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Targeting of Almalki was no “mistake”

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Written by Matthew Behrens   
Thursday, 01 December 2011 01:01

Abdullah Almalki reading from the Iacobucci report at a public gathering on Oct. 26 outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa.  Photo Credit: Matthew BehrensAs a frequent contributor to Muslim Link, I very much support the work and advocacy done by this vital community newspaper. I also understand the constraints under which the paper’s staff can sometimes operate, especially with respect to deadlines. And so while I was thrilled that Muslim Link’s Eid issue devoted significant space to a very important story – the Canadian government’s complicity in the torture of Ottawa’s Abdullah Almalki – I was concerned that in last minute editing, a number of words were placed into my original article that changed the meaning of the piece.

When I pointed this out, I was graciously offered the opportunity to respond in this issue of the paper. To wit: editors had placed the word “mistakes” into my piece to describe actions of Canadian officials made in relation to the torture of Mr. Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin.

My concern about this use of language is very basic. Referring to what happened in these cases as “mistakes” changes the well-established nature and policy of the Canadian government from one that is clearly designed to target individuals of specific religious and/or racialized groups for surveillance, harassment, interrogation and, in some cases, torture by proxy. Instead, it plays into the very biased findings of former Supreme Court Judge Frank Iacobucci, whose report, while of significant use, nonetheless served to act more as a whitewash than a basis for the systemic changes so desperately needed.


Indeed, a simple look at the Iacobucci report speaks volumes about the effort to create a false narrative of government officials acting in “good faith” when it is clear from the findings of the Iacobucci and O’Connor (Arar) inquiries that this was simply not the case. The one page introduction to the Iacobucci report frames the issue not as assigning responsibility and seeking accountability for Canadian complicity in the torture of our citizens, but as one of democracy versus terrorism, thereby subtly implicating the three men targeted as somehow linked to terrorism, even though the report essentially clears them of serious allegations. Not once in this introduction does Iacobucci use the word torture, but many times mentions that other T-word.

Interveners before both the O’Connor and Iacobucci inquiries clearly showed that there was a systematic pattern involved here, one that goes far deeper than the four abovementioned men (think Benamar Benatta, Abousfian Abdelrazik, Sogi Singh, etc.). Just as Judge Iacobucci presided over the first ever completely secret inquiry held under the public inquiries act, he also performed incredible linguistic calisthenics to avoid using the term torture as much as possible. Even though he found that all three men had been tortured, he preferred as much as possible to downplay the brutalities inflicted on these men as “abuse” or “mistreatment.”

As was reported in last month’s Muslim Link, the fact that the Mounties could send questions to the Syrian torturers of Mr. Almalki with the full knowledge that doing so could involve further torture was no mistake. It was a cruel and calculated move. The fact that the Mounties tailed Mr. Almalki’s wife and children, even to the point of following them into a public library, is no mistake either. These are the tools of state terror, practiced in our own backyard. Being mindful of our language helps us find the truth while we focus our energies on seeking a solution. It also, hopefully, leads to justice for those still seeking an apology, compensation, and accountability.


Ottawa based activist, Matthew Behrens, is the Coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada.