Letter to U.S. Consulate Regarding Freedom for Shakir Baloch,

February 13, 2002

Antoinette Marowitz

US. Consul General, 360 University Avenue, Toronto, ON

Greetings on St. Valentine's Day Eve,

We are here today as concerned individuals to call on you, as a representative of the United States government, to take such immediate steps as are necessary to facilitate the immediate return to Canada of one Shakir Baloch, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani background who has been unjustly held for five months in a maximum security detention centre Brooklyn.

We are also calling on your government to release the names of all those detained in the post Sept. 11 racial-profile sweeps, not only to ensure the civil liberties of those behind bars, but also so we may determine how many other Canadians are being held without charge simply because of their skin colour or religious background.

We bring this letter to you as we have just completed a 6 km walk for Canada's Disappeared in a celebration of St. Valentine. You may not know, but St. Valentine was a prisoner of conscience during the Roman Empire. Because the Emperor of the day was having trouble getting married or lovestruck young men to join the ranks of his imperial armies, marriage ceremonies were banned. St. Valentine, for defying this edict and performing marriage rites, was thrown into prison, and subsequently executed.

We felt that rather than give in to the saccharine commercialism which has ruined yet another potentially powerful holiday, we would instead celebrate Valentine's legacy by invoking what the day is really all about: standing up for those who are unjustly placed behind bars to serve the whims of emperors who would make war.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because we are living in times quite similar to Valentine's. Indeed, both of our countries have collectively thrown thousands of people behind bars through a disgraceful policy of racial profiling (indeed, more harm was done to Americans by white Enron executives than by any alleged act committed by the thousands of still to be charged detainees, but the matter of skin colour or religious faith seems to determine who gets thrown in the slammer.)

As stated above, a case which has drawn a good deal of attention, thanks largely to the efforts of his family and advocacy groups, is that of Shakir Baloch, a man born in Pakistan and living in Toronto since 1987, who went missing nine days after the bombings in NYC. His wife and teenage daughter began to search for him after weeks of no contact, speaking to numerous Immigration authorities, detention centres, the Canadian consulate, learning only of 'secret' lists of detainees compiled by American Immigration and Naturalization Service Finally, they pieced together that Shakir had been violently arrested on the streets of New York City, while visiting friends.

He has since been segregated in high security detention in full shackles and 24 hour exposure to strong lights, subjected to intensive FBI interrogation. Only after the case was made public in Canada and the Canadian government was prodded was he allowed limited access to legal counsel, and even this process was convoluted and difficult, with lawyers showing up at the detention centre only to be told Mr. Baloch had been moved elsewhere.

After four months in detention, Mr. Baloch, who travels frequently and legally between Canada and the U.S., was finally charged with illegal entry into the U.S. However, it is still unclear why the simple matter of deporting him back to Canada - which is what he desires - has not occurred, thus keeping him separated from his obviously distraught family. Short of that, we are wondering why he continues to be held in segregation, as opposed to being in the general prison population.

We have the greatest concern that Mr. Baloch, like many others behind bars, is there not for security reasons or to firmly get to the roots of an unjust situation. Rather, he is a victim of racial profiling and a wave of repression which has, unfortunately, gripped both of our countries. How many other Canadians of Arabic, Middle Eastern, or Asian descent are also in U.S. prisons as a result of the post 9/11 crackdown?

The Washington Post reported January 30, "Advocacy groups have claimed during the four-month terrorist investigations that the government's excessive secrecy has eroded the legal rights of the detainees, particularly those in INS custody. Only one detainee, Zacarias Moussaoui, has been charged in connection with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Advocates have long suspected that the rest of the INS detainees are held on minor violations of immigration law, which in a less sensitive time would have attracted no notice, and are now still being held in strict secrecy although there is no serious suspicions of their connections to terrorism."

We sympathize with the pain still felt by Americans following the Sept. 11 attacks, just as we sympathize with the pain of the thousands of families who have experienced the loss of loved ones as a result of U.S. bombings in Afghanistan.

But today we call on you, in the spirit of St. Valentine, to return to a distraught family a husband and father who has done no wrong, who was caught up in the hysteria, and to inform of us of any other Canadians who may be in a similar situation.

We also call on you to do this in the spirit which illustrates what is best about the U.S. people, as exemplified by the likes of great Americans such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Daniel and Phillip Berrigan, Barbara Deming, and so many millions of others: the capacity to build bridges of reconciliation and peace. That spirit was most recently witnessed by the Americans who, while having lost loved ones on Sept. 11, have had the courage to journey to Afghanistan and meet with their counterparts - families who have lost loved ones by acts of U.S. terror bombing - in the hopes of finding some sort of healing path to peace that is not marred by the bloody sword of vengeance.

We also do this in the spirit of this walk, that we should love our neighbours, not imprison or bomb them.

We eagerly await your reply and, more importantly, your action to ensure the return of Mr. Baloch to Canada, and to inform us of whether other Canadians are being held, for what reason, and how we might have them returned to this country as well.

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