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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2003

Ottawa Must Protect Canadians Caught in U.S. Net

CAUT executive director James Turk has met with federal foreign affairs officials to express concern over the treatment of Canadian citizens travelling to or through the United States.

"Various U.S. laws, regulations and policies - mostly in the aftermath of Sept. 11 - raise serious human rights concerns and are affecting Canadians at or within American borders," Turk said. "This includes many Canadian academics who work in the U.S. or travel to the U.S. in relation to their work."

He told officials that the Canadian government has an obligation to provide the most effective diplomatic protection possible to Canadians caught up in the U.S. security net and to use both informal and formal means to press the American government to end practices that violate international law and treaty obligations.

In the meantime, he said, the Canadian government has a critical responsibility to inform Canadians about the risks they face in travelling to or through the U.S.

Recent cases have highlighted several previously unknown aspects of American controls. One is the fact that any Canadian seeking admission to the U.S. may be detained because, under American law, non-Americans can withdraw their applications for admission and depart from the U.S. only at the discretion of the Attorney General. A second is that foreign nationals, from almost 20 countries, can be subjected to special registration requirements regardless of their country of citizenship.

Turk said CAUT is opposed to the practice of profiling by ethnic origin.

"Not only is ethnic origin a woefully inadequate indicator of terrorist activity, such profiling is a practice that has received widespread condemnation in both Canada and the U.S. when used by law enforcement officials," he warned. "Certainly most Canadians are surprised and offended when they learn American officials are treating Canadian passport holders in this way."

Canadian academic Mohamed Hassan Mohamed, Sudanese by birth, was detained for nine hours, and then refused entry to the U.S. to assume his weekly teaching duties at the State University of New York at Fredonia unless he agreed to sign a statement asserting he was a Sudanese national and agreed to be fingerprinted and registered. American officials refused to allow him access to Canadian consular authorities, and eventually Mohamed was deposited on the Canadian side of the border in the middle of the night. Inexplicably, two weeks later, and after an outcry from the United University Professors and CAUT, he was allowed into the U.S. to resume his teaching.

In the most widely reported case, Canadian communications engineer Maher Arar was not only detained in the U.S. after a stopover in New York on route to Montreal from Tunisia, he was summarily extradited by U.S. authorities to Jordan and then to his native Syria.

After Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham protested such practices to his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell, last November, he received assurances from Powell that "the place of birth of visitors would not be an automatic trigger for registration."

"Unfortunately, the law which targets Canadians of certain ethnic origins has not been rescinded since these assurances were given," Turk noted. "In fact, the scope of the law has been expanded and the U.S. Federal Register now states that special registration procedures are applicable to people from listed countries 'notwithstanding any dual nationality or citizenship.'"

In a letter given to Graham following the meeting, CAUT wrote: "We understand that as a close ally of the United States in its efforts to combat terrorism, and as a neighbour sympathetic to its security concerns, it may be difficult at this time to criticize American actions. At the best of times, it is difficult for Canada to actually influence American policy. However, as a friend and neighbour we have a special duty to speak up where American policy is critically ill-conceived. The duty is twofold when Canadians are adversely affected."