View Full Version : Federal government has no plans to expedite cases of Gitmo detainees

12-02-09, 13:38
Federal government has no plans to expedite cases of Gitmo detainees

Tue Feb 10, 7:27 PM

By Tobi Cohen, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - Ottawa has no plans to expedite the cases of five Guantanamo Bay detainees who have secured sponsorship in Canada and are now waiting to see if they can claim refugee status.

"Sponsorship is only one, and I would argue, the least important part of the application process," said Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

"Immigration Canada still has to review the applications and historically a very high number of sponsored individuals don't ever end up in Canada."

Safety and security are Canada's No. 1 priority, he said, adding Canadians should be cautioned against sponsoring individuals who have ties with terrorists and could pose a national security risk.

A senior ministry official said Tuesday the application process is likely to take "years rather than months" even though U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to close the military prison in Cuba.

The Canadian Council for Refugees demanded on Tuesday that Ottawa "resettle without delay" five detainees who fear persecution if returned to their homelands.

Council executive director Janet Dench said sponsors have been found to look after the financial and emotional needs of the men for their first year in Canada.

"According to the government guidelines, if a person is at risk of arbitrary detention, their case is supposed to be treated as one requiring urgent protection," Dench said.

"In the case of all of the detainees at Guantanamo, they're not just at risk of arbitrary detention, they are being arbitrarily detained and have been for six, or in most cases, seven years."

The latest addition to this group - which includes an Algerian who once spent five years living in Montreal and three Uighurs from China - is a 37-year-old Kurd from Syria who had been living in Kabul at the time of his arrest.

Maassoum Abdah Mouhammad, nicknamed "Bilal," had been there for a year working and searching for a wife when the United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9-11 terror attacks in 2001. He was arrested along the Pakistan border while trying to flee.

"I certainly hope that Bilal will be awarded asylum in Canada," his U.S. lawyer, Matt O'Hara, said in a telephone interview Tuesday, the same day a United Church congregation in Toronto submitted its sponsorship application to the federal government.

"He's a person the (U.S.) government has expressed no interest in prosecuting for any crimes. He was not a soldier, he was not involved in terrorist activities.

"He was caught up in really a whole chain of events that put him in the wrong place at the wrong time and it's time for him to get out of prison. It's time for this suffering to stop and for him to go on as best he can with a normal life."

As an ethnic Kurd who's been branded a terrorist by virtue of his arrest and detention by the U.S., Mouhammad fears he will be persecuted if returned to his native Syria.

The Anglican Diocese of Montreal earlier agreed to sponsor 41-year-old Algerian Djamel Ameziane who lived in Montreal between 1995 and 2000 before spending seven years at the U.S. military prison in Cuba.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Diocese of Montreal is promising to sponsor two Uighurs from China who spent seven years in Guantanamo and who wish to remain anonymous because they fear reprisals against their families.

Anwar Hassan, a Uighur from China imprisoned for seven years, has also secured sponsorship from a group of United Church congregations in Toronto.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in Parliament on Tuesday that Canada has not discussed the fate of Guantanamo prisoners with the U.S. He refused to say if it's something that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will raise with Obama when they meet next week.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said it would be disappointing if Canada, with its record of humanitarianism and dealing with refugee issues, did not discuss the matter with Obama.

"The people that we would be taking would obviously not constitute a security risk."

NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow slammed the federal government for cutting funding for the processing of refugee claims along with 97 jobs last year. She said it's resulted in a backlog of 42,000 applications, 38 per cent more than there were in 1997.

"It's not acceptable," she said.