Monday, December 15, 2003

ANOTHER CANADIAN DETAINED BY CAPRICIOUS U.S. JUSTICE SYSTEM

On Wednesday 3 December Randolph Andre Azan, a Canadian citizen was arrested by American Customs and Immigration officials and he has been held in a Puerto Rico detention facility since that date.

I have learned of this story as Azan is the good friend of my mother's partner. This story is not yet being reported by Canadian media but hopefully it soon will be.

Azan is a Canadian citizen, but he holds U.S residency status. He has lived in the U.S for many years where he has has been employed with a major American company and has no prior Canadian or American criminal record. On December 3 he was returning to New York from a vacation in St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands. Under repeated and badgering questioning from U.S customs officials Azan mistankenly aswered 'American' to the question of what his citizenship was. He quickly corected his mistake clarifying that he was a U.S resident (he had the appropriate documentation) but a Canadian citizen. When he could not produce his Canadian passport (he was always within U.S territory he didnt' think he would need it) he was charged with falsely claiming to be an American citizen.

From St. Thomas he was flown to a detention centre in Puerto Rico. Since December 3 Azan has not had access to legal council or consular officials. Friends of Azan have contacted Canadian officials and members of the ACLU. However, Azan remains in prison with no court appearance to date. Further, he has not been told anything about the legal process he faces. Even more troubling is that he is being held with two other foriegn citizens, one from an African nation and one from the Dominican Republic. Both of these men have been in prison for months without a trial.

This story, following that of Maher Arar and comments by American ambassador Celluci indicates that the United States no longer respects basic principles of justice for detained Canadians or other foriegners. Azan's situation clearly arose out of a simple misunderstanding which could have been cleared up immediately at U.S customs. Instead he has been charged with a crime, yet he has not been given a court appearance or the proper legal council.

Post 9/11 America obviously has no qualms about bending or breaking basic legal principles. Illegal deportations, lengthy detainments without access to council and consular officials are becoming the norm. If this is the way the United States is going to act a serious re-evaluation of the way we relate to the United States is required. Canadian citizens, particulary those of colour and with foriegn names, need to be made aware that travel from and through the United States is becoming increasingly hazardours to their personal liberty.

In light of situations such as these that are becoming all too regular Prime Miniser Martin and Publis Safety minister McLellan need to evaluate how Canada is going to handle border relations with the United States.

I'll try and keep you posted on how Azan's situation develops.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:36 PM