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University of Windsor

Law students back cause of man wrongfully accused of terrorist links

A group of second-and third-year students in the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law have taken up the cause of securing an apology and compensation from the Canadian government for its treatment of rendition victim Benamar Benatta.

Benatta was turned over to United States authorities the day following the September 11, 2001 attacks, after applying for refugee status in Canada on September 5. Once in the U.S., he was held in high-security detention centres and kept in solitary confinement. He did not receive access to a lawyer until late April 2002, and a United Nations working group later described the treatment of Benatta during his time in the U.S. as torture.

Though it was determined in November 2001 that Benatta had no ties to terrorism, he remained in U.S. detention on trumped up immigration charges. Charges were dropped in 2003 following a ruling by a U.S. federal magistrate who criticized federal prosecutors, the FBI and immigration agents for using a “sham” to justify detaining Benatta.

In July 2006, American officials returned Benatta to Canadian immigration officials where he was allowed temporary residence while seeking refugee status. Though he has been recognized as a refugee, he has not received an explanation or apology for his treatment by Canadian officials.

The Benamar Benatta Working Group was founded in February 2009 by a group of concerned Faculty of Law students in order to help secure justice for Benatta and to ensure the accountability of national security agencies. The Working Group functions under the auspices of Probono Students Canada, a national student organization, which encourages volunteerism among law students.

Members of the group research key areas of law as they relate to Benatta’s case and will compare his case with other wrongful conviction cases to learn about compensation principles and remedies afforded to those wrongfully convicted.

“I joined the Benamar Benatta Working Group not only to gain experience in the area of law in which I hope to practice, but also to help hold the Canadian government accountable for the decisions it makes that deeply impact people’s lives” said second-year law student Daisy McCabe-Lokos. “I hope our efforts contribute to upholding the rule of law and individual rights here at home, so that we as Canadians can provide a good example abroad.”

The group sent a letter to federal Justice Minister Robert Nicholson, to mark the three-year anniversary of Benatta’s return to Canada and ongoing search for justice. In it, they ask the minister to launch an independent inquiry into the incident, issue an official apology to be read in the House of Commons, and compensate Benatta for his experiences.

“The Maher Arar Inquiry and the security certificate cases have shown the Canadian public that rash decision-making, racial profiling, and lack of accountability on the part of our national security agencies undermine our collective security,” said Law Professor and Working Group Academic Director Reem Bahdi. “Taking responsibility for the wrong committed against Mr. Benatta would not only bring justice in his individual case, but would go a long way to promoting better decision-making in the national security context.”