do we have two-tiered citizenship in canada?

In today's Globe and Mail, Sheema Khan asks a question. The answer is very obvious, and very wrong.
Do we have two-tier citizenship in Canada?
by Sheema Kahn

Canada fully understands and appreciates and shares the United States' concerns with regard to security. However, the Canadian government has every right to go to bat when it believes one of its citizens has been treated unfairly by another government.

- Stephen Harper, Jan. 26, 2007

These words, spoken after settlement of the Maher Arar affair, were crafted to allay suspicions about Mr. Harper's willingness to stand up to the Bush administration on matters of Canadian sovereignty. However, in view of Ottawa's defence of the gulag that is Guantanamo, and its fear of upsetting Washington by allowing Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik to return from Sudan, we can be forgiven for suspecting that our PM is indeed beholden to George W. Bush.

For many immigrants to this great land, the post-9/11 era is one of insecurity, in which they wonder: What value is my Canadian passport when travelling abroad? Will my government stand up for my basic rights, or trade them to curry favour with certain regimes?

By placing politics above principles on the Omar Khadr and Abdelrazik files, our government has brought into question the value of citizenship, and raised the ugly spectre of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.

Given government complicity in the rendition of Mr. Arar; the apparent collusion with foreign security services in the detention and alleged torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin; the use of secret evidence to detain immigrants (Hassan Almrei, Adil Charkaoui, Mohamed Harkat, Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub); and the plights of Mr. Khadr and Mr. Abdelrazik, it is clear that suspicion of the "other" has played a key role in the suspension of civil liberties of Muslim and Arab men.

These examples also send a sharp message to Canadian Muslims and Arabs: "Our security agencies will co-operate with the worst of the worst if we, or the Americans, have suspicions about you. Your Canadian citizenship means nothing, and your government will let you languish in a hellhole if need be."

Furthermore, the contrast between the government's treatment of Mr. Khadr and Mr. Abdelrazik with that of Brenda Martin leave many wondering about the existence of two-tiered citizenship. Or, as Mr. Abdelrazik explained his detention: "The Canadian government has a racist mind. It is because I am black and Muslim."

Conservative supporters will counter with the federal government's stand on Huseyin Celil, a Canadian Muslim imprisoned in China. But this has more to do with the governing party's dislike of Beijing. If the Conservatives acted on principle, rather than politics, they would not distinguish among Mr. Celil, Mr. Khadr and Mr. Abdelrazik, and safeguard their human rights equally.

The spectre of discrimination was also raised last year in an open letter to Mr. Harper by Joe Clark, Lloyd Axworthy, Flora MacDonald, Bill Graham, John Manley and Pierre Pettigrew, who wrote: "The quest for genuine human security must be rooted in international human-rights standards: basic and hard-won standards for the just treatment of all people, everywhere, all the time and under all circumstances - no exceptions. This is especially true in times of danger and public anxiety when governments use so-called 'necessity' to justify the abuse of some people, often those who are already the targets of discrimination." We should uphold these noble principles by also demanding the just treatment of Mohamed el-Attar, an Egyptian-Canadian imprisoned in Egypt on espionage charges. Mr. El-Attar claims he was tortured into providing a confession.

Exacerbation of racism at times of public anxiety is not new. Our own history is replete with episodes of abuses in which the collective rights of identifiable groups were trampled in the name of security. During both world wars, the government interned Canadians of various ethnicities. With the operation of the War Measures Act, hundreds of innocent Quebeckers were rounded up on suspicion of indépendentiste leanings. And since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims and Arabs have come under suspicion - especially if they oppose American and/or Canadian foreign policy.

By all means, let's be vigilant about our security. Yet, in a manner that is consistent with values of basic human decency. Let's not repeat the mistakes of our past, remembering that government excesses cannot be left unchallenged. Canadians of good conscience must join together to fight for basic human dignity of their fellow citizens. With each fresh revelation about human-rights violations perpetrated in the name of security, we must heighten our vigilance against abuses of power, and demand due process for those who are detained or exiled unjustly.

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