Kingston Immigration Holding Centre

Kingston Immigration Holding Centre

Since the attack on the World Trade Center five men have been held in Canada pursuant to the security certificate provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Adil Charkaoui was arrested in Montréal. Hassan Almrei, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Mohamed Mahjoub were arrested in Toronto. Mohamed Harkat was arrested in Ottawa. Mahjoub and Jaballah were arrested before September 11, 2001: Jaballah about a month before, and Mahjoub about a year before.

Adil Charkaoui, the only one who was a permanent resident in Canada, and who is therefore subject to a different bail regime, was released on stringent bail terms on his third bail hearing.

Mr. Harkat was detained at the Ottawa Regional Detention Centre for three-and-a-half years. The other three men were detained at the Toronto West Detention Centre. For most of the time Mr. Harkat was in regular population at the Ottawa Regional Detention Centre and Mr. Jaballah at the Toronto West Detention Centre. The other two at the Toronto West Detention Centre spent most of their time in segregation and frequently engaged in hunger strikes to try to improve their situation in the jail.

The conditions of detention for Almrei, Jaballah and Mahjoub at Toronto West became serious issues in the litigation relating to the continued detention of those three men and the attempts to have them released on bail. For Mr. Almrei the conditions of detention were considered in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Federal government finally announced, in open court on October 19, 2005, that arrangements were being made to transfer the four men still in custody to a new facility to house them. That is how the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre came to be built on the grounds of Millhaven Penitentiary in southeastern Ontario.

Notwithstanding all of the problems that occurred in the detention of the three men in Toronto, Canada Immigration authorities did not consult the three men or their lawyers prior to planning and building the KIHC.

On April 24, 2006 Harkat, Mahjoub, Jaballah and Almrei were transported to the KIHC. Immediately upon their arrival at the facility it became apparent to the men that there were many, many problems with the KIHC.

The Federal Correctional Investigator in his 2005-2006 annual report had noted that there were no plans for the Correctional Investigator to have jurisdiction over the institution. He noted that when the men were in the provincial jails the Ombudsman had jurisdiction to deal with complaints made by the men. The Correctional Investigator noted that the failure to provide for a correctional investigator or an ombudsman meant that Canada was in violation of its international treaty obligations under the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture. A Parliamentary Committee looking into the security certificate issue and the conditions at the KIHC deplored the lack of a correctional investigator and recommended that the Minister of Public Safety correct that problem, but nothing was done.

Arrangements made for the visitors to the institution were problematic. A two-hour visit starting at 9:00 AM was available, as was a two-hour visit in the afternoon. Those time periods were useless for the wives and young families of Jaballah and Mahjoub. To travel to KIHC in the morning to arrive by 9:00 AM would require a departure no later than 6:00 AM. KIHC is in the middle of nowhere and there is nothing to do and no place to go over the lunch hour. Requests to change the visiting hours fell on deaf ears.

The KIHC is on the grounds of Millhaven Penitentiary and the very bright light from the penitentiary shone into the cells of the four men. Requests for curtains fell on deaf ears.

The KIHC is a very small facility attached to the Millhaven Penitentiary. It consists of two buildings in a relatively small area with high wire mesh fences topped by razor wire. One building, a double-sized wooden mobile home, contains six small cells, a common area and an administrative office for the guards. There is a small yard made up of a patchwork of concrete and asphalt. The yard contains one wooden picnic table with bench seats attached. On the other side of the yard there is a concrete building with a small work-out room, a small common room for visiting, a video teleconferencing room, a room for medical examinations and a small storage room.

The list of problems at KIHC was almost endless:

Strip searches before and after visits;
return to one’s cell four times a day for count (this in an institution that had four inmates);
problems with the use of the phone to call family and friends, particularly for overseas calls to family;
prohibition from using the washroom facilities in the common area when exercising;
disputes and arguments with guards;
taunts and threats from guards;
interference with religious practice;
property issues, including when property could be brought into KIHC;
lack of an adequate process to resolve issues at KIHC;
quantity and quality of the food;
foreseeable problems with the lack of air conditioning; the requirement to wear prison-issued clothing;
a poorly designed common space desk that, because of its design, could not be used for board games or writing;
the promise of a ping pong table, subsequently broken;
lack of canteen facilities;
denial of use of a big grassy fenced area immediately beside the KIHC site;
daily visits by the nurse, which the inmates felt was invasive and unnecessary;
the poor quality of the food provided; and
the lack of educational programs

This an incomplete list of all of the issues.

