Proceedings on hunger strike, Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, February 6, 2007, Ottawa


Mr. Bill Siksay: Thank you, chair.

I think folks have a copy of the motion in front of them.

Chair, at the beginning I'd like to ask if we can have a friendly amendment to update the number of days that the hunger strike has gone on. The numbers were accurate the day the motion was tabled, but they should read, for Mr. Mahjoub, 75 instead of 69. It's in the third whereas. It should be 75 instead of 69, and 64 instead of 58. That would be accurate for today.

The Chair: That looks okay.

We'll move on.

Mr. Bill Siksay: Thank you, chair.

I'm very concerned about Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Hassan Almrei, the detainees at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. I think their hunger strike's reached a very crucial point and this was driven home to me by an article in the British Medical Journal by Michael Peel that appeared in October 1997 where he was looking at the effects of hunger strikes on individuals engaged in them. He stated in that article that daily monitoring should take place after day 10. It's also been noted that serious health consequences are possible after day 49, including heart and renal failures, severe hypertension and hypotension and heart arrhythmia.

Chair, the minister has stated a number of times that the nurse visits the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre every day at 10 a.m. and I think we all know that's the case. But we also know that the nurse doesn't attend the men in the living unit and we know from our own experience and from our visit and from follow up since then that they won't go to the administration unit for a visit with the nurse. So in fact they aren't being monitored daily with a direct contact with a medical professional

They've also asked for a doctor and I spoke to Mr. Mahjoub and the other men yesterday, but particularly, Mr. Mahjoub, who said yesterday that he'd requested to be seen by Dr. Adam Newman of Kingston and I believe I have the name correct--that Dr. Newman is someone who often attends at the federal penitentiaries in the Kingston area, but that this request was denied as was a similar request he made to see Dr. Newman on January 22.

Chair, I'm also struck by information that hunger strikers in the early 1980s--I think we are all aware of the hunger strikes that happened as a result of the conflict in northern Ireland--the hunger strikers at the Mays prison in Belfast died after hunger strikes of 45 to 61 days. So I think if you look at those parameters you understand what we're up against in the situation of the men in Kingston. I think we're in a very serious stage.

Chair, I've struggled with how we move past this situation and how we resolve it. The minister said he can't comment on the specific details of the individual situations due to the case before the Supreme Court. He's also said that he's not able to meet the detainees personally to discuss their grievances. I don't want to debate that today. I think we probably could debate that, but I don't want to debate that. I'll accept that statement for now.

I want to stress that I think the motion before us gives the minister and the government a good alternative and a way past the impasse at this point to suggest that the correctional investigator have the opportunity to investigate and make recommendations on the situation. The correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, is essentially the federal prison ombudsperson. He has a mandate under Part III of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to act as an ombudsperson for federal offenders and I'll just read from his actual mandate statement:

The primary function of the office is to investigate and bring resolution to individual offender complaints. The office, as well, has a responsibility to review and make recommendations on the Correctional Service's policies and procedures associated with the areas of individual complaints to ensure that systemic areas of concern are identified and appropriately addressed.

Mr. Chair, the correctional investigator has also asked the government for responsibility in this area. He did that in his last annual report covering the period 2005-2006.

I just wanted to read one paragraph of the four or five in his annual report that dealt with the situation at Kingston. He said and I quote:

The transfer of detainees from Ontario facilities to the Kingston Holding Centre means that the detainees will lose the benefit of a rigorous ombudsman's legislative framework to file complaints about their care and humane treatment while in custody. The Office of the Correctional Investigator is concerned that the detainees will no longer have the benefits and legal protections offered by ombudsman legislation. Pursuant to the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture, a non-profit organization with no legislative framework, such as the Red Cross, is unlikely to meet the protocol's requirement for domestic oversight.

So, chair, we have heard and I think we heard when we were there that the Red Cross has been contracted to do oversight, but we also know that any recommendations they make are not made public and so we have no idea what they've said or what action was taken on it.

Chair, just in conclusion, I believe that the lives of the men detained at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre under security certificates are now in danger. I believe that very fundamentally. I also believe that serious health consequences are imminent, whether they lead to death or whether they can be ongoing. I spoke to all three of the men yesterday, and I'm particularly concerned for Mr. Majoub who indicates that he's been very unwell for the last five or six days.

So finally, Chair, I believe that this is a helpful motion. I think it gets us beyond the impasse; I think it offers a non-partisan and independent solution to the urgent problem before us all, and I hope that committee members will be able to support it.

Thank you, Chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Siksay.

Any further debate on this particular motion?

On this motion, Mr. Karygiannis, then Mr. Komarnicki.

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: Mr. Chair, I had the opportunity on Sunday to visit with the three men for two hours. I also spoke to the administration of the facility. The men have lost anywhere between 25% to 35% of their weight. They're in bad shape. The men are only drinking water and orange juice. I was very much distraught when I heard the minister say that they got chocolates and everything else. There are about 10 chocolate bars that are not in the fridge, they're in the cupboard, and these are for the children of the families when they visit. The men had four bottles of water--and let's put this on the record--and two canisters of orange juice. This is the only thing that they're adhering to. And this is not something that comes from the administration. This is something that is through their canteen.

I think that although Mr. Siksay's motion goes to addressing the fundamental issues that we need to do, I think that we need to make sure that their concerns are answered upon immediately. We all know how bureaucracy works, and when you put a motion in, or a motion is struck, and the individual who goes to correctional as an investigator, goes and investigates, goes and looks, there's a certain protocol, there's a memorandum of understanding between the holding centre and the facility. He has to go beyond that and there has to be certain protocols that have to be set out.

I think that in order to make sure that their individual needs are addressed immediately, I'd like to, if I can at this point, make two--

The Chair: I realize you have an amendment coming. But we also have hands up to talk about the motion first. Then your amendment comes after. It's the procedure, so your amendment--

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: I think we need to move into this amendment very quickly. The men are in very dire needs and their issues are not being addressed.

The Chair: Okay.

After we deal with the motion, then you can move your amendment if you wish, and then we'll go directly to the amendment first of all.

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: It will be a subamendment to this.

The Chair: Okay.

Mr. Komarnicki.

Mr. Ed Komarnicki: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think nobody doubts the fact or the seriousness of the situation and where the men might be. It's certainly a course of action they have taken. But I would like to draw the committee's attention to the fact that there is a formal redress process that presently exists and it's a three-step grievance process that the members do have, and can take place. And what this member is suggesting is changing the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre correction officers' mandate, which is something that can certainly be done by legislative means, or by change in policy, or a change in program considerations. But the fact of the matter is that there is a process in place that they're meant to follow, and also they have to choose certain courses of action.

They have taken, for instance, an action in the court by way of an application to have the conditions that they are facing in the centre addressed, and specifically with reference to all of the issues they raise now, by way of their hunger strike. That court has not yet made a decision on that. They have a number of options they can go, and I would suggest that the appropriate option would be through the system as it now is, or through the court process, which they have initiated. And the decision to stay on a hunger strike is one that they make in the midst of other processes. And I think that at least while that application is in process, I think the minister is quite correct in saying that application will be determined in due course, and he ought not comment specifically on that, excepting to allow it to go through.

Secondly, the appropriate place that this may have been raised is in the committee before the Minister of Public Safety and also the member has raised this issue at the House by way of a question period question that was been responded to by the minister, and also raised it as a point of emergency debate in the House, and the Speaker ruled on the member saying that it's not in that circumstance, and the application was denied. I think that the issue of whether they remain or not in their current situation is one that they determine, and I think it's appropriate that the process which has been commenced is at least allowed to go to a conclusion.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Thank you.

Mr. Telegdi.

Hon. Andrew Telegdi: Thank you very much.

I have no problems with the motion. I'm afraid if we wait for the process to go to conclusion we could have some fatalities on our hands. I think it's important we're aware that these men are not there because they've been convicted of anything. They're there under a security certificate, which we'll be apologizing for at some point in time as we get down into 50 years of our history. We seem to be really good at apologizing for things that happened in the past instead of acting on some of the stuff that's happening right now. We know that this whole security certificate is before the Supreme Court and we're waiting for a ruling on it.

Prisons are places where you have high rates of suicide. In these cases it could be much higher. If anything we should have learned from similar situations, particularly in Ireland, that we really don't want people dying in our prisons. We certainly have a very questionable reason why we're holding them.

I think this makes eminent sense. I'm looking for input from Mr. Karygiannis in terms of seeing what his amendment is. I certainly am very much in support of this motion. I don't think the status quo is good enough and not having them have access to something that all the other prisoners who have been convicted have access to just doesn't make any kind of sense to me.

The Chair: Do you want to move your amendment at this point, Mr. Karygiannis?

I don't see any other debate on the main motion.

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: I would like to make some friendly amendments if I can. They're in writing and I ask the chair if we have given this out.

The Clerk of the Committee (Mr. Samy Agha): It hasn't been distributed because they're not in both official languages.

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: Sorry, last week Mr. Komarnicki's amendment was not in both official languages.

The Clerk: It was not distributed to members, it was read into the record.

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: Then I will say that this is on (b), where it says,

...investigate current and ongoing complaints of those currently on hunger strike...

I would add,

specifically urgently addressing issues such as:

(1) medical attention in the living unit by a medical licensed practitioner, namely doctors;

(2) detainees be released before dawn from their cells in order for them to be able to observe religious prayers as called on by their religion.

(3) they be allowed conjugal visits as is afforded to other inmates;

(4) they be allowed to access canteen facilities adhering to their religious beliefs;

(5) daily head count should be done away with immediately;

(6) when transferred from the living unit to the administration building they be also accompanied by a supervisor from Correctional Services Canada.

The other amendment I would like to make is before the last line of the last paragraph. I'd like to make another amendment that says,

...and it further be resolved that protocols be put in place on a permanent basis in order to deal with these detainees and any future such cases.

The Chair: The chair has to rule that the amendments are inadmissible because it relates to management directives which don't fall within the mandate of our committee. Also, the committee does not have the powers to direct government or its agencies on how to run their activities. These amendments would not be in order I'm informed.

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: I would like to challenge that ruling and I would ask that you put that to a vote.

The Chair: The question is, will the ruling of the chair be sustained?

All in favour of sustaining the chair's ruling?

(Motion negatived)

Mr. Bill Siksay: We haven't voted on the amendment.

The Chair: That's what we just did, did we not?

Hon. Jim Karygiannis: No, you were ruled out of order. Sorry, chair.

The Chair: Thank you for that intervention.

All in favour of the amendments (a) and (b)?

(Amendments agreed to)

Mr. Bill Siksay: Could we have a recorded vote on that, Mr. Chair?

(Motion agreed to: yeas 7; nays 4)

The Chair: Seeing no further business adjourned.