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Open letter to MPs: End this practice Add to ...

While I was a hostage in Iraq, Hassan Almrei, Mohammed Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah wrote a letter to my captors asking them to release me. "If you love Allah," they wrote on Dec. 4, 2005, "if you have goodness in your heart, please deal with this matter as righteous Muslims and not let these kind, caring, compassionate and innocent people suffer."

I first learned about their letter in the early morning hours of Friday, March 24 (Baghdad time). Every cell in my body was charged and buzzing with the marvellous, exhilarating, intoxicating drug of freedom. It was only about 18 hours before that, that British soldiers busted me and my fellow hostages out. Unable to sleep, I called my partner Dan.

I reached him on his cell at the Peace Garden in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square, where people had gathered to celebrate our release. He told me about some of the things that happened during our captivity, and in particular, about the unprecedented cry of the Muslim world for our freedom. I laughed with amazement. It was impossible to believe that so many people spoke out for us. And then he said: "The Muslim men who are being held on security certificates, they wrote a letter on your behalf. In the letter, they said, 'We care about his freedom more than our own.' "

Those 118 days of handcuffs, fear, uncertainty, deprival, the relentless, aching hunger for food and the return of our lives -- I never knew what freedom was until it was taken from me. Always, I took for granted the tiny, inconsequential things that constitute ordinary life, like wearing my own shoes, making tea for myself, cooking, opening and closing doors! having a wallet and keys in my pocket -- and the biggest, most important thing of all, being able to touch and hold the people I love.

I no longer take freedom for granted now that I have experienced the excruciating suffering that comes with its deprival. It is the most precious of God's gifts, the very oxygen of our lives.

Mr. Almrei has been imprisoned now for 55 months, Mr. Mahjoub for 72 months and Mr. Jaballah for 58 months. They, and two others (Mohammed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui), are being held on security certificates signed by the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness according to powers granted them by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These men have never been charged with a crime. They have never seen the exact nature of the allegations against them and therefore have no way of mounting an effective defence. They have no right of appeal. They have no idea when -- or if -- they will be freed. Some of them face the grave possibility of being deported to torture.

While I was held by a band of insurgents subject to no law but their own, these five men are being held under legislation passed by men and women who sat in the same chairs you currently occupy. We know where they are, we can send them letters and visit them, they can make phone calls. As long as they remain in Canada, they will not be tortured or killed.

Nonetheless, our situations do parallel. Insofar as these five men have not been charged, they are subject to an unjust deprival of freedom, just as I was.

Recently, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay spoke out on behalf of a man named Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-Iranian lecturer on non-violence and democratic reform. Mr. Jahanbegloo was arrested by the Iranian government in early May and is being held without charge. Mr. MacKay called on Iran to charge or release Mr. Jahanbegloo.

While I am grateful for Mr. MacKay's principled stand, I can't help but wonder how he would respond if the foreign affairs minister of Iran were to point out that Canada has been holding five men without charge now for between four and six years.

Beginning today, the Supreme Court is conducting three days of hearings on the constitutionality of security certificates. This seems an opportune moment for reflection on the use of these certificates, in light of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's concern about "who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity, and our values . . . such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law."

I'm sure you will agree: Indefinite detention without charge is an unCanadian value. As a member of Parliament, you have the responsibility, and the power, to change this situation. Amnesty International and the United Nations have both expressed serious concern about security-certificate detention. I urge you to work toward the abolition of this practice.

Sincerely,

James Loney

James Loney is one of three members of Christian Peacemaker Teams held captive in Iraq for almost four months.

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