Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July/August 1999, pages 52, 137
Canadian Charity Claims Religious Discrimination
By Faisal Kutty
Human Concern International (HCI), a federally registered Muslim-run charity, charges it is being discriminated against by Canadian government officials. The Ottawa-based international relief and development organization has filed an application for judicial review of a decision by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to refuse funding the organization’s activities.
CIDA has not provided any explanation as to why funding has been cut or why it has smeared HCI’s name by requesting that other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) not work with HCI. Its officials are especially concerned about the organization’s reputation and the future for other Muslim groups. Indeed, the issue is far larger than HCI. Such selective “blacklisting” will continue so long as arbitrary decisions go unchallenged.
The troubles appear to have started back in WRMEA, December 1995, when HCI’s Canadian citizen regional director in Pakistan, Ahmed Said Khadr, was arrested by police who were investigating the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad. The relief group retained a promiment Ottawa lawyer, Marc Duguay, a former employee of the Justice Department, to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan to conduct a thorough independent inquiry of the incident.
A chronology of subsequent events helps clarify what followed:
- Jan. 13-14, 1996. During the Canadian prime minister’s visit to Pakistan he personally inquired regarding Khadr’s circumstances.
- March 1996. Khadr was released by a Pakistani court without any charges.
- Khadr left HCI and is presently working with another NGO in Afghanistan.
- July 22, 1996—Duguay’s report. Duguay concluded that HCI was not involved or in any way connected with the bombing. Moreover, he also concluded that there was no evidence linking Khadr to the terrorist act. Duguay also reported that a senior Egyptian government official told him that the detention of Khadr was a grave mistake. CIDA suspended HCI funding pending the outcome of Khadr’s situation.
- Nov. 26, 1996. HCI was audited by Revenue Canada for the second time in a five-year period. Revenue Canada found no discrepancies or concerns.
- A prospective board member met with CIDA Vice President Janet Zukowsky to inquire whether he should have any concern about joining the board. He was assured that the group was an ethical, honest and responsible organization.
- April 1997. The minister for international cooperation informed HCI that CIDA funding for previously approved projects would be released, but added that CIDA “did not intend to proceed” with two further HCI projects which had been recommended for support by CIDA’s own staff.
- June 1997. CIDA provided HCI with copies of newspaper articles from 1995 linking a European-based organization using the initials “HCI” or “HIC” with terrorist activities.
- A series of Briefing Notes between CIDA and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade erroneously identified HCI as having offices in Australia, England, the Gulf States, Sweden and even the U.S. In fact, HCI has offices only in Canada, Lebanon, Pakistan and Guyana.
- July 18, 1997. HCI’s executive director wrote to the minister for international cooperation confirming that HCI was not the organization referred to in these articles, that it had no offices in Europe and that it was not involved in any terrorist activities.
- Oct. 8, 1997. The minister replied that the “suspension of CIDA funding to HCI is still justified.”
- Nov. 14, 1997. A CIDA vice president wrote to inform the South Asia Partnership (SAP), a non-governmental organization which has worked extensively with HCI, that HCI’s funding was suspended and that HCI knew the reason why. No reasons were ever provided to HCI.
- Nov, 27, 1997. SAP’s executive director, Richard Harmston, responded to CIDA that his group was “mystified about the reason,” and inquired, “What is the problem? What is the process to solve the problem?” CIDA merely confirmed that it had not changed its position on funding HCI.
- Nov. 12, 1998. The chairman of HCI, Mumtaz Akhtar, wrote to CIDA requesting that HCI’s status as an eligible funding agency be restored.
- Nov. 16, 1998. A formal proposal to fund a project in Lebanon was submitted to CIDA.
- Feb. 8, 1999. CIDA responded that it was “not in a position to consider” the request for funding from HCI.
- April 8, 1999. HCI filed for judicial review of CIDA’s decision.
No reasons Provided to Date
Since 1980 Human Concern International has worked tirelessly with the innocent victims of war and natural disasters in Afghanistan, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Guyana, Bosnia, Somalia, Bangladesh, Palestine, Kosovo, etc. More than 20,000 Canadians donate approximately $1.8 million yearly to its projects.
