Log-book: February 2005
In Calais Christmas mass
Sebastian and Atif
This little fishing and ferry harbor is facing the coast of England. Foreigners from black Africa, from Iran, Iraq finally end their trip in Calais. Their dream is to go to England. By determination and patience certain of them managed to cross over the English Channel.
I was invited by the Association created to help them; I met their members, men and women that I admire for their daily solidarity.
On a waste ground swept by icy wind, I saw people without legal permit, often chased by police, gathering to collect their food. I came to them.
I saw this long line of young ones; they were calmly waiting their turn then went away and disappeared. I could not stand this.
People without legal permit got together after nightfall with some activists and sympathizers to demonstrate in the streets of the city. Arriving at the city centre, they were given a hot meal by the Association. A new line was formed in the cold under the poles of the city lights. Once served, every one went to find a place with their paper plate. I ate with them. It was quick but welcome.
Then we gathered for listening some speeches.
I cannot stand that politicians don't move to solve this situation and let the associations take care of it. By saying that people without a legal permit have nothing to do in Calais does not help at all. These foreigners were victims of poverty and violence in their own country; they will continue to come to our country, whatever the laws and our speeches.
Having the chance of having a bed, it took me some time to fall asleep, thinking of these young men who have nothing. They are left to hide somewhere in the forest.
It was night and not easy to find the place of the "committee for a lodging" located in a dead end street. As soon as we entered the room, it was a pleasure to see a well-decorated room, full of light. It was not big but intimate. Mourad spent his afternoon to prepare the feast.
The people without a legal permit were already there, most of them are Moslems. Some activists, some Christians or not finally managed to find the place. Maybe they did not find a star to guide them?
We were happy to welcome each other and to celebrate Christmas together.
After the Gospel announcing the birth of Jesus, people exchanged together.
The person in charge of the "committee for lodging" recalled us about Farid saying during yesterday demonstration for a legal permit for foreigners: "When I demonstrate, I feel like existing"
Several persons will repeat the word "exist": "Personally I feel existing when we celebrate Christmas"" At Christmas I feel to be recognized as I am in reality"" It is true at Christmas, we are recognized as existing, with or without a legal permit, having a religion or not"
Then I remembered what I said during the news at the television the same day:
"If God is coming to live with us, it is because we are important persons. If is taking our human condition, it is because we have worth for Him. Christmas it is the feast of human dignity, a unique dignity."
After the mass, the room was rapidly prepared for a meal of couscous served around the tables. It was the feast of a rediscovered fraternity. A beautiful Christmas!
Sebastian and Atif
I was in Montreal last December, where I visited Daniel Laprès, who has been a friend of mine since 1990. Daniel is committed to the cause of two young Canadians, Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns, who have been wrongfully convicted for the murders of Atif's parents and sister in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington in the United States.
The trial ended in conviction in May 2004, but the murders date from 1994. The reason for the long delay before the trial began is that the Canadian government, in utter disregard of its international and national responsibilities, insisted on extraditing the two young men to the United States without first demanding protection for them against the death penalty. It took many years for this cause to make its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court, taking into account international opinion, finally ordered the government to demand from the Americans that the accused, Sebastian and Atif, be exempted from the death penalty should they be convicted at trial. Once these guaranties were obtained, the extradition finally took place in 2001, and the two young men were tried in Seattle, Washington in 2003 - 2004.
But at the trial many serious errors were committed by the judge, particularly by his refusal to admit crucial evidence that would have compellingly demonstrated the innocence of the accused and also highlighted the incompetence and negligence of the investigation.
The judge did allow as evidence at the trial the "confessions" that the two young men had been compelled to make after being physically threatened by Canadian police. These "confessions" are the only evidence against the young men, and were the sole grounds for their arrest. Yet, the "confessions" were made only after the two young men had been threatened by officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had pretended to be members of a crime organization, and who made it clear that they were in the business of killing people. The undercover police plunged Sebastian and Atif into a scenario in which the two young men thought their lives and those of people near to them were at stake if they did not "confess" to the murders. The purpose of this police operation was to force the two young men to confess no matter what, even though the material and circumstance evidence exonerates them completely.
This affair has revealed that the Canadian federal police are using these tactics, which scorn human rights, on a routine basis. Many other cases of Canadians who have been wrongfully convicted have been recently brought to light. In Winnipeg, in a case of murder and rape dating from 1992, two young men, aged 17 years old, had been found guilty and condemned to a life sentence after having made "confessions" following a police operation of the same type as was used against Sebastian and Atif. Since then, new evidence has been found: In September 2004, DNA analysis proved that the two young men were not responsible for the crime. However, one of the two young men had since committed suicide. For him and his family, it is now too late to obtain justice.
It has been recently discovered that the Canadian federal police is not only conducting this kind of operation with complete impunity at home, but is also training policemen from foreign countries on how to apply these methods in their own countries. Police from Belgium and Australia have been trained by Canadian police and are now authorized and trained to set unavoidable traps for innocent people. It is possible that policemen from additional countries have been also received this training. This is why we have serious reason to worry for the respect of human rights as long as these operations remain legal in Canada and abroad.
Atif and Sebastian will go on to appeal their sentence. Those who support them will continue to do so in this fight, along with everybody who believes that justice should be based on truth, integrity and respect for human rights. A web site has been developed to present the appalling details of this case and of the use of these undercover methods in general: www.rafayburnsappeal.com
It is important to alert the international community of those who fight for the defense of human rights about these Canadian police methods, and to encourage them to exert pressure on the Canadian government to adopt necessary legislation that forbids the use of these methods in Canada and the exportation of these methods to other countries.