by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Two French counter-terrorism judges have issued, for the sixth time, a release order in the case of extradited Canadian Hassan Diab, being held in France in connection with a deadly bomb attack in Paris. And once again, his supporters in Canada are calling on the Liberal government to demand his return.
Diab, a former University of Ottawa sociology professor, was extradited to France in 2014 on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and destruction of property with an explosive or incendiary substance in connection with a 1980 synagogue bombing in Paris that killed four people.
Initially arrested in 2008, Diab has consistently maintained his innocence and has argued that he was in Lebanon at the time of the attack. French prosecutors say he built and placed the bomb used in the attack.
French judges have six times ordered Diab released on pre-trial bail since May 2016. The two who issued the release order on Monday agreed with Diab’s defence team that there is “consistent evidence” he was not in France at the time of the bombing.
Each time, the French Court of Appeal has overturned the release orders. The latest order is being appealed by the prosecutor on the case.
“Dr. Diab’s continued incarceration is wholly and manifestly unjust,” said Don Bayne, who represents Diab’s case in Canada, in a media release Tuesday. “It is past time for this government to come to the aid of a Canadian citizen, to end this travesty of justice, to bring him home. Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Freeland, where are you when an innocent Canadian needs you?”
The case has raised questions over the years because French police have relied on secret information, as well as handwriting analysis that experts have repeatedly suggested is not reliable.
Even before Diab was extradited, the Ontario Superior Court judge who heard his challenge said that the evidence presented by French police was “illogical,” “very problematic” and “convoluted,” but that — based on the Canadian threshold for extradition — there was no option but to hand Diab over.
The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal shortly before Diab was extradited.
Supporters of Diab last month launched a petition asking the government to “work towards the immediate granting of bail to [Diab] and securing his urgent return to his family and home in Canada.”
So far, 1,333 Canadians have signed the petition, which meets the threshold to force the government to issue an official response.
However, Canada does not use the U.K. model, which forces a parliamentary debate if an e-petition gathers more than 100,000 signatures.
By arrangement with iPolitics.ca
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum paid his first visit to Lebanon on Dec. 18 since Canada announced its national project to resettle Syrian refugees to Canada. The minister was provided with an update from the Embassy and toured the Canadian Operations Centre (COC), which included a walk-through of processing — from biometric […]
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by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver
The Canadian government announced their plan today to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to the country by the end of the year, with an additional 15,000 to follow in January and February of 2016. The Ministers of Health, Immigration and Defence assured Canadians at a news conference this afternoon that medical and security screening would be performed overseas, in advance of their arrival in Canada.
This number is short of the Liberal’s original year-end goal of 25,000, but members of the ad-hoc committee on refugees emphasized that proper screening processes and comprehensive resettlement plans must be in place to meet this influx.
“Yes we want to bring them fast, but we also want to do it right,” John McCallum, Minister of Immigration explained.
“When we welcome our newcomer friends with a smile, a smile alone is not sufficient,” he continued. “We want them to have a roof over their heads, we want them to have the right supports for language training and all the other things they need to begin their life here in Canada.”
Jane Philpott, chair of the ad-hoc committee on refugees and Minister of Health, told those in attendance that the government plans to identify all 25,000 Syrians to be resettled by the end of December and will prioritize those who are the most vulnerable.
Those resettled will include a mix of both private and government-assisted refugees, but only 2,000 of the end-of-year target will be government sponsored.
In order to keep their original promise of bringing 25,000 government-assisted refugees, McCallum said that the government will continue to sponsor and accept refugees beyond February, 2016.
The price tag on the Liberal program has now been pegged at up to $678 million over the next six years, but government representatives say this is “largely new money.” The Liberal platform only originally designated $250 million for the resettlement program.
Safety of Canadians
While the Liberal’s original year-end target was commended by refugee advocates, many experts also cautioned the government against bringing approximately 5,000 refugees a week for the next five weeks to the country without a comprehensive resettlement plan.