In fact, the group had received high marks for its past work even from CIDA. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, internal CIDA documents stated that “onsite inspections of HCI’s projects in the Middle East had shown that they were well managed.”
By taking the matter before the courts, HCI is asking that government officials make public their reasons for concluding that HCI is not entitled to funding. HCI’s lawyer points out that it is a rule of fundamental justice that decision-making bodies act impartially and fairly on available evidence and not on bias and speculation.
In fact, four members of parliament have taken up the issue. Dan McTeague says it raises concerns about whether the group is being discriminated against for religious reasons. “It is one thing to be blacklisted. It is another thing to be blacklisted without any explanation whatsoever,” says the Liberal MP. “This isn’t the way we do things in Canada.”
HCI says it can continue operating without CIDA funding, but the decision to challenge CIDA’s position was made for the long-term interest of the group and the community.
Canada’s Muslims Call on Government to Revoke Serbian Minister’s Citizenship
Canadian Muslim groups are calling on Ottawa to pursue the appeal of a court ruling granting citizenship to a Serbian minister without portfolio, Bogoljub Karic, who allegedly was implicated in Serb “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia.
Karic, along with his three brothers and their families, were granted landed immigrant status in 1993. Under Canadian immigration rules, an immigrant can apply for citizenship after three years of continuous residence.
Karic had applied for and was granted citizenship verbally by a citizenship judge in 1997. But according to a report in Maclean’s, before Justice Walter Borosa could write his decision, he came across an article about Karic in the same publication and denied the application.
Karic’s lawyers immediately filed a successful appeal to the Federal Court claiming that the judge’s earlier decision should stand. The government is now appealing the Federal court ruling.
From press coverage and statements by lawyers involved with the case, it appears that the initial trial judge was not aware of Karic’s background.
Anwar Syed, executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA), told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, that his group was surprised at how easy it was for Karic to slip through, especially given that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had a file on him. According to Maclean’s, the CSIS file claims that the 45-year-old tycoon “armed, trained and transported” mercenaries to help Serbs in Bosnia, even before the Kosovo crisis.
In fact, it appears that Karic may have had a greater role in some of the crimes perpetrated by his government. According to an American intelligence officer cited in the Houston Chronicle, Karic and the Russian ambassador to Yugoslavia laundered funds though various Russian banks as well as the family’s own bank, Karic Bank. “Karic is a key member of Serbia Inc.,” the U.S. official is quoted as saying. “We will get them.”
Critics of Karic are now claiming that close ties have always existed between Karic and the Milosevic administration. They claim that the family led by Bogoljub is an important pillar in the gang of politicians and businessmen running Serbia. Some even allege that Milosevic helped the brothers set up their bank to help fund the “cleansing” efforts in Croatia and Bosnia.
The CMCLA, in a statement endorsed by the Al-Shura Assembly, the Albanian-Muslim Society of Toronto, the Islamic Center of Toronto, the Islamic Circle of North America, the Islamic Institute of Toronto, the Islamic Society of Toronto, and the Toronto and Region Islamic Congregation, called on the government to “apply its utmost to ensure that Mr. Karic not retain citizenship in Canada.”
“It has been clearly acknowledged that the government led by Slobodan Milosevic is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo,” reads the statement. “If Mr. Karic is part of Mr. Milosevic’s government, then he, too, is guilty of such war crimes and has rendered himself ineligible for Canadian citizenship.”
Karic and supporters deny the accusations leveled against him. He has maintained that he is simply a businessman trying to bring peace to his homeland. He has reportedly taken part in peace negotiations with the Russians.
The recent indictment of Milosevic by the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal may or may not resolve the issue. Under section 19 of the Immigration Act, citizenship cannot be granted to persons who “are or were senior members of or senior officials in the service of a government that is or was...engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human-rights violations or war crimes.”
Since the Federal Court has accepted that the earlier granting of citizenship must stand, revoking it will most likely involve further legal complications even though section 19 is quite explicit.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and international affairs columnist for iViews.com. He is a member of HCI’s board of directors.