The day after a spirited, surreal demonstration at the strip-mall constituency office of Citizenship Minister Judy Sgro on December 1, Seyed Mahmoud Namini was ordered released after 44 days in custody at the Metro West Detention Centre. How it was that a Dutch systems administrator of Iranian descent travelling to see his fiancée ended up behind bars is an indicator of the quick reflexes but slow realizations of Canada's new security regime
When Namini landed at Pearson International Airport in late October, a pile of books he was carrying apparently alarmed Border Service agents. Namini was toting 35 copies of Parandeh Ye No Parvaz (The Bird About To Fly), which documents a 1982 uprising against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The book is written in Farsi and features a cover showing militants dressed for battle in a jungle setting. Although officials didn't speak the language or know what the book was about, the pictures led them to believe it was terrorist material. They took Namini into custody as a security threat, seized the books and questioned him about involvement in Communist and Kurdish political groups.
"Our policy is that we would argue for detention if somebody is unlikely to appear for further examination or would pose a risk to the public or has a questionable identity," says Rejean Cantlon, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Service Agency.
The agency spent several weeks investigating Namini's background and reviewing the book, but found nothing. After a very long month and a half of bureaucratic red tape, officials finally concluded they'd made a mistake and ordered Namini released. Why did it take so long?
"Likely the biggest issue was that the book wasn't in English," says Namini's lawyer, Andrew Brouwer. "And looking at the cover-- for someone whose job it is to weed out things associated with people with guns...."
At the admissibility hearing last week, Immigration cleared Namini of charges that he might be a security threat, including that he made a "misrepresentation" when he first arrived at the airport.
"(The misrepresentation) was extremely minor," says Brouwer. "He said when asked what was the purpose of his visit Canada that it was to visit family. They pushed and asked more questions, and he ended up saying he was meeting his fiancée and planning on getting married, and they interpreted his not saying that first as a misrepresentation of his visit."
Namini's successful detention review, argued by Brouwer, comes after an intensive public campaign in which hundreds of people from across the country wrote to Sgro and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan demanding his release.
More than 40 people, including members of Toronto Action for Social Change, demonstrated in the rain and snow in front of Sgro's office last week and held copies of the book high above their heads, as if to say, "If it's a crime for Namini to have this book, then take us as well."
One woman showed a photograph of her late husband in the book. "He was tortured to death in their prisons in Iran," she said.
The protestors offered personalized copies of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights in English and Farsi to Sgro's office staff, who peered from behind blinds and refused to open their locked-down office, so the documents were taped to the windows.
"Detaining someone for 30 days while you assess the books (he is carrying) is completely absurd," says Brouwer. Border Services "should have better information at their disposal at the airport to better define what constitutes a security threat to Canada. A lot of people are being wrongly swept up" in the name of fighting terrorism.