Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers. Since I will not be here this weekend, I will be wishing it in advance. All the best! Drink beer and celebrate the birth of the greatest nation in the whole damn universe!
A Canadian Muslim convert imprisoned in Mauritania since 2011 has told Amnesty International he was tortured into signing a confession that said he intended to join al-Qaeda in Mali.
“I am innocent and hope I can prove that one day,” Aaron Yoon, 24, a former resident of London, Ont., said in a statement released Tuesday by Amnesty Canada’s secretary general Alex Neve, who met him in prison.
“Whatever people think about me because of what my friends have done; whatever people may think of me because they don’t understand the choices I have made — I hope they do understand one thing. No one should ever be tortured and I have been tortured.”
Mr. Neve returned to Ottawa on Tuesday after taking part in an Amnesty delegation that interviewed inmates at three Mauritanian prisons, including the Prison Centrale, where Mr. Yoon is being held.
In an interview, he said Mr. Yoon had shown him scars and provided a credible description of torture that was consistent with the testimonies of other inmates who had complained about having been beaten into making confessions.
“He was detailed and very immediate and convincing in how he described what he went through. He acted out some of it, showing us positions he’d been put into,” Mr. Neve said. “He was able to give names of officers who he said were carrying out his torture and also gave a very vivid description of the officer who led the charge.”
Mr. Neve said he would be asking Canadian officials to pressure Mauritania to investigate the torture allegations and release Mr. Yoon unless he could receive a fair trail that did not rely on evidence tainted by torture.
“He did tell me that he had told them in one of the consular visits about the torture. So any time the Canadian government becomes aware that a Canadian detained abroad is saying that he or she has been tortured, that should be taken very seriously,” Mr. Neve said.
Canadian consular officers have visited Mr. Yoon several times in prison. “We do not comment on matters of national security. Allegations of this nature are addressed in the appropriate manner,” a Department of Foreign Affairs official said.
Mr. Yoon, a Korean-Canadian who converted to Islam in his teens, is one of several former students of a London high school who traveled to Africa two years ago and have since been linked to al-Qaeda terrorism.
In May 2011, Mr. Yoon, Ali Medlej and Xris Katsiroubas, also a Muslim convert, left for Morocco and Mauritania, where they studied together at a Koranic school. Mr. Medlej and Mr. Katsiroubas eventually left and, in January, were killed while taking part in a terrorist attack on an Algerian gas plant.
Mr. Yoon was “carrying out some errands” in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott when he was arrested in December 2011, according to Amnesty. Denied a lawyer or translator, he refused to answer any questions posed by police.
“I couldn’t answer many of their questions without a translator anyway as my Arabic was still pretty basic at that time. Simply asserting those rights is what unleashed the torture,” Mr. Yoon told Amnesty.
He said he was punched, kicked and hit with wooden sticks until he lost consciousness. Later, his hands and feet were tied behind his back in an “agonizing position” and he was beaten again, he said.
“He realized that this would never end unless he told them what they wanted,” according to Amnesty. “So he agreed to sign a statement confirming that he had been planning to go to Mali to join al-Qaeda. The statement itself, written in Arabic, was never read or translated to him. That is a pattern that Amnesty International has documented over several years.”
The confession was used to convict Mr. Yoon last July. His two-year sentence was to end in December but Mauritanian officials now want to increase that to ten years. He is still awaiting a decision.
Toronto’s Pride parade began as a strategy in attracting widespread popular support, in a time-honoured, peaceful, way, for gay rights — not only in Canada, but everywhere. As time went by, social acceptance and legal parity became a reality here. The tone of the parade and the surrounding spin-off events then became celebratory for most participants, and a source of vast entertainment for spectators from near and far — not to mention an important source of revenue for Toronto coffers.
That changed some years ago when a rabidly anti-Israel group, Queers Against Israel Apartheid (QuAIA), seized the occasion of the parade to showcase its political hostility, and to cast an ugly shadow over the whole parade. Gay rights activist Martin Gladstone made a documentary of the 2009 parade, called Reclaiming our Pride. In it the hatred on the faces of many QuAIA and D[ykes]AIA marchers is palpable. One saw swastikas on T-shirts characterizing Israel as a Nazi state, and heard menacing chants, like “Fist by fist, blow by blow, apartheid state has got to go.” The film offered persuasive evidence that QuAIA were not ordinary political protesters with specific grievances, but Israel exceptionalists, gripped by an irrational obsession with the Jewish state’s allegedly fathomless evils, while utterly oblivious to horrific human rights abuses elsewhere.
In the years since, the issue has become an annual flashpoint in Toronto politics. Some city councillors, and many residents, believe the city should not be funding a parade that permits such a hateful group to march. Others view it as a free speech issue (even though nobody is denying QuAIA’s right to bruit their message elsewhere). The presence of QuAIA at the Pride parade has thus morphed into an annual controversy, where gay rights, free speech, the role of government in funding civic events and, of course, Middle Eastern geopolitics all mix together to form a noxious summertime brew.
