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Shahla Khan Salter Headshot

Are Your Human Rights Safe in Canada?

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Monday, December 10 is International Human Rights Day. And on this day three Canadians remain in prison in Iran. All three have been charged with computer-related crimes. The reason? Measures against "illegal" computer use are ruthlessly enforced by the Iranian government in an effort to wipe out online information against that government.

Our Canadian government has not been able to secure the release of these three Canadians. Talk of war against Iran makes their release ever more improbable. Will they languish there forever?

Or will a bomb, manufactured in the Western world, simply drop, one day, on Evin Prison and kill all the innocent people inside, including our three Canadians.

People say, "Well -- it's too bad they went there. They should have known better." Are we safer here in Canada?

Legally, yes. Canadian law is clear. Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to "everyone" and grants us the rights to be informed of the charge against us; tried within a reasonable period of time; not to be compelled to testify against ourselves; to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; and not to be found guilty unless the action is a crime. (These are only a portion of our Charter rights.)

The result? A vast body of Canadian law has been developed that upholds the rights of individuals even in the face of the most heinous crimes.

It means, here in Canada if the evidence is tainted by a denial of individual rights, the case can be dismissed. The protection of the individual in some cases is known to cause outrage.

But what happens if society offers no protection to the individual? Here is what would happen if you were arrested and you had no section 11 rights:

  • You would not know the reason the police have arrested you.
  • You would not have the right to stay silent. As a result, torture or aggressive police tactics could more likely be used to extract a confession from you, causing you to admit to a crime you did not commit.
  • You would not have the right to hear the evidence against you and challenge it. So if someone said you did it, it would be regarded as true.
  • You would not even have the right to challenge whether the activity that led to the arrest -- such as associating with certain people, and/or living a particular lifestyle -- constituted a crime.
  • In other words there would be no fair trial.

It means if your neighbours thought you were a witch, capable of causing death and destruction, you would be a witch. And if your neighbours thought you should be exiled because they didn't want witches in the community causing trouble, you would be sent away or worse.

In Canada have we moved past this notion? Not entirely.

Because in Canada, today, in light of the cases of Mohamed Harkat, Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah, if someone thinks you are a terrorist -- and someone said you are a terrorist even under torture (as in the case of Mahjoub), notwithstanding that you may have committed no terrorist act -- you may be arrested, thrown in prison, or placed under house arrest, tried without knowing the evidence against you and then deported to a country where you may be tortured and killed.

Are we a nation where the rights of criminals including pedophiles such as Graham James, Christopher Neil and others are protected -- (they were innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and remain innocent of any other crimes that potentially may have taken place) -- while men like Harkat, Mahjoub and Jaballah are locked up and labelled as "terrorists" because they "might" be guilty?

According to Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights we are. And we must change.

We must uphold the Canadian ideals found in our Charter. We must do it to protect ourselves both as individuals and a society, to ensure freedom and justice. We must remember the words of the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: ''Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.''

Or the terrorists -- the real ones -- will win. And if our justice system resembles theirs in any way shape or form, they already have.

Don't be an ayatollah Mr. Toews. Prove they are guilty against the same standards you use to prove all those pedophiles are guilty. Or set them free.