Small six-inmate facility within maximum security Millhaven Penitentiary already the subject of human rights protests
Kingston (20 March 2006) - Few people in Canada even know it exists but those who do are already calling it Guantanamo North - a small and intensely secure maximum-security prison for foreign terror suspects detained in Canada..
Already it has been the target of one noisy protest alleging that the mere existence of the facility will further legitimize the erosion of human rights by the Canadian government in the name of fighting terror.
At issue is an isolated unit being built within the walls of Canada's infamous Millhaven Penitentiary, home to some of the worst criminal inmates in the country.
This prison within a prison, located just outside Kingston, is due for completion by the end of March. It's purpose is being compared with the notorious facility operated by the United States since September 2001 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Detainees held by Canada on security certificates: top Mohamed Harkat (Algeria); clockwise from centre left: Hassan Almrei (Syria), Mohammed Mahjoub (Egypt), Mahmoud Jaballah (Egypt) and Adil Charkaoui (Morocco).
The new facility will house a maximum of six inmates. All will be segregated around the clock from other inmates at Millhaven.
To date four individuals - all Arab nationals - are being held in Canada on the strength of so-called security certificates. All are fighting deportation.
A fifth man is free on bail in Montreal, subject to severe restrictions. None of the five has been charged with a crime and no trials have been, or are expected to be, scheduled.
Security certificates are designed to deal with non-citizens that the government believes pose a threat to national security. Canadians accused of terror-related offences must be charged under the Criminal Code. However, no charges need be laid against those held by a certificate.
Outrage over the certificates prompted the first human rights protest of its kind in Kingston on March 11. More than 60 human rights activists converged at a federal immigration office, waving placards, carrying banners and chanting slogans.
The group was led by Sophie Harkat, whose husband Mohamed Harkat is accused of being a member of the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin Laden. The group has claimed responsibility for the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. Harkat has been held since December 2002 at the overcrowded and much criticized Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.
The prisoner's wife told protestors at the rally that construction of the new facility at Millhaven is ominous because it indicates that the prisoners will be left "to rot" for a long period of time.
No charges, no trials
"These men have not been charged, tried or found guilty in an open court of law," she said. "Canada's security certificate process consists of presenting secret evidence behind closed doors and, now, (there is) a special prison for detention away from public scrutiny. The only comparison I can make is to the U.S.'s Guantanamo prison."
Security certificates have also been condemned by an United Nations human rights group that has expressed "grave concern" about the holding of prisoners in Canada without granting them any right to a hearing, any ability to challenge evidence (some of it secret) or any means to have circumstances of their incarceration reviewed.
Other than Harkat, certificates have been issued for Hassan Almrei, born in Syria and imprisoned since October, 2001; Mohammed Mahjoub, born in Egypt and arrested in June, 2000; Mahmoud Jaballah, also of Egypt, and detained since August, 2001. All three are being held for the moment at the Metro West Detention Centre in Toronto.
Adil Charkaoui of Morocco, who was detained from May 2003 to February 2005 is free on bail in Montreal.
All five of the suspects are accused of being associated with Islamic extremists.
James Clancy, president of the 340,000 member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), agrees that the new facility represents a disturbing development in the Canadian system of justice.
"The federal government is further committing itself to a policy that violates fundamental human rights, a policy, we need to remind ourselves, that has been condemned by Amnesty International and United Nations committees," Clancy said.
"The construction of this prison tells us that there is a long-term plan to continue these violations, regardless of the growing public rejection of this policy." NUPGE
Footnote: On April 24 officials confirmed that the four suspects is custody had been transferred to the new facility. The move was greeted by a series or protests planned in various cities across the country.