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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Secret case keeps Gary Freeman from coming home - accused of membership in the BPP

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Supporters are urged to attend the court hearing reviewing the decision to deny Mr. Freeman reunification with his family. It takes place on Thursday, October 17 at 9:30 am at the Federal Court in Toronto, 180 Queen Street West (just west of University Avenue).

Secret case keeps Freeman from coming home

By Matthew Behrens
September 24, 2013
Anytime a government wants to hide its errors and illegality, it pulls down the shades of national security confidentiality and refuses to disclose any information. Time and again, the Canadian government's own cries for secrecy have been found to be without substance. Federal court decisions, judicial inquiries into complicity in torture, and various freedom of access to information requests have revealed the extent to which secrecy becomes the convenient way out from having to explain and be held accountable for lousy policy, inhumane actions and sheer incompetence.
Yet the secrecy train rolls on, whether through security certificates (a challenge to which will be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada on October 10) or in regular immigration proceedings. In the long-running case of Gary Freeman, the federal government has now invoked national security secrecy on what appears to be a foundation so slim that the slightest breeze will blow it away. Based on unsubstantiated newspaper articles and a secret file neither he nor his lawyer is allowed to see, the Canadian government alleges Freeman should not be allowed to live with his Mississauga family based on "reasonable grounds to believe" that it's possible that he may have been, could be, or will be a member of an organization that may have in the past, could at present, or may in future engage in terrorism.
The organization in question, which Freeman has repeatedly denied belonging to, is the now defunct U.S. Black Panther Party (BPP), a self-defence organization that worked towards empowerment of the African-American community and which was subject to vicious and violent attacks by U.S. government forces under the COINTELPRO program of disruption, deception and, in many cases, assassination. The Black Panther Party is not listed anywhere in the world as a terrorist entity, either by the U.S., Canada or the United Nations, and former high-profile members and associates of the group continue to travel freely to Canada for speaking engagements. Former members of the BPP can be found in the U.S. Congress and in tenured university positions.
Nonetheless, Canada is now using this allegation to prevent Freeman from reuniting with his family. Freeman is a 64-year-old married father of four, a mild-mannered library worker, poet and photographer who narrowly avoided becoming a statistic in the deadly summer of 1969, when so many young African-American men were being gunned down by police that Chicago residents formed a Committee to End the Murder of Black People.
Life changed forever
One March 1969 morning changed Freeman's life forever, a classic example of police racial profiling as standard operating procedure, and the targeted harassment of black men that continues to warp communities across North America. Freeman, then 19, was stopped by a white 21-year-old officer who, angered that Freeman refused to be frisked because he had been stopped without probable cause, proceeded to grab Freeman, throw him onto the police car, and scream, "I'm gonna blow your head off, nigger."
As Freeman recalled in an interview last year with the U.S.-based Truthout, "I was waiting to be killed. I turned my head around and closed my eyes. And then I heard a voice. We were in front of a school. Some of the black kids were hanging out at the window asking, 'Hey brother, what's wrong, what's happening?' That paused him [Officer Knox] for just a second. Things were very fast, but in slow motion. So, I drew my own, I swung around and he started firing and I started firing and I happened to be more accurate. My purpose was to disarm him."
The officer in question was wounded in the arm, and Freeman was arrested. Fearing he would not receive a fair trial and that his life was in danger -- especially following a number of threats and an incident where someone shot at him while he was out on bail -- he eventually came to Canada, where he began a new life and for 30 years lived a normal, peaceable life as a well-loved community member.
According to The Boston Review, "In the late 1960s, Chicago police led the nation in the slaying of private citizens, who were euphemistically characterized as "fleeing felons" to mask the routine use of excessive force by police against racial minorities. The police also exploited seemingly benign offence categories, such as disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and loitering to bully minority youths and adults who had the audacity to challenge police authority." The revelations of police torture over the past four decades in Chicago, among other U.S. cities, certainly provide additional context for why Freeman would head north. Indeed, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a public apology two weeks ago for what he called a "dark chapter" in his city's history that saw hundreds of African-American detainees subjected to torture to elicit false confessions.
Court documents proved that Mr. Freeman's presence and location in Canada was known to authorities since 1974, yet U.S. authorities waited 30 years to seek his return. The officer who was wounded in 1969 had remained obsessed with Freeman (born Joseph Pannell), and in 2004, as a result of the officer's relentless lobbying of the Chicago cold case squad, Mr. Freeman was arrested in an armed takedown outside of his downtown Toronto workplace. After three years and seven months of pre-extradition custody in Canada, Freeman voluntarily returned to Chicago in February 2008, where he accepted a prosecution proffered plea bargain agreement of a guilty plea to a single count of aggravated battery for a sentence of 30 days in the Cook County Jail, two years of probation, and a major contribution to a Chicago police charity. It was a plea that was satisfactory to the officer, who told The National Post, "If he [Freeman] were to have served 15 years in prison he'd be 75 when he got out: he wouldn't survive that. I couldn't tolerate that. I'm not out for blood."
