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January 13, 2010

Almalki: persecution never stops

Reuel S. Amdur

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Abdullah Almalki's mistreatment continues. First it was a matter of harassment by CSIS in Canada. Then it was torture in Syria. Now harassment is resumed once more in Canada.

Reuel S. AmdurAbdullah Almalki’s mistreatment continues.  First it was a matter of harassment by CSIS in Canada.  Then it was torture in Syria.  Now harassment is resumed once more in Canada.

CSIS took an interest in Abdullah Almalki beginning in 1998.  Just after 9/11, they began investigating and harassing him and his family in an intense fashion, suspecting that his electronics sales firm had something to do with al-Qaeda. 

When he went to visit family in Syria, he was imprisoned and tortured.  Syrian intelligence officers asked him much the same questions that were put to him previously by CSIS. 

His imprisonment and torture continued till his release in 2004.  In 2008, Judge Frank Iacobucci issued his report on Canada’s role in the detention and torture of Almalki and two other Muslim men.  In it, he found Canadian officials “indirectly” responsible for Almalki’s torture, by providing information and questions used by his Syrian torturers.

So what is the current mistreatment that is inflicted on this man? 

He is on the U.S. no-fly list, and Air Canada applies the list on any flight that passes over U.S. air space.  In this case, Almalki was travelling from Ottawa to Windsor but was told he could go no farther than Toronto.  Ironically, he was appearing in Windsor to address an audience about “two-tier citizenship.”

His treatment in Canada by a Canadian carrier raises several questions.  To begin, why was Almalki told only at the time of boarding that he could not fly to Windsor? 

It appears that it is the practice of Air Canada or the government to maximize the inconvenience of second-tier citizens—who could be any one of us.  If airline officials and/or Canadian officials know of flight restrictions for Canadians, why can they not be informed at the time of purchasing a ticket?

The next question relates to the more general matter of Canadians’ right to travel freely in their own country. 

If Almalki is prevented from flying over U.S. territory, what is to prevent a Canadian carrier from changing its flight pattern to fly only over Canadian air space in such cases? 

Undoubtedly, such a change of flight plan would be an inconvenience for the airline.  What inconvenience is more legitimate: Almalki’s inconvenience in being banned from flying from one Canadian city to another Canadian city--and that on the shortest possible notice—or the airline’s inconvenience in having to change a flight pattern between Toronto and Windsor to avoid U.S. air space? 

And what representations is Canada making to the Obama government to make it possible for Canadians to fly freely from one Canadian location to another Canadian destination even if the flight traverses U.S. territory at some point?  After all, many American flights travel Canadian air space.

Is it not time to end Abdullah Almalki’s mistreatment? 

As he said, “When will the government act, and how much longer do my family and I have to suffer?  Whose decision was it to prevent me from boarding a domestic flight to Windsor?  I need answers.  Canadians need answers.” 

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer living near Ottawa.

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