t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 30 October 2007
The invitation said six members of the Canadian Parliament were to speak October 25 on Canada's Parliament Hill as members of a panel called "Peacebuilders Without Borders: Challenging the Post-9/11 Canada-US Security Agenda." I arrived at the Ottawa airport on the morning of October 25 expecting to be met by three members of Parliament and to hold a press conference at the airport.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Codepink Women for Peace and Global Exchange, was also invited by the Parliamentarians, but had been arrested the previous day for holding up two fingers in the form of a peace sign during the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified on Iraq, Iran and Israel-Palestinian issues. The October 24 committee hearing began with Codepink peace activist Desiree Fairooz holding up her red, paint-stained hands to Rice and shouting, "The blood of millions of Iraqis is on your hands." As Capitol Hill police took her out of the House hearing, Fairooz yelled over her shoulder, "War criminal, take her to the Hague." Shortly thereafter, two Codepinkers were arrested for just being in the room, and brutally hauled out of the hearing by Capitol police. An hour later, Medea and a male Codepinker were arrested for no reason. Four of the five had to stay overnight in the District of Columbia jail; Medea was one of those and missed the trip to Ottawa.
I presented immigration officials our letter of invitation from the Parliamentarians that explained Medea and I had been denied entry to Canada at the Niagara Falls border crossing on October 3, 2007, because we had been convicted in the United States of peaceful, non-violent protests against the war on Iraq, including sitting on the sidewalk in front of the White House with 400 others, speaking out against torture during Congressional hearings, and other misdemeanors. The Canadian government knew of these offenses as they now have access to the FBI's National Crime Information database on which we are listed. The database was created to identify members of violent gangs and terrorist organizations, foreign fugitives, patrol violators and sex offenders - not for peace activists peacefully protesting illegal actions of their government.
The immigration officer directed me to a secondary screening, where my request to call the members of Parliament waiting outside the customs' doors was denied. My suggestion that the letter of invitation from the Parliamentarians might be valuable in accessing the need for me to be in Canada was dismissed with the comment that members of Parliament do not have a role in determining who enters Canada. I suggested the laws enacted by the Parliament were the basis of that determination. I added that the reason I had been invited to Ottawa by Parliamentarian was to be an example of how current laws may exclude those whom Canadians may wish to allow to enter. I also mentioned Parliament might decide to change the laws immigration officials implement. I also suggested, since the Parliament provides the budget to the Immigration Services, they might notify the Parliamentarians awaiting my arrival that I had been detained. The officers declined to do so citing my privacy, which I immediately waived. The Parliamentarians were never notified by immigration I had arrived and was being detained. Only when my cell phone was returned to me by immigration officers four hours later was I able to make contact with the Parliamentarians.
After nearly four hours of interrogation, I was told by the senior immigration officer I was banned from Canada for one year for failure to provide appropriate documents that would overcome the exclusion order I had been given in early October because of conviction of misdemeanors (all payable by fines) in the United States. The officer said that to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) for entry for a specific event on a specific date, I must provide to a Canadian Embassy or consulate the arresting officer's report, court transcripts and court documents for each of the convictions, an official document describing the termination of sentences, a police certificate issued within the last three months by the FBI, police certificates from places I have lived in the past ten years (that includes Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia), a letter acknowledging my convictions from three respected members of the community (the respected members that I will ask to write a letter all been convicted of similar "offenses") and a completed 18 page "criminal rehabilitation" packet.
Additionally, besides obtaining the TRP, since I was being banned for a year from Canada, I would have to obtain a "Canadian Government Minister's consent." The officer said the TRP and the Minister's consent normally took from 8-10 months to obtain. In the distant future, to be able to enter Canada without a TRP, I would have to be "criminally rehabilitated" and be free for five years of conviction of any offense, including for peaceful protest.
The senior immigration officer took my fingerprints for Canadian records, escorted me to the airport departures area and placed me on the first plane departing for Washington, DC. In the meantime, the members of Parliament conducted the press conference and the panel without my presence, but certainly using the example of what had happened to me, and previously to Medea Benjamin, as incidents that the Parliamentarians are very concerned about, specifically their government's wholesale acceptance of information on the FBI's database, information that appears to have been placed there for political intimidation.
