August 14th 2003:
After having their apartment doors kicked in and belongings trashed, nineteen men were arrested in pre-dawn raids in the Greater Toronto Area on suspicion that they might be a threat to National Security.
They were asked, “Are you Pakistani? Are you Muslim?”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) carried out these and several other raids with the help of The Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). They were convinced that they had uncovered an Al Qaeda “sleeper cell”. The RCMP labelled the raids “Project Thread” because the men were seen to be connected by a common thread:
All were Muslim
All but one were from Pakistan
All were at one time enrolled in the Ottawa Business College in Toronto (a business quickly discovered to be fraudulent and taking victims’ money without providing classes)
All allegations of terrorism against the detainees were dropped within two weeks of the arrests, yet the detainees spent two to five months in a maximum security prison outside Toronto.
Under the so-called Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (Bill C-36), the Canadian Federal Government has allowed the RCMP to detain indefinitely (and without laying charges) any landed immigrant or foreign national who is a suspected threat to national security. Not one of the Project Thread victims was ever charged with a crime.
Project Threadbare was a coalition of activists, Union members, students and concerned citizens of the city of Toronto that came together in August, 2003. The coalition was initially formed to demand amendments to racist laws in Canada and to prevent detentions of innocent people on the pretext of “National Security”. Within a few weeks the coalition found its role changing drastically as the plight of the Project thread detainees became clear. Project Threadbare found its role changing from week to week, from organizing public support, to calling for email campaigns and rallies, to finding legal representation and avenues for bail for each detainee.
Canadian authorities imprisoned the Project Thread detainees without presenting any evidence and without laying any charges of wrongdoing. The men were harassed, threatened, interrogated and investigated in Canada and in Pakistan upon deportation. Having first had their names and photos splashed around the world with unsubstantiated allegations 'linking' them to terrorism, some felt they had no choice but to seek protection in Canada as refugees.
The men spent two to five and half months in a maximum security prison (at least one man in segregation), taunted by guards and inmates, ill-informed about the reasons for their imprisonment, and shackled by extremely limited access to critical legal and moral support.
Immigration Canada officials misled some jailed detainees about their rights to a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), to which all people are entitled before deportation takes place, and which is a mechanism to assess whether or not a person faces personal risk upon return to their country of origin. Many detainees were pressured into signing paperwork - the consequences of which were not properly explained - without their legal counsel present, and given assurances that their signatures would mean imminent 'release'. Immigration Canada arranged speedy deportations as part of their contribution to a growing trend worldwide - people, predominantly of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, being rounded up on threadbare evidence, jailed, and often deported to the very place they had once attempted to escape extreme poverty, civil unrest, and fear for their lives.
The Project Threadbare coalition attempted to mount an offence, fighting racist Immigration Canada policies and RCMP tactics.
A documentary film about these events has been in production for the past few years by Arshad Khan.
More info on the film's official website: