April 11, 2006The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada,
Office of the Prime Minister,
80 Wellington Street,
Re: The deportation from Canada of Palestinian peace activist Issam Al Yamani
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
It has come to our knowledge that your government is taking steps to deport Palestinian peace activist Issam Al Yamani because of his past political affiliations and beliefs.
Before I expand on our concerns, please allow me to introduce ourselves. I am writing on behalf of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a Toronto based grassroots organisation committed to fighting the twin problems of religious fundamentalism on one hand, and imperialism on the other.
As Muslim Canadians we believe in the principles of secular parliamentary democracy and universal human rights, as foundations of civic society and the modern nation state. We advocate these principles not just in Canada, but across the developing world, including Muslim countries, many of which are either under foreign occupation or suffering under the rule of monarchs, military dictators or self anointed religious theocrats.
As an organisation, we are committed to speaking and standing up for the marginalized and less fortunate. This includes Canada’s working poor, our racial and religious minorities, our First Nations, and the many thousands of voiceless refugees who have sought sanctuary in our country. We consider refugee rights as human rights that should be protected. Canada has an obligation to protect refugees and the rights of asylum seekers.
It is in this context that we urge you to understand our consternation at hearing news that your government has taken steps to deport prominent Toronto area Palestinian peace activist Issam Al Yamani who has been living in Canada since 1985.
The MCC is a strong supporter of the Palestinian Right of self determination and believes that Palestinians who were uprooted during the wars of 1948, 1967, 1973 and the subsequent trauma of continued Israeli occupation of their lands, cannot, and should not be further punished by countries that have contributed to their misery and deprivation, by either wilful complicity or sheer neglect.
The deportation order of Issam Al-Yamani is the most recent example of attempts to silence and deport Palestinian refugees in Canada. Issam has lived peacefully in Canada for over 20 years. All those who know him attest to his tireless efforts on behalf of the Palestinian and Arab community in Mississauga and Toronto. Issam graduated from York University and he has two Canadian born children currently attending high school and university.
Issam was issued an immigrant visa by Canadian officials in Amman, Jordan on March 21, 1984. He was subsequently granted permanent resident status on arrival in Canada on April 27, 1985.
On May 17, 1988, Issam Al Yamani applied for Canadian citizenship. Since that time, Canadian authorities have been attempting to deport Issam due to his previous political affiliations with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Issam’s father was one of the founding members of the PFLP. He grew up in a community committed to the self determination for Palestinians. Because of his father, Issam came to know many persons in the Palestinian leadership.
Issam had previously been a member of the political wing of the PFLP but severed all ties in 1991.
He has never engaged in or been in any way involved with acts of violence, yet he is being punished for no crime committed other than membership of a political party that today has seats in the Palestinian legislature.
Your governments decision to deport Issam Al Yamani on the pretext that he supports the Palestinian political party, the PFLP, is deplorable as it perpetuates the victimization of a disenfranchised and unjustly vilified community.
On the one hand you have sent troops to Afghanistan, ostensibly to introduce and defend democracy, while in you own backyard, you are punishing a resident for holding political views that you disagree with. This hypocrisy does not bode well for the image of Canada as a peace keeping, democracy prompting nation following in the footsteps of Lester B Pearson.
Mr. Prime Minister, the PFLP is legitimate political party in Palestine and if support for it is the basis of denial of resident status, then I step forward and ask that you to use the machinery of your state against not just Issam Al Yamani, but many others, including the undersigned, who have supported the Palestinian people’s right to self determination and their right to choose and elect their own leaders.
For the record, in 1969, as a teenager in my native Pakistan, I joined others in forming the Pakistan Committee of the PFLP. If support for the PFLP is the basis of deportation orders against Issam Al Yamani, then why not me? Will your government strip me of my Canadian citizenship because of my support as a teenager for the PFLP? If this is the case, I challenge you to proceed against me and let the world see the naked hypocrisy of your government and its true agenda as junior partners of George Bush and Ariel Sharon.
Increasingly, your government is being seen as hostile to Arab Canadians and fuelled by a pathological contempt for its Muslim citizens. This may not be the case, but it is exactly how most Muslim Canadians perceive your government to be. Your Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Mr. Stockwell Day has contributed immensely to the fear that we are being forced to live in.
However, in the words of Father Robert Assaly, you have before you a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that you are not captive to irrational anti-Arab biases. I urge you to pay heed to Father Assaly when he wrote to you, “While you may not be favourably disposed to non-violent resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation…you are morally compelled to rise above your own politics and prejudices for the good of this country.”
Canada will be ill served by the prejudice evidenced in deporting a Palestinian peace activist whose only crime is his support for a political party that is fighting the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. If not for the sake of ethics and morality, for the sake of Canada’s reputation, I urge you to intervene and stop the deportation of Issam Al Yamani.
Otherwise, critics of Canada’s presence in Afghanistan will be proven right when they say, spreading democracy and establishing the right to freedom of political choice, is the last thing on the minds of our Generals in Kandahar.
Muslim Canadian Congress