Ten years ago, our federal government was forced to call a public inquiry into the role played by Canadian officials in the overseas detention and torture of a Canadian citizen – Maher Arar. Through that inquiry, led by Justice Dennis O’Connor, we learned that our own security and law enforcement agencies had mislabeled him a terrorist, and that their actions contributed to the hell he was forced to endure.
But this wasn’t the only time it happened. A second inquiry, led by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, uncovered more cases where Canadians – Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki, and Muayyed Nureddin – had been wrongly linked to terrorism, detained and tortured overseas. These men still await justice.
It is important to remember such things today, the day dedicated by the United Nations in 1950 to the promotion and advancement of Human Rights, collective and individual; the day we recognize everyone’s right to be treated fairly, equally, and with dignity.
As our country begins to welcome tens of thousands of Syrians and other refugees into our communities, it is important to remember this basic right to fairness and equality.
Over the past year, we have witnessed too many acts of violence and hate against Muslims and other racialized communities. Against women walking their children to school. Against people simply working to support their families. All driven by fear, prejudice and – to our shame – the unsubstantiated allegations and politically motivated innuendo of our own elected officials.
But there is hope. The new federal government has promised a change in direction. The leadership shown by its efforts to bring so many refugees into Canada in the coming months tells us that change has already come. Still, there are other things the government needs to do.
Its promised review and overhaul of the previous government’s Orwellian anti-terrorism law, C-51, needs to happen and happen quickly. Apologies and compensation to those Canadians like El Maati, Almalki and Nureddin, whose lives were so nearly destroyed by overreaching security agencies and the politics of fear are also long overdue.
While the recent agenda-setting Throne Speech was absent of any reference to either, we hope to see action on these fronts soon.