Feds Play The Race Game

Rating: NNNNNwith the united states put-ting soldiers on the 49th parallel to beef up border security, and the Canadian government.


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with the united states put-ting soldiers on the 49th parallel to beef up border security, and the Canadian government pushing through invasive security legislation, many civil rights advocates believe racial profiling is only going to get worse.Besides the cases where immigration has detained people and placed them in solitary confinement for long stretches for travelling with false documents, stories abound of travellers being questioned at airports and border crossings for no reason other than that they look Arabic or have an Arabic name.

“I can’t say it’s anything other than racial profiling,” says immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman, who tells NOW that she recently represented a Jordanian national studying at a school in the US who, upon coming to Canada to visit a friend, was put in solitary confinement and ultimately sent back to Jordan.

Jackman says the person, whom she wouldn’t identify, had a valid US student visa and a valid Canadian visa.

“I think the only reason they detained him was because he was from Jordan and was coming in after September 11,” says Jackman.

Department of Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson Giovanna Gatti says she wouldn’t be able to track the incident without more details. But she explains that even if a person has a legitimate visa, an immigration officer can still deny entry.

Gatti says she’s not aware of any complaints of racial profiling against Canadian immigration officials.

In their submission to the federal justice committee hearings on Bill C-36 last month, the Coalition of Muslim Organizations listed a total of four racial profiling incidents as of November 3.

Riad Saloojee of the Council on Islamic Relations, a coalition member, says that number has since climbed to a dozen incidents. Saloojee maintains he was asked to exit a Canada 3000 flight to Toronto, required to produce ID and questioned by police. Although he was the only passenger singled out, police told him they were only “trying to be safe.”

“Terrorism isn’t related to race or ethnicity,” says Saloojee. “Previous criminal records, activities or bona fide intelligence should be used as indicators.”

Other recent examples of racial profiling documented by Saloojee include:

At the Detroit-Windsor border, a man was stopped by an official and asked if he had a rocket launcher.

Airport security searched and questioned a Muslim flight attendant.

A 24-year-old deaf Muslim man was ordered off a plane in Halifax. Fight attendants were scared of him.

A woman from Chicago was questioned by police at Pearson airport and again two days later at Dorval airport because her name was similar to one on a terrorist suspect list.

CSIS has shown up at people’s workplaces and homes, asking them if they are practising Muslims and where they pray.

Toronto defence lawyer Rocco Galati says he’s kept on retainer by a local mosque and that the members have come to him complaining of being approached by security officials.

“They’re being questioned en masse just because they attend a mosque,” says Galati, who would not reveal the mosque he was referring to.

But CSIS denies that it’s questioning people based on their religious background or ethnicity.

“We do not do racial profiling,” says CSIS spokesperson Chantal Lapalme. “Our role is to advise the government on threats to the security of Canada.”

Rashad Saleh of Palestine House says there have also been reports of Palestinian Canadians returning from the US who have been stopped and investigated in airports.

“Persons with Canadian citizenship like me — I’ve been in the country for 30 years and all of a sudden I’m being painted as this whole other person — start raising questions. Are we in a police state or a Third World country?” says Saleh. “Most of us fled that part of the world because of the violence and oppression.”

He believes it’s just a matter of time before somebody decides to initiate a lawsuit.

NOW has also been pursuing reports that Air Canada has been screening passengers before they board an airplane. Rene Smith-Valade, a spokesperson for Air Canada, admits that there is a policy, but wouldn’t elaborate on it.

“The screening policy that we have is regulated and required by Transport Canada, obviously it’s designed to ensure the safety and security of the passengers and the crew,” she says. “Further explanation of the policy would only serve to compromise the efficacy of it.”

According to Gatti, Canadian immigration control officers have, for a number of years, trained airline staff to be on the lookout for false documents.

And last month the federal government introduced the Public Safety Act, which among other things, will require air carriers and those operating reservation systems to provide information on specific passengers for security purposes.

Anthony Polci, a spokesperson for transport minister David Collenette, says the policy stems from the US’s demand for the passenger lists of all flights entering their country.

“The US authorities have made it very clear that they want this, in terms of their safety and security oversight,” Polci says.

Defence lawyer Galati sees nothing wrong with sharing the manifests. It’s what the US ultimately does with that information that could become invasive.

“The notion in our legal system of legal and probable cause as a balance between law enforcement and privacy should not be lost in this crisis,” he says. “And reasonable and probable cause does not arise just because somebody’s name is Muhammad Ali as opposed to Cassius Clay.”

However, Galati also maintains that in some circumstances, profiling by security forces is warranted.

“For instance, if somebody coming through the border was an Egyptian who came from the same hometown as one of these bombers and could not explain his whereabouts or passport entries, I don’t think that’s racial profiling. That’s legitimate profiling.”

scottand@nowtoronto.com

Reporting assistance by Adria Vasil

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