[imc-ontario-stories] 40 Days Gone: Hassan Almrei Still on Hunger
tasc at web.ca
Mon Aug 1 07:58:01 PDT 2005
40 Days Gone
Hassan Almrei On Day 40 of Hunger Strike from Toronto Solitary Confinement
Cell; Mohammad Mahjoub Also Hunger Striking for Over Three Weeks
AUGUST 1, 2005 -- Do you remember the last ten days of June, or perhaps the
long hot days of July? Do you remember anything specific about what you
have done during that time? Taken a nice long walk, perhaps? Bought a new
CD and sat back listening to great music? Maybe enjoyed the goodness of
summer fruits and vegetables, had a good post-dinner read sitting under a
tree? Embraced someone you care about?
These things seem, to many of us, so easy, so much so that they
fade into memory because they are so common to our daily lives that they
are almost unremarkable. Imagine, though, that everything you have just
remembered of the past 40 days did not happen. That there was no food, no
music, no books, no leisurely strolls, no real access to fresh air, no hugs
or handshakes. And you have spent that time in a space no larger than the
average bathroom, with an open toilet.
Welcome to the world of Hassan Almrei, Syrian refugee, secret trial
detainee, who has spent almost four full years in a 9 X 12 concrete
solitary confinement cell in Toronto. Faced daily with the possibility that
the Canadian government will deport him to torture in Syria -- even after
its own internal documents acknowledge the government does not even have
enough scraps of so-called evidence to lay a criminal charge against Hassan
-- he is also trying to deal with problems much closer to home.
Namely, Hassan is a federal detainee in a provincial jail. He has
no access to educational programs, and has had to go on hunger strike for
things we take for granted, whether that is heat in the wintertime or a
pair of runners for his sore feet. The Ontario government of Dalton
McGuinty forced Hassan to go to court for these basics in the fall of 2003,
and fought tooth and nail for six full days to try and prevent him from
getting what a court eventually granted.
Hassan is marking day 40 of a hunger strike today because he wants
some basic dignities in his life. He hopes he may be released on bail, but
the snail's pace of the secret trial process keeps him locked away in
conditions that, were they forced upon a cat, would be the subject of
So in the meantime, he is trying to make his stay in the hole as
"comfortable" as possible, knowing it could take years for the legal
process to run its course in determining such things as whether it's okay
to deport him to torture or whether it's all right to continually deny him
bail based on secret evidence neither he nor his lawyer is allowed to see.
Living in such a confined space over such a long time period has
disastrous physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Hassan is
aware of the latter two and commits himself daily to making sure he does
not go crazy. But still he is haunted, haunted by the fact that when he
dreams, it is only of life inside the jail, or of Syrian authorities coming
to kill him. When he is awake, there is no soothing sound of music on a
radio, only the deadening silence of his concrete chamber, occasionally
interrupted by the sound of someone screaming down the cell block or some
conversations with a guard or two, and some phone calls.
Humans are social creatures who need things like touch, sound, and
beauty to maintain a healthy life. All are denied to someone in solitary.
The only physical contact Hassan has is when they put the handcuffs on him
when going to and from court.
Physically, Hassan is a broken man. Having lost over 120 pounds
since he was arrested in October, 2001, he is currently dealing with a
great deal of pain in his knees, pain which can only be dealt with, the
jail doctor says, by exercise. But you can't exactly do laps in a 9 X 12
cell. His body has also been subject to six hunger strikes during his time
in custody. It's not clear how much more his withering frame can take.
Hassan began his current hunger strike to demand an hour of fresh
air and exercise in the concrete outdoor box which serves as the "yard" at
Metro West Detention Centre. He is described by guards as a nonviolent
person, a friendly individual who can be trusted. Hence, it should be no
problem to let him out for an hour. But until his hunger strike, he usually
got about five minutes of fresh air, if that. The time outside has
increased to the standard 20 minutes since he has been on hunger strike
(what can properly be called the provincial ministry of corrections and
community safety attempting to cover its buttocks as Hassan prepares to go
to court once again).
Provincial authorities say if Hassan went out of solitary he could
get access to an hour of fresh air, which is required for the inmates on
the range (and which would also come as a great joke to inmates on the
range who don't see that kind of fresh air either). But Hassan has nowhere
else in the jail he can go. Confined at the order of the federal government
in solitary for the first 15 months of his stay, he was returned to
solitary after three days on the range for his own protection. He really is
between a rock and a hard, concrete place.