A participant on the Parliamentary panel I was unable to attend was Monia Mazigh, the wife of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who, when he transited New York's JFK airport, was sent by US authorities to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured for 10 months. The day before I arrived at the Ottawa airport, Rice acknowledged the United States had "not handled his case properly." But Rice did not apologize to Arar on behalf of the Bush administration during testimony to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. The previous week during a video conference, both Republican and Democrat members of Congress offered apologies to Arar. Arar, an Ottawa telecommunications engineer, still has a lawsuit pending against American officials. Arguments are scheduled for November 9 in New York.
Many countries have succumbed to the behind-the-scenes, 9/11 pressure of the Bush administration to enact extensive and expansive anti-terrorism laws to increase "harmonization" and integration of security measures among countries. Unfortunately, the Canadian government is mirroring the Bush administration's use of security measures to increase control over dissent in their country - and in other countries. Most of the new security measures are done through administrative agreements, international joint working groups, regulations and the use of international organizations such as the G-8 and the International Civil Aviation Organization. By using administrative regulations, the US and Canadian governments avoid opening up the proposed restrictions of personal privacy to public scrutiny and debate by preventing such regulations from being enacted in the Congress or Parliament.
Through these agreements with Canada and other G-8 countries, the Bush administration is setting up a global infrastructure for the registration and surveillance of populations worldwide, looking at every person as a suspect and a risk, whom must, in their opinion, as a precaution, be identified and tracked. Ordinary legal protections fundamental to democratic societies such as the presumption of innocence, rights against unreasonable search and seizure and rights against arbitrary detention and punishment are greatly threatened by these precautionary measures.
Countries are accepting the "precautionary principle" and are gathering and sharing information not only to track suspected "terrorists," but to stop dissidents from flying and/or entering other countries, to stop activists and intellectuals at borders, - the Bush administration has refused visas for numerous academics from all over the world who have been invited to teach at American universities, but whom have spoken and written against the Bush war in Iraq, torture. and other violations of international law - to detain persons without reasonable grounds and to send persons to third world countries and prisons operated by the US government, where they are detained indefinitely without charge, tortured and sometimes murdered.
The Canada-US Smart Border Agreement and Action Plan, an administrative agreement signed in December 2001, is the master document for security integration between Canada and the United States. The agreement calls for biometric standards for identity cards, coordinated visa and refugee policy, coordinated risk assessment of travelers, integrated border and marine enforcement teams, integrated national security intelligence teams, coordinated terrorist lists, increased intelligence sharing and joint efforts to promote the Canada-US model internationally.
After 9/11, the Bush administration, under the National Security Entry-exit Registration System (NSEERS), registered and took biometric identifiers (fingerprints) of all males age 16-45 with links to Muslim and Arab countries visiting or traveling though the United States. Next, persons applying for visas to visit the United States had to submit biometric data (fingerprints) that will be stored in a US database for 100 years through the new US Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology (US-VISIT) program.
The Bush administration expanded its biometric round-up on a global scale in 2002 by requiring all countries that want to retain their visa waiver status with the US to require, by 2004, biometric passports through the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. In 2004, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set a face recognition standard with fingerprint and iris scans as optional standards. Beginning in 2005, the United States and Canada have biometric passports with facial recognition.
We all want our countries to be safe from criminal actions. However, the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties and purposeful targeting of those who disagree with government policies must end.
I call on the US Congress to conduct hearings to determine who ordered the FBI to place peaceful, non-violence protest convictions on the international data base, and for what purpose.
It feels to me like purposeful intimidation to stop dissent - but I can guarantee you, it won't work!
To all those concerned about free speech, freedom to travel, ending an illegal war, stopping torture, and other violations of domestic and international law, come to Washington and help us!!!
(For more extensive information on security agreements that unnecessarily jeopardize our civil liberties, please see "Americanizing the Restriction of Canadians' Rights - Security Overtaking Trade as a Driver of 'Deep Integration'," by Maureen Webb, Canadian centre for Policy Alternatives.)
Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army veteran who retired as a Colonel, and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003, in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001, she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The US Department of State has delayed publication of her new book, "Dissent: Voices of Conscience," for over three months. It will be published whenever the State Department finishes its search for classified materials.