that results in a charge or a trial or a conviction, but it does allow someone to be detained indefinitely on the suspicion of those serious crimes.
It denies the person accused, the person named, the person detained, a fair hearing. It means that such persons do not have the usual access to some of the principles and safeguards of our criminal justice system. There is a lower standard of proof in these security certificate cases. The accusations against the person do not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as they would in a criminal court. It is a lesser burden of proof on the balance of probabilities and I think that is a very serious flaw with the process as well.
It is hard for the accused to test the evidence against them, partly because they or their lawyer do not know all of the evidence against them so the usual rules about how we would test evidence presented in court do not apply in these cases. It is a very serious matter, I think, that all the evidence is not available to the accused and their lawyer.
Another serious flaw with this process is that it could allow deportation to torture or persecution in another country. That is a very serious problem and it is indeed probably why a number of these people are still here. The government will consistently point out that these people are free to leave Canada at any time. While that is true, it really begs the question of what is possible for people who have been accused of these very serious crimes, who have been accused of terrorism but have never been shown to be guilty of that terrible crime.
They do not have any options in terms of actually leaving Canada after that kind of accusation has been levelled, especially given some of the countries they are from, where we know if they were returned they would most certainly be imprisoned and they might also face torture, because many of those jurisdictions do regularly practise torture. They might even face death.
When people say that we need to maintain this security certificate process as a way of dealing with accusations of terrorism, I cannot agree, because I believe that it is a very serious compromise of our criminal justice system. It compromises some very hard won principles of our justice system.
We are dealing here with some of the most serious accusations, some of the most serious charges, that could be levelled against anyone in our society, accusations of terrorism, espionage, security threats or organized crime. I cannot think of many criminal activities that would be judged more serious by Canadians.
Unfortunately, the goal of the security certificate is merely to get people out of the country. Its goal is not to charge and convict them of those crimes or to punish them for those crimes. It is merely to see that they are not around here any longer.
There is no attempt to make sure that people would be charged and there is also no attempt to ensure that they would be charged in their country of origin. It is not like an extradition process where we are extraditing them to their home country or another jurisdiction where they would face a charge or trial for these serious crimes.
In a sense, it lets somebody who is accused of very serious criminality off the hook if they agree to leave the country. It does not allow for any punishment or any proof of a very serious crime.
I do not think security certificates make Canada or Canadians any safer. I do not think it deals with these very serious criminal matters. Crimes that should be prosecuted are crimes related to terrorism and national security.
If there are problems with our Criminal Code that make it impossible to charge these people, then we should be addressing those problems, not relying on some lesser mechanism in the immigration law to indefinitely incarcerate them and put them in a position of removing themselves voluntarily. That is a problematic way to approach these very serious crimes.
This afternoon the parliamentary secretary noted in debate, and I think he was touting this as a virtue of the legislation, that in the past year someone who had been accused of industrial espionage had voluntarily left Canada. It seems to me that the charge of industrial espionage, or espionage of any kind, is a very serious criminal matter. Why that person was allowed to leave and never charged, or sent to trial and convicted and punished for that kind of crime, is really beyond me.
It seems to me that we actually could be tougher on crime in that sense by ensuring that those very serious crimes are prosecuted here in Canada. If there is a problem with our Criminal Code that does not allow that to happen, then we should be fixing that problem rather than relying on some lesser mechanism to get at that person.
Most Canadians that I have spoken with are shocked to know that indefinite detention without trial can happen in Canada, but that has been happening under the terms of these security certificates. That is a significant and untenable compromise of our criminal justice system, and that opinion is shared by many Canadians.
People just cannot believe that we would put individuals in jail indefinitely, having never charged or convicted them in a court of law. That seems beyond the pale for most Canadians.
We have heard a number of times that there are six people currently subject to security certificates in Canada. I think security certificates have been used about 28 times since the process was included in our immigration law. Five of those people have been served with certificates since September 11, 2001. Those men are Hassan Almrei, Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohamed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui. All of these men happen to be Muslim and Arab men, which also causes me some great concern.
I want to talk a bit about what this security certificate process has meant to the people who are subject to them right now and I want to start by talking about the situation of Hassan Almrei.
Mr. Almrei has been in detention since just after September 11, 2001. He is currently being held at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, which was purposely built to hold security certificate detainees. It is a maximum security facility actually within the grounds of Millhaven maximum security federal penitentiary. Mr. Almrei is the only one of the five who is still in jail and is in his seventh year of detention. This detention centre was built to hold up to six prisoners and Mr. Almrei is currently the only one being held there.
The course of Mr. Almrei's detention has been fraught with serious problems that I think would offend many Canadians. For instance, when he was held at the Metro West Detention Centre in Toronto before the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre was built, Mr. Almrei actually had to go on a hunger strike to obtain a pair of shoes.
Those were the kinds of conditions under which he was being held. He was not even allowed a pair of shoes. He ended up on a hunger strike for many days to obtain a pair of shoes. I think that would be unacceptable to most Canadians. Yet, that has been a constant feature of Mr. Almrei's struggle while detained on this security certificate.
Last year he was on a hunger strike for 156 days. He drank nothing but water and orange juice. It is hard to imagine anyone surviving for that length of time on a hunger strike. It was very precarious at the end and many of us were very concerned for Mr. Almrei's life.
Again, he was on the hunger strike to protest the conditions of his imprisonment, not the overall problem of security certificates but the specific conditions at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre under which he was being held. That someone would have to go to that extent, to risk his life to protest the conditions of his detention, is very serious, especially when the person has never been charged or convicted of a crime in Canada.