Approximately 54 per cent of Canadians echoed these concerns, according to recent polls, raising concerns over whether this tight timeline would allow for proper screening processes to take place.
The government responded to these concerns today with an announcement that full medical exams and security screenings will be completed overseas for all refugees. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, emphasized that they will be checking the identification of all prospective refugees at every stage of the process to ensure the safety of Canadians.
Refugees must also be registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Turkish government before being processed by Canadian officials.
“We will meet the humanitarian imperative before us, and we will do so properly so all Canadians can be both proud and confident about what we’ve accomplished together,” commented Goodale.
Last week, information surfaced that the government will be narrowing its criteria for Syrian refugees to Canada. It will only be accepting women, children and families; single men seeking asylum may be sponsored privately, but will otherwise not be approved unless they are accompanying their parents or are members of the gay community.
When asked whether the recent attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130 were at all responsible for this delayed deadline, McCallum said, No.
“It’s a logistic challenge that is extremely important in order to coordinate these things with our partners and other levels of the government,” he said. “It’s good to have a little more time.”
Resettlement in Canada
As to where refugees will be housed after they initially land in Canada, McCallum explained that there are 36 destination cities that already have the capacity to receive the refugees and provide them with the proper services to integrate them into Canadian society.
According to the Minister of Defence, Harjit Sajjan, there also exists temporary lodging for approximately 6,000 refugees at military bases, if necessary.
Over the previous six weeks, Canadian authorities in Lebanon have managed to screen about 100 people a day. This makes for a total of 4,000 asylum seekers in the past month and a half.
Since the Liberal government was sworn-in on November 4, only 102 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Approximately 3,000 Syrian refugees had previously arrived under the former Conservative government, but this number does not count against the 25,000 total.
Moving forward, the government expects to receive as many as 900 refugees a day, most of whom will arrive at airports in Toronto and Montreal. A majority will be brought to Canada by private planes, although military aircraft will be used if necessary.
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by Hadani Ditmars (@HadaniDitmars) in Vancouver, British Columbia
It’s a long way from Lebanon to Vancouver.
I contemplate this as I wait to meet the Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, here on a flying visit to Canada to meet with the country’s substantial diaspora.
The weeklong trip that has seen Bassil and an entourage from the foreign ministry visit Halifax, Montreal, and Edmonton, includes a meeting with the Canadian foreign affairs minister to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and Islamic State.
But connecting with the Lebanese-Canadian community is also a key part of the visit.
The first high-level Lebanese government delegation to visit Vancouver in more than 50 years has caused much community excitement.
Visits have been arranged to the statue of Khalil Gibran, a famous Lebanese poet, and a memorial to Lebanese immigrants installed next to a giant cedar at Queen Elizabeth Park. A chartered yacht to Indian Arm, an island near Deep Cove, has also been organized for him.
Unfortunately, in all the excitement, the organizer has forgotten to give me the details of the cruise departure and sent me an incorrect contact number.
In vain, I call some old friends of my grandmother’s, whose parents emigrated to Canada over a century ago from Lebanon’s Bekkah Valley, old-timers who used to be regulars at the annual ‘Lebanese picnic’ in Vancouver’s Maple Grove park. Here, the language was lost, but not the kibbee and the dancing of dubke – the folkloric circle dance.
But my grandmother’s friends are not on close terms with the relative newcomers. They are from the first wave of emigrants – mainly Christians fleeing war, famine and the Ottomans before World War I. Now, new crises claw at tiny, beautiful Lebanon.
By the time I track down the organizer’s actual number, he is just about to sail off with Bassil and the assorted entourage.
I grab a taxi to Coal Harbour, a former First Nations village turned upscale condo neighbourhood, so I can be there when they arrive back.
Still in a slightly surreal jet lagged stupor from a London flight, I stand at the dock and think of the harbour where my ancestors waited at night – in Port Said, Egypt – over a century ago. The women and children were already on board a freighter, while the men came out in the wee hours on a rowboat to evade Turkish authorities.