On June 24, Ali Abunimah, author of the book One Country, a Bold Proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian impasse will speak in Toronto on the subject of “pinkwash”: i.e. “How Israel uses sex and marketing to distract from Apartheid.” (Abunimah’s one-state “solution” to the Israel-Palestinian impasse, it should be noted, is code for the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state.) His suggestion, implicit in the title of his talk, that Israelis feign tolerance for gays as part of universally understood, but never discussed, charade to gain the world’s sympathy is ludicrous. Israelis do not allow their political “masters” (who can be voted out at regular intervals) to dictate their social and cultural mores. Gays are accepted as equals in Israel because Israelis are modern, enlightened people, whose cultural values are shared by us and just about everywhere else in the West.
Russia’s travesty of democratic political action should be the theme of this year’s parade
The appearance of Mr Abunimah, here to lecture Canadians on the moral inferiority of Israelis, strikes an ironic note as we learn that Russia is moving to outlaw gay “propaganda.” By a 436-0 vote, Russia’s parliament passed a bill last week that forbids “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” mandating stiff fines and even jail terms for violators. This vote followed hard on the heels of another vote passed by the State Duma (the lower house of parliament), which provided jail terms for anyone convicted of offending religious feelings (we have Pussy Riots’ anti-Kremlin protest to thank for that one).
Not a very nice place for minorities and nonconformists, Russia. If the bill passes after going to the Federation Council and then being signed by President Put
in, as nobody doubts will occur, it will be a crime to hold gay pride events, speak up in defence of rights for gays, or to affirm that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual ones.
International rights groups were appalled by the bill. Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch said that “Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it ‘tradition’, but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights” of homosexuals.
This should be carefully noted by Toronto’s many commendable gay rights activists. Pride is in danger of being defined in the public’s perception by its lack of a respect-worthy purpose. If Pride is to be taken seriously, if it is to be something more than a civicly profitable annual party, then it must reclaim its moral high ground, and stand up for gay rights where support is desperately needed. All fair-minded Canadians should be disgusted by QuAIA’s hijacking of its once-noble goal by a group whose raison d’être is the delegitimation of the only democratic, gay-friendly country in its region.
Russia’s travesty of democratic political action should be the theme of this year’s parade, with all participating groups being encouraged to make a united stand. As an international bellwether in shaming President Putin and his puppet parliament, Toronto’s Pride would truly have an achievement to take pride in.
I don’t live in Toronto, and I won’t be able to attend Mr. Abunimah’s talk. Maybe a few (hundred) good people — gays, straights, whoever — who think offering support to persecuted gays in Russia is a better idea than trashing Israel could make this case on my behalf to Mr Abunimah and his QuAIA supporters. All they have to do is show up on June 24 at the 519 Church St. Community Centre at 7 p.m. (admission is free!!).
After another victory for Ford, the typical ravenous Lefties are up in arms.
With the Supreme Court of Canada refusing to hear lawyer Clayton Ruby’s and client Paul Magder’s “Hail Mary” attempt to have Mayor Rob Ford removed from office, it’s time for the anti-Ford nation to take a Valium.It’s also time to start calling Ford’s alleged conflict of interest case what it has turned out to be, a non-conflict of interest case.Ford’s political fate will now be determined by voters in next year’s municipal election, as it should be.From the beginning, the whole idea Ford could be removed from office because he voted in favour of not returning $3,150 he raised from business donors for his charitable football foundation, was absurd.The real problem is the poorly written Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, provincial legislation which everyone from Ford to Premier Kathleen Wynne agrees needs to be amended. So amend it.One of the key changes needed is to give judges alternative ways to punish politicians found in violation of the act, short of the nuclear option of removing them from office.Another is amending the law so that the onus of enforcing it is not placed on private citizens but the Crown, which will also reduce frivolous complaints.Beyond that, anti-Ford political activists who have never accepted Ford as mayor, or for that matter the results of the 2010 municipal election, should stop trying to achieve through the courts what they could not accomplish at the polls.Ford himself should stop acting like a bull in a china shop at City Hall.If he had originally followed the advice of his own political allies on council not to vote on the issue of whether to return the $3,150 in donations — a vote he would have handily won, regardless — he could have avoided this entire mess.Finally, it’s time to stop listening to Ford’s increasingly hysterical critics who keep insisting City Hall is paralyzed because Ford won’t listen to them and quit.Nonsense. In you want to talk about real municipal crises, look to Montreal, Laval and London, where mayors and ex-mayors are facing criminal charges involving allegations of everything from corruption to fraud, bribery and gangsterism.By contrast, Ford’s fate will be decided, properly, at the polls.