For those of you who do not know about the ‘Toronto 18’, 18 men and boys were arrested in the summer of 2006 because they were allegedly a part of a homegrown terror cell. They were accused to wanting to blow up targets in Toronto and beheading the Prime Minister. All of this sounds very terrifying, and definitely something that none of us want to be affected by. Many people’s initial reaction to these arrests was, and still might be, “Thank GOD they were arrested and this was stopped,” I, naively so, was one of them as well.
When the arrests initially occurred in June 2006, I was in my final year of high school, and being a Muslim teen in the post 9/11 Western world, I felt that it was necessary to hold onto my identity of being Canadian and show the “Canadians”—whoever they may be—that I was different from what the stereotype of Muslims now was. I did not give much attention to the terror sweep of the ‘Toronto 18’, and nor did I care to look into the case. After hearing about the arrests, I thought to myself “what a bunch of idiots. Why are they out to get Canada, and why are they ruining the Muslim image on the whole?” I remember seeing it in the papers and on the news, but that was the end of it.
A little under two years later, in April of 2008, I got an event invitation on Facebook, and it was to the bail hearing of one of the accused, Saad Gaya. I was interested to see what this was about, and it was not long until I realized he was one of the young men that were arrested in June 2006. I was shocked, confused, but more than anything—curious. I wanted to know, why, two years later, this guy was applying for bail, when typically, he should have already gotten a trial. In the Canadian justice system, an accused is guaranteed 1) the presumption of innocence, and 2) the right to a fair and speedy trial. These men were denied both.
This sparked great interest in me, and I decided to do some homework on this before I decided to go to court. I went to the library and retrieved old newspaper archives from 2006 and tried to retrace the steps. One may think that looking in retrospect may be easier, but for me, it was even more confusing and difficult to understand the situation. The articles and documentaries/videos made on the case opened my eyes up to a lot of issues that I had never before come across. I decided that I would have to be my own judge and do more background research. As I read, I discovered that the articles and headlines that I was exposed to in high school, the year the arrests took place, were only half of the story. As I read on, it was evident that there were government informants involved in the case, that the accused men and boys were facing unequal treatment, suffering human rights abuses and they all went through prolonged periods of solitary confinement. None of these issues were brought up in the media or made openly aware to the public.
The truth was being hidden, and the publication ban that was conveniently placed on the issue after fear was successfully instilled in the Canadian public, was working to benefit the intelligence services (CSIS) and the RCMP that had worked together to build a case against the men and boys. To me, it became evident that in order to prolong the climate of fear, partial and inaccurate information continued to be reported and published.
Unfortunately, Islamophobia has resulted in the general and unquestioned acceptance of the ideas that Islam is a religion that is inferior to the West; it is archaic, barbaric, irrational, and is a religion of violence that supports terrorism. Islamophobic views are not alien to many Canadian citizens who are well-educated, but ironically, blindly accept Islamophobic views. Canada is a country built on diversity, surrounded by it, but for one reason or another there are many Canadians that cannot get used to it. Canada’s greatest strength is its people, but when its own inhabitants set up webs to entrap others and manipulate the rest of the population, it becomes problematic. When the collective conscious is torn apart, it is clear that the foundation of Canada has shaken.
Now, after more than 3.5 years later, the crown seems to be getting what they want, and numerous guilty pleas have started to flow in. Just this past week, three of the men, Saad Gaya, Zakaria Amara and Amin Durrani were sentenced. They plead guilty after being denied the right to a speedy trial, and will continue to suffer the consequences of the labels applied to them. There has been no trial, so I believe that I am still unable to judge their guilt or innocence, but what has become clearer than ever to me is that the system is being manipulated, and the approximately $20 million that RCMP and CSIS have invested in this case have become a need/want for conviction. A little over a year into the case, seven of the men and boys had their charges ‘stayed’, but they were not deemed innocent. They were released on peace bonds, but were not formally charged. Things like this force me to think about the wider implications of the actions of the people who we have left in charge of our country. A lack of evidence forced the authorities to drop the charges, but it seems as if they were still too arrogant to accept that the boys and men were wrongfully accused.
What disheartens me the most now is not the justice system, CSIS or the RCMP, but rather it is Canada’s people and the views that Canadians have formed about these individuals. There is no presumption of innocence and the widespread ignorance of people has resulted in the continuous claims from many demanding deportation, torture and the death penalty. Canada is a peaceful country that has always stood for justice and righteousness, but at a time like this, everything Canada stood for seems questionable.
It seems as if assimilation has become necessary and integration has become a culture of survival. I am sure that I am not the only one that can see that there are many loopholes in the case, but it saddens me to see that people are neglecting their right to voice their opinions. People have become so terrified of being guilty by association, or being accused of being ‘bleeding hearts’ for terrorists. It bothers me to see that people who demand the rule of law be observed and that civil and human rights be respected are called terrorist sympathizers.
In 2010, we would like to believe that we hold the right to freedom of speech so long as it does not incite hatred or violence. Thoughtless conformity is a grave danger, but also a great temptation. It requires no ingenuity and it makes you feel secure. It makes you feel like you are the same as everyone else and therefore will not be targeted for your differing views. These are the very feelings that shut individuals down from challenging the state, or even the general population.
When it was said that there is no man above the law, I believe that the fact that no man is beneath the law would be implied as well. These men have been through numerous questionable conditions, including prolonged isolation that is torturous and dangerous to mental health. It appears to me that many Canadians are supportive of deposing the due process model when it comes to cases they are not in favour of, thereby making them like the very countries they condemn.
I, like the majority of Canadians, condemn terrorism and any such related violent acts or ideologies. However, people mistake the support of presumption of innocence to be ‘bleeding hearts’ for terrorists. In this case of the ‘Toronto 18’, the men and boys have been deprived of the right of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair and speedy trial. I am the voice that has been shut away, the one who is kept quiet and told be obedient and follow the dominant view. I am among you and I am one of you. Look into yourself, and separate the hoopla from the facts, and realize that this is not justice. Once again, the need for national security has tipped the balance and the civil liberties of many have been seized. One may assume that deprivation of civil liberties of a few for utilitarian purposes may be justified, but the more you realize that these men and boys are no different than you and I, and that it could have been you or I in their position, the more real their situations will seem to you, and the sooner your eyes will open up to the truth.
Injustice to one is injustice to all, and justice delayed is justice denied. Case Closed.
Please watch Unfair Dealing – A documentary made in response to the arrests of the Toronto 18. Links posted below are the 6 parts to the documentary. Please watch all 6 parts and keep yourself informed.