A gunboat spotted them as they were climbing up a rope ladder and fired. Only the top two men made it on board.
“The sea is not a barrier to terror,” Bassil has remarked in recent media interviews. I remember this now as I think of all the crises Lebanon has weathered, long before there even was a Lebanon.
Early Days in Canada
My great grandfather Najib Mussallem’s passport was stamped “Asiatic” when he and his family arrived in Canada in 1908 (pictured to the right), via a long sea route from Port Said to Marseille (where they waited during a long three-month shipping strike and visited Lourdes) through Ellis Island, before travelling to Vancouver’s “Chinatown”, finally settling in a place called Prince Rupert – about as far away from the Bekkah Valley as one could imagine.
The tiny port town near the Queen Charlotte Islands was supposed to become the port of call for the Grand Trunk Railway, and transport silk from China to garment factories in Montreal. But when the English Jewish financier, Charles Hayes, died on the Titanic (along with many Lebanese immigrants fleeing the chaos of their homeland) Prince Rupert was bypassed, left to dream of future greatness.
It was home to Scottish immigrants, Haida, Tsimshian, Nisga’a and one lone Arab family who opened a store. Lacking the same cultural baggage as other immigrants, they were the only merchants that did not have First Nations people followed by a store detective.
They kept the Nass Valley alive by extending credit for groceries during the Depression, the late Nisga’a elder Rod Robinson told me. He related a childhood memory of shopping at the Mussallem family store with his father.
Having just watched a silent movie the night before about the British army fighting ‘evil Arabs’, he burst into tears when he first saw my great grandfather – who resembled the cinematic villain. But he was soon consoled by the ice cream and gentle smiles he was offered.
My grandmother’s brother was adopted by Haida chief William Matthews – in an outlawed clandestine ceremony in the back of the store. When I went there to meet elders in 1997, the chief’s granddaughter told me that I was part of the ‘eagle clan’.
Second-Class Citizens? Never.
Now, in tony Coal Harbour, an eagle flies overhead just as the yacht bearing the foreign minister arrives.
There is no time for an interview, as they must be off to the airport, I am told. I manage a quick question about the second-class citizenship law Bill C24, which Bassil seems unaware of. “The Lebanese will never be second-class citizens,” he vows, citing their entrepreneurial spirit.
Later, his adviser tells me that, “Lebanon, with its 18 different [officially recognized] sects, could be a model of diversity for the world.” Canadian dreams have promised similar things, of course. But cultural harmony is a fragile creature, and Lebanon is also a reminder of how quickly things can turn the other way.
But the young adviser speaks of a new plan for “homeland hubs” – a way of uniting the diverse Lebanese diasporas – from Denmark to Dakar.
Soon after arriving at the airport, disguised as a Musqueam theme park, everyone gathers to say goodbye and take photos – a great Lebanese tradition in itself.
I embrace strangers with whom I share a bloodline, and say a prayer for the land of my ancestors and the one they fled to. I think of second-class citizens and boats and terror and grandparents’ stories as I say masalameh – and for a moment, I have a vision of a grove of cedar trees, and an eagle flying over them.
Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, a past editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades. She spent nine months in Lebanon in 1992/93 doing an Ontario Arts Council funded interactive theatre/video project with children of war in Beirut, and visited her ancestral village, Karoun.
by Ranjit Bhaskar
By Dr. Zaven Messerlian
Translated and abridged by Dr. Vahe H. Apelian, OH, 12 June 2013
OTTAWA - I used to be part of an all-women’s book club in Ottawa a few years ago. In 2008, I remember recommending to the group that we read the newly-released book, Cockroach by Montreal-based, Lebanese-Canadian writer, Rawi Hage. The book club consisted of mostly highly educated, liberal, middle-aged women, all white Canadians with the sole exception of myself - an Indo-Canadian, new immigrant.