He reads the papers daily, and studies the Koran. Some books that
have been ordered by friends never make it to him. His copy of Orwell's
1984 still sits with security, deemed too risky to share with him, in much
the same way Kafka's The Trial was held up earlier this year. Poor Hassan
simply wants to know what his friends mean when they describe his situation
as Orwellian and Kafkaesque.
A few cells down, Mohammad Mahjoub, detained without charge since
June, 2000, is into the third week of a hunger strike as well, protesting
his conditions of confinement, which include denial of monthly contact
visits with his two young children, who can only get as close as the weekly
"visit" from behind thick glass and a telephone receiver in the visiting
Both men have a community of support who are willing to provide
bail and, if deemed necessary by the courts, supervision. Both are awaiting
decisions from the Federal Court about this possibility. But those
decisions are not likely until September or even October. If denied, an
appeal would take more months still.
While the hunger strikes are about very specific demands, they also
seem to speak to a larger malaise. These men are sick and tired of being
held without charge, on secret "evidence," faced with deportation to
torture. They're fed up with the fact that Canada continues to behave like
an international outlaw, denying them the rights which Canada has sworn to
uphold as dear and precious. They are tired of the ease with which their
humanity is forgotten, and part of the thrust behind their protest is a
simple cry: "We are human beings!"
They are sicker still, perhaps, of the apathy which greets their
treatment, not only from the disinterested Canadian public (who, to be
fair, might be outraged if properly informed of what were going on), but
also from their own communities, who have allowed a CSIS-induced blanket of
fear to prevent showing support for them.
Imagine going through this type of hell and, when a select group of
"community leaders" goes to ingratiate itself with Paul Martin, they
release a statement which talks not of ending Canada's Guantanamo Bay, but
of the need for Muslims to integrate into Canadian society (whatever that
means) and to be friends with the very spy service, CSIS, which terrorizes
the community and lands men like the Secret Trial Five behind bars.
Almrei and Mahjoub, along with secret trial detainees Mohamed
Harkat and Mahmoud Jaballah, want nothing more to get back to their
families and get on with their lives (and Montreal's Adil Charkaoui, under
draconian release conditions, would no doubt like to get back to a normal
life too!). But the amount of time it takes to get there, while dependent
to a certain degree on the courts and the whims of CSIS, is also very much
dependent on you and me.
And so a challenge. Hassan Almrei and Mohammad Mahjoub are
committed to continuing their hunger strikes, regardless of the personal
harm which may befall them.
For each day that these men remain on hunger strike, would you be
willing to take a few minutes a day and do something to end their
suffering, and the suffering of their families?
Here's how you can help.
1. Write letters of support to the detainees. They needn't be long, but
they need to hear from you, that you care about their situation. They need
to be reminded that you, too, recognize their humanity. For prison
addresses write to tasc at web.ca
2. Write or call Monte Kwinter, the provincial minister in charge of their
conditions of detention.
Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services
18th floor, 25 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, ON, M7A 1Y6
Phone: (416) 325-0408
Fax: (416) 325-6067
mkwinter.mpp at liberal.ola.org
PLEASE CC correspondence to tasc at web.ca or fax (416) 651-9770 or by mail to
PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
Also let us know by email what your response has been like. We want to keep
a tally of who is in contact to get a sense of how much pressure they are
3. Write to Anne McLellan and Joe Volpe, who are responsible for the secret
trials, and demand that this secret trial process be stopped.
306 Justice Building
House of Commons
K1A 0A6, Canada
Telephone: (613) 992-4524
Facsimile: (613) 943-0044
McLellan.A at parl.gc.ca
Room 658, Confederation Building
House of Commons
Phone: (613) 992-6361
Fax: (613) 992-9791
volpej at parl.gc.ca
4. Contact your MP and ask why they haven't signed on to the statement
calling for the abolition of secret trials (see
http://www.zerra.net/endorsements/EndorseListJuly18.pdf for a list of
those who have signed on.). Better yet, organize a vigil at a local CSIS
office or federal government office. Both hate exposure of these crimes.
5. Consider signing on to the statement itself.
6. Organize a public event on secret trials. We can provide speakers and
7. Contribute to the expenses of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in
Canada. Cheques can be made out to Homes not Bombs at PO Box 73620, 509 St.
Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
(report from Matthew Behrens of the campaign)
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