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Canada Warns Citizens Regarding Travel to U.S.

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 11, 2002

In Post-9/11 Climate, Canada Warns Some of Its Foreign-Born Citizens Not to Travel to U.S.

Interview with Michael Ratner,
president for the Center for Constitutional Rights,
conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

When Maher Arar, a man holding joint Canadian-Syrian citizenship changed planes at New York's Kennedy airport on Sept. 26, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detained and eventually deported him to Syria. The action by the U.S. State Department prompted the Canadian government to protest and issue an unprecedented travel advisory, warning their citizens who were born in several Middle East and South Asian countries targeted by the U.S. for anti-terror scrutiny to avoid traveling to America.

A Canadian foreign affairs department official, Reynald Doiron, charged that the U.S. policy is discriminatory because it targets citizens based on where they were born. Canada believes that their citizens should be exempt from new measures established by Washington one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The U.S. National Security Entry Exit Registration System authorizes the INS to photograph, fingerprint, and closely monitor visitors to America who were born in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with attorney Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights about these new U.S. travel regulations and the balance between legitimate security concerns and the rights of foreign nationals who visit America.

Michael Ratner: It's a real shocker, a real shocker on many different levels, both because the guy (Maher Arar) was actually disappeared for awhile, somewhat like the (immigrants detained after the 9/11 terrorist attacks), but even worse. (He was) deported back to the country he was born in …, but was not a citizen of, in the sense that he was a citizen of Canada. He lived in Canada for nine or 10 years and was really a citizen of Canada.

He was coming back from somewhere in Europe I think, coming back through Kennedy Airport. They take him off his plane when he's switching planes there. The reason they took him off was not, I don't think, because they had any evidence that he was a terrorist, but a new law was passed saying that people from five countries had to fill out a special form when they came into the United States. Of course, not knowing about this new law being passed -- especially because he's in transit, just going from one plane to another -- he apparently didn't fill out the form and gets taken off and is put into custody, in detention. Eventually the Canadians get notified about the guy, or just told he's there. They never get told that he's going to be sent to Syria. I wouldn’t say back to Syria because that's not where he came from. He was simply born in Syria but he was living in Canada and is a Canadian citizen.

The Canadians say they object, they want him back in Canada. They don't have any evidence that the guy's a terrorist or anything. Without telling the Canadians, without telling us -- lawyers from my office who worked on the case kept calling and saying 'Where is he?' We were about to file a habeas corpus just to find out where he was, because the U.S. wouldn't tell us and wouldn't even tell the Canadian government. Then we find out a couple of days later that he's been sent back to Syria, where he's in a Syrian jail, no less. Apparently, he hadn't done military service or something in Syria.

A truly remarkable case. I mean just remarkable because it's not just me as a progressive lawyer saying, 'Jesus, what did they do here?' But the facts are incredible and you have the Canadian government, one of the U.S.'s closest allies objecting, saying 'What are you doing with one of our citizens?' And the U.S. does it anyway. It really shows you and really goes into what I was saying about both non-citizens and the treatment they're receiving, as well as the idea of executive detentions. The executive (branch of the U.S. government) can basically take people anywhere in the world and do what they want to them.

What's really shocking of course now, is that the Canadian government actually issued a travel advisory. A travel advisory is the kind of thing that the U.S. issues when they're dropping bombs all over Afghanistan and they say American citizens shouldn't go there. This one is amazing. It's a one-page sheet that says basically, citizens -- nationals -- of the following countries, who were born in those countries but who are Canadian citizens should not travel to the United States because they are taking a risk of being sent back to their countries (of birth). Is that not unbelievable and remarkable? Our ally is actually issuing a travel advisory about the country next door to it, that is as close to the United States as the two fingers on my hand, both literally and actually in politics. You don't need me to say the government of the United States is acting in a high-handed way. All you have to do is look at the Canadians and what they did in this travel advisory.

Between The Lines: The officials in the U.S. Justice Department that deported this Canadian national to Syria justified it on the grounds that post-Sept. 11, this nation really has to watch out for foreign nationals who come to our shores wishing and planning to do us harm. But I find it very ironic that Saudi Arabia was not on the list of countries whose citizens are exposed to this kind of treatment. How do you respond to that?

Michael Ratner: Isn't that amazing? I mean, that's the other thing that makes you wonder about whether they're really after terrorism or after something else here. Or they're just passing laws they'd like to put into effect.

Between The Lines: I just need to remind our listeners, the reason I say Saudi Arabia not being included in that list is ironic, and I'm sure as you all know, the predominant nation of origin for those citizens who flew the planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were, of course, from Saudi Arabia.

Michael Ratner: I think either 15 out of 19 or 17 out of 19, I don't recall. But as you said, the predominant majority, almost all of them were from Saudi Arabia. There are many people who believe that one of the reasons that 9/11 was gotten away with was because we looked the other way when it came to Saudi Arabia. Not that I think the U.S. was behind 9/11, but I think there was no political will to really investigate Saudis that should have been investigated. When the U.S. issued these special new visa requirements, they issued it for five out of the six or seven countries on the terrorist list and they didn't issue it for Saudi Arabia. It's seems just ridiculous. If you're really interested in catching terrorists, it would seem to me that the place you want to look at is Saudi Arabia.

In fact, there's a good argument to be made that the terrorists purposely used Saudis because they knew the U.S. wouldn't be looking at them. Here, the U.S. basically doubles that problem now, in this whole new visa requirement of fingerprinting, photographing, signing and whatever the other little details of it are. They exclude Saudis. It's astounding. You add all this up, what the U.S. didn't do to stop 9/11, how it should have done this and looked at the Saudis and Zacarias Moussaoui (the alleged 20th hijacker arrested before 9/11) and the two guys who were living with an FBI informant. Now with all that stuff, it just looks like they're utter bunglers. It looks that way to me.

Contact the Center for Constitutional Rights at (212) 614-6464 or visit the group's Web site at

Scott Harris is executive producer with Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Nov. 15, 2002


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