At KIHC there is no programming for the people detained there. Unlike a federal penitentiary, where there are many options for people who are incarcerated there, there is nothing available to a security certificate detainee, nothing available to Mr. Almrei.
I am also very concerned about the fact that Mr. Almrei is the only prisoner at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. I believe that this is an issue of solitary confinement. I think it would shock most Canadians that some people could be held alone in a jail for almost a year all by themselves. There are serious implications from that.
This past December in Istanbul an international group of experts on solitary confinement and incarceration met to discuss the issue of solitary confinement. They mentioned a number of very serious issues that have to be considered and Mr. Almrei's situation corresponds to a number of those, issues like no regular social contact. The reality is that at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre Mr. Almrei has no social contact with anyone other than guards, who most of the time are unwilling to engage him socially. They watch him.
The kind of psychological pressure that kind of situation puts on someone for an extended period of time is extremely serious and I think I am backed by the international experts. Mr. Almrei has no family in Canada, so he does not receive regular visits from people with whom he has a strong personal and loving relationship. It has often seemed to me that the intent of his incarceration and the conditions under which he is held are intended to force him to make the decision to leave Canada voluntarily. That also has very serious implications.
I will quote a sentence from the statement that these experts made in Istanbul back in December. They said, “When isolation regimes are intentionally used to apply psychological pressure on prisoners, such practices become coercive and should be absolutely prohibited”.
In the sense of this three walled prison, the conditions are very difficult and the social contacts are very limited. The only option is to say, “I give up and I want to leave”.
As my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin mentioned earlier, it is not really a three walled prison. It is a prison with three walls and a huge cliff because we know what the dangers are if he decides to leave Canada and return to Syria. It would mean almost certainly that he would be jailed, tortured and possibly even put to death. That is just not an option. By limiting that, we are adding to the conditions around solitary confinement that make this a very serious concern.
The other thing I wanted to mention about Mr. Almrei's situation is the fact that he is still in detention indefinitely is related to the fact that he has no relatives in Canada. The other four men who have been detained from time to time have been released because they have a relative, generally a spouse, who is willing to act as their jailer on behalf of Canada. They are willing to be with that person 24 hours a day, to know their whereabouts at all times, and to be present with them at all times.
Unfortunately, Mr. Almrei has no spouse, so he has no one who is willing to take that responsibility of behalf of Canadian society. There have been other people from the community who have been willing to offer some kind of arrangement with regard to this, but the courts have not seen fit to allow that to happen.
That is a huge problem. The fact that someone has remained in jail and detained indefinitely in solitary confinement, essentially, in this purpose built correctional institution, this purpose built detention centre, and the only reason he is still there is that he does not have a relative who is willing to act as his jailer outside of that institution.
I think the effect on the other people who have been released is also very significant because being out on the kind of release conditions that the other four men are subject to is no picnic, to put it mildly. These are the most strict release conditions ever in Canadian history.
As I mentioned earlier, they are all required to be supervised by a family member 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without exception and often by the same family member, or one or two family members. So, it is a very limited number of people who can do that. Their ability to leave their homes is limited.
They are wearing ankle bracelets and global positioning devices. Some of them have cameras in their homes where they can be monitored that way. Their trips outside of the house, the time of that, is very limited, but they all have to be pre-approved, as do visits from people, who have to be screened before they can be allowed to visit.
This puts huge stress on families. It puts huge stress on the spouses of these men and on their children. I think it is a tribute to the strength of the relationships in those families, to the strength of the relationships between those men and their spouses, that those relationships have held up under these terrible conditions.
I do not think any of us can imagine having to spend 24 hours a day with our spouse or to have our spouse take the kind of jailer responsibility over us that these spouses have been required under the law. I think that we need to recognize the strength of those relationships that they still continue.
Again, I just want to stress that this is all happening to men who have never been charged and never been convicted of a crime. It is hard to believe that this is going on here in Canada.
This legislation supposedly presented us with a fix, a special advocate, a lawyer appointed by the court, who would be allowed to see more of the evidence and act on behalf of the security certificate detainee. I do not think that is a fix. I think it amounts to nothing more than tinkering with very flawed legislation.
We have had similar systems in place in other countries, like the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Some of the special advocates in the United Kingdom actually quit their jobs because they could not countenance continuing to participate in that process in that same way. In fact, one of them said that the special advocacy process merely added a fig leaf of respectability to a very flawed process.
It also flies in the face of one of the key principles of our justice system in that people should be able to choose their own lawyer and have someone representing them in these matters they have chosen and they trust.
I think it is very interesting that the federal government in anticipation, I hope premature, of the passage of this legislation has been trying to find lawyers who are willing to act as special advocates and has only had about 50 applications, and has had to extend the application period.
I think that goes to the fact that many lawyers in Canada, if not most lawyers in Canada, appreciate the difficulties of this legislation, appreciate the difficulty of the role of a special advocate, and do not support that kind of arrange.
I think we could have done a much better job of addressing the problems that are presented by the concerns around terrorism, security threats to Canadian society, espionage and organized crime. I do not think it is appropriate to use this lesser immigration procedure to deal with these very serious criminal matters.
I believe these people, if they have committed these crimes, they should be charged criminally, they should be tried in a criminal court and have the usual protections of a criminal court. We have a process in our criminal court that can deal with issues of national security and problems associated with evidence around national security. We should be using that process, not this lesser immigration process, to deal with these very serious matters. Indeed, there are not more serious criminal matters that we could deal with in our society.