The long road from Guantanamo to Montreal

Published April 17, 2009

The bishop of the Anglican diocese of Montreal, Barry Clarke.

Even though one of Barack Obama’s first decisions as U.S. president was to close the American prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian detainee who has an offer from the Anglican diocese in Montreal to sponsor him as come to Canada as a refugee, is still waiting to taste freedom.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said Canadian officials would have to have access to interview Mr. Ameziane first. The current hold-up, she said, seems to be that the Americans are waiting until they have reviewed all the prisoners’ cases. “No one has formally and officially said that it is waiting for the U.S. to do their internal review but … all signs seem to point to” that cause for the delay, Ms. Dench said. “Once they’ve done the reviews, then they’ll be starting to think about ‘how do we find solutions for all of the people in Guantanamo and how do we involve these different other countries that might play a role?'”

In the meanwhile, Ms. Dench said it is important for Canadians who support efforts to give refuge to people such as Mr. Ameziane to voice their opinions to their government representatives as well as in the broader society. Opponents have been “hostile,” she said. “Some of them were quite vocal, saying we should not be taking any of the ‘scum of Guantanamo’ into Canada. We received some hate mail, so we think it is important that people who are in favour of this be heard,” she said.

Bishop Barry Clarke of the Anglican diocese of Montreal, has been speaking out about why the diocese decided to sponsor Mr. Ameziane as a part of an ecumenical partnership with the Presbyterian Church in Montreal called Action Refugee Montreal. “There’s an injustice here,” he said, noting that one the Five Marks of Mission in the Anglican Communion is changing unjust structures in society.

Mr. Ameziane has been imprisoned in Guantanamo since 2002, but has never been charged with a crime. According to information from the Center for Constitutional rights in New York where lawyers have taken on his case, he is an ethnic Berber who fled Algeria 17 years ago. He came to Canada but was denied refugee status and then traveled to Afghanistan. “As a foreigner in a land soon torn apart by conflict, he was an easy target for corrupt local police who captured him while he was trying to cross the border into Pakistan. Mr. Ameziane was then sold to U.S. military forces for a bounty,” his lawyers say.

Mr. Ameziane fears his life would be in danger returning Algeria with the stigma of having been accused of terrorist-related activities and would like to come to Canada because he has family in Quebec, said Bishop Clarke.

“People say to me ‘Can you really guarantee that he wasn’t a terrorist?’ Well, there’s no guarantees in any thing, but on the other hand I keep telling people ‘We’ve done our homework. It’s not something that is just a nice thing to do,” said Bishop Clarke, commending Presbyterian pastor Glynis Williams for all her work on the matter. He added that the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International are also working hard to help Mr. Ameziane. “They’re not going to come and present something to me that they haven’t done their homework on.”

The diocese of Montreal has sponsored more than 1,000 refugees in the last 25 years “Many of them go unnamed because it is the ongoing work of the church,” said Bishop Clarke. In Mr. Ameziane’s case, he said, it is important to “keep pressuring the authorities here in Canada to say yes” to the sponsorship application if the U.S. does release him.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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