“Anti-Terror” Arrests

5 July 2006
To the Editor:

On the front page of the 19 June issue of the Varsity there is a short item entitled “Terror in Toronto?” which reports that UTM business student Saad Khalid was one of the young men recently arrested on charges of “terrorism.” The Varsity’s characterization of him as a “tragically misguided student” clearly presumes guilt before any evidence is heard.

Eric Margolis, a writer for the right-wing Toronto Sun, was considerably less credulous in his 4 June column:

“Before we rush to judgement, it’s worth remembering the 19 foreign students, mostly from Pakistan, arrested in 2003 in and around Toronto, allegedly for plotting to blow up the nuclear reactors at Pickering or the CN Tower.

“After a huge media uproar and lurid claims the charges were dropped and the accused deported for visa irregularities.”

Once again, as in 2003, the media has parroted the police allegations, thereby fomenting fear and promoting Islamophobia. NDP leader Jack Layton, who purports to be a moderate leftist, but shrinks from calling for Canadian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan, immediately joined in, chirping: “I’m simply thrilled that it looks as though there was a successful coordinated effort by all of our security personnel to put a stop to it before it could happen” (Canadian Press, 3 June).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who claims that Canada has become “a target” because it stands for “freedom, democracy and the rule of law” is attempting to use these arrests as proof that Canada’s participation in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan is necessary to safeguard “freedom” at home, while, at the same time, his government chips away at democratic rights in the name of “security.” It can hardly be an accident that after these people were supposedly tracked for a couple of years, they were finally arrested just as the Supreme Court began deliberations on the legality of the government’s right to indefinitely detain people by issuing a “security certificate.”

It’s pretty clear that the Muslim youth swept up in this recent bust aren’t going to get anything approximating a fair trial. They’ve been presumed guilty, held in isolation, refused visits by friends and family, and even denied the right to meet privately with their defense lawyers. After a week of poisoning the jury pool with massive publicity for the prosecution, a publication blackout on the court’s proceedings was imposed before the defense even had a chance to comment on the charges. This is apparently intended to ensure that no information leaks out about police entrapment or the role of police provocateurs in the whole affair.

Amidst a rising tide of Islamophobic hysteria, the labor movement has a vital interest in both vigorously defending the rights of those caught up in racist, anti-immigrant witchhunts and actively exposing the cynicism and hypocrisy that permeates so much of the “anti-terror” campaign. Anyone who defends basic democratic rights must oppose repressive measures such as restrictions on media coverage of court proceedings, secret trials, “security certificates,” and “rendering” suspects for torture overseas.

In future, the Varsity should not be so eager to uncritically endorse the police and government spin.

Posted: 10 July 2006