A meeting was held with senior CBSA and Corrections Canada on May 4 to discuss the many problems. All requests for action were refused and no changes were made.

Shortly after the transfer to KIHC my co-counsel Matt Webber and I were successful in obtaining an order for the release of Mr. Harkat on bail, albeit on the tightest bail in Canadian legal history so far as we know.

The three men still in KIHC commenced a hunger strike on May 13, 2006 and stayed on the hunger strike until June 26, 2006. Some of the problems were resolved at that point. Visits were changed to the afternoons, the requirement for one hour advance notice to make a phone call was eliminated, air-conditioning was promised, and canteen was provided.

A second hunger strike to deal with many of the remaining issues commenced on December 6, 2006.

Barb Jackman and John Norris, the lawyers for all three men, commenced litigation in the Federal Court for damages and injunctive relief concerning the conditions at KIHC. Chief Justice Lutfy of the Federal Court conducted numerous mediation sessions over many months in an attempt to resolve the litigation and improve the conditions in the jail.

Majoub and Jaballah were successful in being granted bail and ceased their participation in the hunger strike in March of 2007.

Mr. Almrei continued on the hunger strike, drinking only orange juice and water, for a total of 156 days.

I took over as counsel for Mr. Almrei in the spring of 2007. I first met him in person on May 9, 2007 when he was to be cross-examined upon his affidavit in support of the motion for injunctive relief in relation to jail conditions. This was scheduled to be heard for a week in Federal Court in late May 2007.

I spent most of the day with Mr. Almrei. He was born in Syria on January 1, 1974. He was raised in Saudi Arabia. When he was 16 years old, in 1990, with financial assistance from the Saudi government, he flew to Islamabad with the intention of joining the muhajadeen fighting the communist government in Afghanistan. The fight against the Russian invaders and later, after the Russians left, against the Najibullah government, was supported by the Saudis, many other Arab governments and mainly by the CIA. Hassan came down with malaria and after 27 days returned home. He made four more trips to Afghanistan in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1995. Eventually he left the Middle East and came to Canada where he made a successful refugee claim.

During the course of our discussions Hassan told me of an on-going argument he was having with the nurse in the KIHC. She came to see him every day. He did not want to see her and had told her and jail officials that if he needed medical help he would ask for her. The morning of the day I saw him the argument had been a little more heated.

After meeting with Hassan and representing him at the cross-examination I left to drive to Ottawa for a hearing in the Harkat case. The next day when driving back to Toronto I received a call on my cell phone from a friend of Hassan. I was told that when Hassan had returned to his cell after the cross-examination, he was advised that because of the argument with the nurse he was to be locked in his cell. Hassan responded to that by announcing that he would stop drinking juice and water. Based on the information I had concerning lengthy hunger strikes I thought that likely left Hassan a few days to live. When I spoke with senior jail officials, it appeared that they thought the same thing. They had given Hassan a non-resuscitation letter and wanted him to get legal advice from me about signing it. I declined to give him legal advice on that issue. Hassan discussed the matter with MP Bill Siksay who was visiting him. I tried over the phone to resolve the issues but had no success.

Late that day when I got back to Toronto I sent emails to the government lawyers on the case. I proposed some minor changes to the situation in the jail that would stay in place until the court reached a decision on the injunctive relief application. The next day the government agreed to my proposals and Hassan ended his hunger strike. The motion for the injunction was settled on the first day of the week scheduled for the hearing. Settlement was achieved after another mediation session with Chief Justice Lutfy and agreement to terms and conditions set out in a sealed document that was filed with the court.

In July we commenced the third detention review hearing for Mr. Almrei, this time before Justice Lemieux. Significant reliance was placed on the evidence and findings from the two previous bail hearings. The new hearing was done under the new rules set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in its February 23, 2007 decision in Charkaoui, Almrei and Harkat case. We spent a total of six days in Court hearing evidence and adducing argument. Justice Lemieux has reserved his decision.

I am not allowed to give out the details of the settlement. I can tell you that the situation in the KIHC is better than it has ever been there or at the Toronto West. Still, it is outrageous that the unconstitutional security certificate process has kept Mr. Almrei in detention in inhumane conditions for 46 months.

The treatment of Mr. Almrei by CBSA and Corrections Canada officials at KIHC would have had the effect of driving most inmates stark raving mad. I do not suggest that was their intention, but their bureaucratic, unthinking, unresponsive attitude could well have achieved that result.

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