An inhumane approach
While the officer obsessed with Freeman said he was not out for blood, the Canadian government's approach has been quite different. Freeman was released from custody in March 2008 and began the process of applying to return to Canada while on probation, during which his family was struck by the death of his father-in-law in Montreal on Oct. 31, 2009. Freeman sought and received permission from U.S. authorities to attend the funeral but the Canadian government refused him entry for reasons of "serious criminality." At this time, Freeman was also told he was inadmissible on national security grounds as well.
Interestingly, immigration documents indicate that Canadian government officials knew that the allegations about BPP membership were flimsy. As Mr. Freeman's legal submissions indicate, Canadian consular officials on November 4, 2009 not only recognized strong humanitarian and compassionate grounds for allowing Mr. Freeman to be with his family in Canada, they also acknowledged there was insufficient evidence to make the link with the BPP. Yet an about-face occurred the following day when, without explaining why, Mr. Freeman was deemed inadmissible to Canada based on an unexplained belief that he was connected to the BPP.
Court documents verify Freeman's assertion that he was not a BPP member, and former Conservative Minister of Justice Vic Toews wrote in 2006 that the U.S. would have to prove the BPP allegation, conceding that the government of Canada had no proof. The issue was not brought up during the Chicago hearing that sentenced Freeman to 30 days in Cook County Jail, and former Party members, including an historian of the party, have repeatedly maintained over the past decade that Freeman was never a member. (Freeman, like many others, disputes the Canadian government position that the BPP was a terrorist organization. He has said he was sympathetic to the party's social programs, such as free breakfast and education for ghetto youth, but so were millions of Americans who were not members either. Canadians such as actor and activist Shirley Douglas, who founded Friends of the Black Panthers, and American actor Jane Fonda, a vocal supporter of the Black Panthers who frequently visits Canada, do not appear to face the same conundrum as Mr. Freeman.)
Before Superior Court of Ontario Justice Ian Nordheimer in 2004, Canadian government prosecutors essentially conceded that Freeman was NOT a threat to society. Freeman holds a U.S. passport and his name does not appear on the no-fly list, this in a country that has no qualms about labelling someone a terrorist or national security threat.
Predetermined decision to keep Freeman out
It has been five years since Mr. Freeman began his efforts to return home to his family in Mississauga, and it appears that at every step of the way, a predetermined decision to keep him out of Canada by any means necessary has been the government's response. He has faced everything from extensive delays to cruel decisions that have refused even short-term permits to attend his father-in-law's funeral or to celebrate the birth of his Canadian grandchildren. Elsewhere in his case file, immigration authorities acknowledge that his "sole grounds for inadmissibility are his conviction" but that "there are considerable humanitarian and compassionate considerations in this case." If the conviction were the only ground keeping him out of Canada, Freeman would still be allowed to take his case to the Immigration Appeal Division. However, that avenue suddenly becomes barred to him because of the national security finding.
Freeman's case received national attention in the House of Commons when convicted criminal Conrad Black was allowed to return to Canada, a decision made while the former press baron was still behind bars. While Freeman did not begrudge Black's return to his family, he did wonder if there were perhaps a double standard at play. At that time, Freeman was publicly slandered by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who falsely called him a "cop killer."
A week after the Supreme Court of Canada hears the challenge to secret trials, Mr. Freeman's lawyer, Barb Jackman, will be in Federal Court in Ottawa arguing that the government of Canada has acted in bad faith and made a "perverse and unreasonable decision" in denying Mr. Freeman a temporary resident permit that would allow him to live with his family in Mississauga while awaiting the outcome of his wife's sponsorship of him. Part of the case being reviewed by the Court will be heard in secret, absent Mr. Freeman, his lawyer, the press and the public.
Jackman notes in her written argument that Mr. Freeman has not been treated fairly, as Canadian officials "had made up their minds that Mr. Freeman was a terrorist, and that he should not be permitted to return to Canada. Rather than just use the admitted ground of inadmissibility [i.e., Mr. Freeman's conviction] they searched for evidence to ensure that he was refused admission on a far more serious ground and when they realized they did not have evidence to that effect, they refused his landing application on the security ground anyways. This is bad faith. Officials failed to keep an open mind and acted perversely and arbitrarily against Mr. Freeman."
When Freeman's case comes before the Federal Court on October 17, it is hoped that the judge will similarly find the Canadian government's position is sloppy, biased and prejudicial against Mr. Freeman, and take the necessary steps to reunite his long-suffering family.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

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