University of Windsor law students have joined in the call for an apology to Armenian refugee claimant Benamar Benatta, a rendition victim sent to the United States by Canadian officials following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Benatta was returned to Canadian authorities in July 2006. He had spent five years in various detention facilities and prisons in the U.S. despite being cleared of being a suspect of terrorism in November 2001.
“[We’re seeking] some acknowledgement to start, some answers and acknowledgement and an official apology, some accountability,” says second-year law student Daisy McCabe-Lokos.
“Our research shows it is really traceable to poor decisions made by the Canadian government and all we are asking is that be acknowledged. And at least a government body be held accountable for making that decision.”
McCabe-Lokos is part of the Benamar Benatta working group. The group was formed in February under the auspices of Pro Bono Students Canada, a national student organization, which encourages volunteerism among law students. The group is made up of University of Windsor law students and supervised by faculty.
Benatta sought refugee status Sept. 5, 2001 in Canada, six days before the planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York. A day after the attacks, Benatta was handed over to U.S. authorities and held in a high security detention centre. He did not have access to a lawyer for nearly eight months.
In July 2006, American officials returned Benatta to Canadian immigration officials and he was allowed temporary residence while seeking refugee status.
While he has been recognized as a refugee, he has not received an explanation or apology for his treatment from Canadian officials.
McCabe-Lokos became involved with the working group through her interest in world affairs and human rights. She says her undergraduate degree is in international relations and she looked for a way to study world issues in a Canadian context.
“I was thinking how can we work on these issues at home,” she says. “It just happened to be that the Canadian government gets involved in these sort of things and ends up making horrible decisions that affect people’s lives.
“So it was a good way to study it in the Canadian context because it just so happens that the Canadian government makes their human rights mistakes as well. Under normal circumstances I might look at it from an international context, but going through Canadian school you are sort of forced to evaluate these issues in a Canadian context.”
The group sent a letter to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, to mark the three-year anniversary of Benatta’s return to Canada and ongoing search for justice.
The letters asks the minister to launch an independent inquiry into the incident, issue an official apology to be read in the House of Commons, and compensate Benatta for his experiences.
“The Maher Arar Inquiry and the security certificate cases have shown the Canadian public that rash decision-making, racial profiling, and lack of accountability on the part of our national security agencies undermine our collective security,” says University of Windsor law professor and working group academic director Reem Bahdi.
“Taking responsibility for the wrong committed against Mr. Benatta would not only bring justice in his individual case, but would go a long way to promoting better decision-making in the national security context.”