A few pages into Cockroach, I fell head over heels in love with the book. To me, here was the first book in Canadian literature, written by an immigrant, seemingly capturing the essence of what it means to be an immigrant in Canada. The reaction from the other book club members was a lot less enthusiastic: “It’s so dark,” “I couldn’t read it,” “hard to keep going,” etc. I remember thinking to myself, here is perhaps the great divide – these two solitudes of “new Canada” and “old Canada” separated by this wide chasm. And this divide is what Hage distills in his books, which he calls, “a celebration of the permanence of flux”.
CanLit is enriched by the literary contributions of several well-known immigrant writers. Names like Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Shauna Singh Baldwin, etc., are top of mind. They situate their fiction in far-off countries, and the social problems their fiction evokes are wonderful book club discussion material.
It is fashionable to discuss poverty in Bombay (Mumbai) or about female foeticide in Punjab. What about social issues faced by immigrants in Canada? Hmmm … they should be grateful that they have been allowed into Canada. “Be grateful and shut up,” is the unspoken message by mainstream Canada, remarks Hage, when I met him at the first annual Arab Canadian Studies Research Group (ACANS) conference held at the University of Ottawa on February 15 and 16, 2013.
In contrast to the themes that occupy the vast majority of immigrant writers, Hage’s protagonists are first generation immigrants condemned to living in ghettos in Montreal and doing jobs that Canadians do not want. Their existence in the First World is such a reproach to the otherwise egalitarian societies that these countries claim to be, that Hage calls them insects – roaches (in Cockroach), flies and spiders (in Carnival, his latest novel). They never occupy centre stage – like cockroaches, immigrants in Canada live a peripheral existence and likewise proliferate because, “no one can barricade against the powerful, fleeting semen of the hungry and the oppressed.” Hage captures the cold heart of Montreal where the immigrant is left wondering, “Not even a nod in this cold place, not even a timid wave, not a smile from below red, sniffing, blowing noses ... Where am I? And what am I doing here? How did I end up trapped in a constantly shivering carcass, walking in a frozen city with wet cotton falling on me all the time?”
While Hage is a master at outlining the hopeless, grey, dreary existence of the Canadian immigrant, he does not fail to poke fun at mainstream Canada. With tongue-in-cheek humour, he writes, “The Québécois with their extremely low birth rate, think they can increase their own breed by attracting the Parisians, or at least for a while balance the numbers of their own kind against the herd of brownies and darkies coming from every old French colony on the run from dictators and crumbling cities. But what is the use, really? Those Frenchies come here, and like the Québécois they do not give birth. They abstain, or they block every Fallopian tube and catch every sperm before the egg sizzles into canard à l'orange.”
Good literature is always political. Hage, who was born in Lebanon and worked as a cab driver in Montreal for a while, sees the novelist as an “interpreter” or even an “actor,” who assumes certain roles. His writings display an undercurrent of political criticism. This rumination from the Cockroach highlights the point:“These countries we live in talk about democracy, but they do not want democracy. They want only dictators. It is easier for them to deal with dictators than to have democracy in the countries we come from ... Do you think if the mullahs go away there will be democracy in my country? No! They will put back somebody else who is a dictator.” Hage does not hold out hope in the political changes happening in several Arab countries. He warned the assembled congregation of Arab academics at the ACANS conference that the current revolution spreading across Arabia, popularly dubbed the “Arab Spring”, has once again left liberal minds marooned.
Hage who attended the ACANS conference with his girlfriend, another celebrated immigrant writer, Madeleine Thein, was the big draw at the conference. For a writer celebrated for his prose, I found Hage tongue-tied when it comes to speaking in public.
I asked, are his books based on his own life? For every writer, the “experiential is essential” expounded Hage, without elaborating how autobiographical his books are. He spoke briefly about Carnival, in which the protagonist is a cabbie in an unnamed city that at times appears to be a lurid version of Montreal, and then preferred to listen to other speakers who were dissecting his work. The reticent writer had this to say by way of explanation, once a book is published, “the work of the artist is to distance yourself from your work.” - New Canadian Media
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