Targeted arrest of Mohamed Cherfi, Comité d'Action des Sans-Statut Algeriens

Anonyme, Dimanche, Mars 30, 2003 - 21:43

Sarita Ahooja, No One is Illegal campaign in Montreal.

To CASS members and many supporters, the arrest of Mohamed Cherfi is a direct attack to immigrant and refugee communities and to those who struggle for the defense of immigrant and refugee rights.

The struggle for full regularization continues.

Mohamed Cherfi, active member of the Comité d'Action des Sans-Statut Algeriens (CASS), was released from detention Friday, March 28th, after pleading Not guilty to the charges of "obstruction" laid against him by Quebec Immigration. Being denied access to legal counsel by the sitting Judge, who stated "we are in a hurry here, we don't have time to wait for your lawyer", he was forced to take the stand and accept the conditions of release, prohibiting him from entering Quebec Immigration buildings (except for official appointments) and MRCI Minister Trudel's head offices. Upon arrest, police charged Mohamed with "assault with trespass".

The dozens of supporters present in the courthouse, including many fellow non-status Algerians, managed to fill the courtroom after clearing security guards' scrutinous control at the door -- just in time to hear the conditions. Several supporters were expelled from the courtroom after exposing the hypocrisy of the hearing, bringing attention to the fact that Mohamed did not have his lawyer present.

Mohamed was arrested on the morning of March 27, during a delegation visit to Quebec Immigration Ministerial offices. The delegation of 20 non-status had been requesting a meeting with Minister Trudel to discuss the problems of the joint-procedure which was put in place last November in response to the Bourissa family taking sanctuary in a church. This special procedure, which only applies to non-status Algerians, involves a temporary stay of deportations (which expired on January 30 2003) and offers the possibility to apply for permanent residency while inside of Canada.

The joint-procedure maintains that applications for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds must be sent to the federal government, which will forward the dossiers, with the exception of inadmissible categories, to the government of Quebec. Quebec will then evaluate the dossiers according to a "record of integration", based on the level of education, work experience, volunteer work done in Quebec, language fluency, etc. The procedure ignores the basic need for protection of Algerian refugees who made it to Canada seeking asylum from the civil conflict that continues in Algeria. The federal-provincial procedures excludes many people through several specific categories, such as the "zero tolerance" policy for individuals with judicial records or medical problems, and for those who live outside Quebec. Many of the bureaucratic mechanisms provide for the filtering of "undesirables" through imposed high fees ($550 per adult, $150 per child), short and inadequate deadlines, and the maintanance of biased officers. Since January, the unjustified refusals and sponsorship conditions placed on the non-status, are exposing the mutliple obstacles that many non-status Algerians still face under the so-called "extraordinary solution" and highlights the government's "humanitarian" deportation program.

On Thursday, March 27th, the CASS delegation was aiming to speak directly with Minister Trudel about the contradictions, irregularities, and inadequacies of this procedure. When the group arrived at Quebec Immigration, they were blocked by security guards, ignored by the civil servants and not answered to about Minister Trudel's whereabouts. Once inside Trudel's offices, the staff enclosed them in, not allowing people to get water or go to the bathroom. The police were called upon to execute an eviction order. A dozen patrol cars arrived replete with police officers in bullet-proof vests and armed with billy-clubs. They effectively blocked access to one of the elevators, and began escorting the non-status out of the head office. Mohamed was one of the last to exit. He informed the police officers that he didn't an escort and requested that he be treated with dignity. The police officers grabbed him and wrenched him down through the basement and out the back, away from public view, to place him under arrest. The police officers threatened him with statements like, "We're going to give a criminal record to accelerate your deportation."

Mohamed recounts that once at the police station he was again intimidated by officers who claimed that his ID was falsified and it would cost him. They also threatened to lay another charge for "obstruction" as he asserted his right to speak to a lawyer. Mohamed explains that he refused to sign the "promise to appear" release form, as it accused him of "assault by trespass", with the condition not to enter Minister Trudel's offices.

To CASS members and many supporters, the arrest of Mohamed Cherfi is a direct attack to immigrant and refugee communities and to those who struggle for the defense of immigrant and refugee rights. It is part of an age-old government policy which imposes an order that demands that refugees and immigrants be vulnerable, disposable, usable, controlable and obediant to the economic and political interests of the Canadian state. The CASS maintains their demands to meet with authorities and will continue to seek a just solution to all their legitimate demands

All attempts by authorites to criminalise the non-status struggle for full protection and regularisation will be confronted and challenged. The immigrants and refugees of yesterday, of today and of tomorrow are organising to expose the illegitimacy of Canada's immigration system. We seek justice with dignity, and we will take back our rights and defend them.

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