Re-Post of Statement by Amnesty International Canada – January 28, 2014
Amnesty International was deeply troubled to learn that Prime Minister Harper’s Director of Communications publicly described the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) as “… an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.” The remark came in response to concerns raised by the NCCM about the inclusion of an individual, who had been publicly associated with an event involving two speakers from the organization “Stop Islamization of America”, in the Prime Minister’s delegation on his recent trip to Israel. No evidence in support of the accusation that the NCCM is tied to a terrorist organization was produced or referred to at the time and has not been produced or referred to since.
Amnesty International has worked closely with the NCCM and its predecessor organization, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations for over a decade. We have collaborated with respect to some of the leading cases involving concerns about human rights violations associated with Canada’s national security laws, policies and practices, including the public inquiry into the case of Maher Arar, the Iacobucci Inquiry into the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin, the case of Omar Khadr, and Canada’s immigration security certificate system.
NCCM has been a principled and at times outspoken voice in defence of human rights and has frequently joined Amnesty International in insisting that rights not be violated or undermined in the name of national security. Amnesty International‘s experience of working with the NCCM has been that of an organization that speaks out both against terrorism and against human rights violations committed in the name of countering terrorism.
Amnesty International has joined many other civil society organizations in Canada in recent years in highlighting a growing number of cases in which federal government measures and actions seek to punish and silence groups that are openly critical of the government. Through research carried out by the widely supported Voices Coalition, a disturbing pattern has emerged of organizations and individuals being targeted for reprisal when expressing views contrary to government policy. This has particularly been the case with a number of sensitive, high profile issues, such as the situation in Israel and the rights of Palestinians. One such government approach has been to denigrate and vilify organizations or individuals who express concern about government policies or actions without any factual basis to support the allegations; and to do so very publicly.
There are very few allegations that can be leveled against a group that are more highly charged than to state that it is tied to terrorism. When such an accusation is made without any evidence in support, the damage to a group’s reputation and ability to continue with its work can be considerable. When such an accusation is made without any evidence in support, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the intention was to punish the group for its views and an attempt to silence the group from expressing such views in the future.
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that this may be what lay behind describing the NCCM as being tied to terrorist groups. It is therefore understandable and very important that the NCCM has launched legal action; both to defend its own reputation but also to make it clear that unfounded and inflammatory accusations against groups that criticize the government cannot and will not be tolerated.