CSIS angered by imam's campaign
Agency denies claims of harassment
Makes rare effort to reach out to public
Canada's spy service is waging a rare public battle against an outspoken Scarborough imam who claims agents who are supposed to fight terrorism are instead terrorizing Canadian Muslims.
A flyer entitled "Community Safety" and circulated to Toronto mosques by Imam Aly Hindy alleges Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents forced their way into the house of a Muslim woman and abused and humiliated her while inquiring about her husband's activities.
"These are becoming common occurrences in our community, and we believe CSIS should stop terrorizing us," the flyer states, providing names and numbers for four Toronto lawyers.
"If CSIS agents call you or come to your door, please remember that you are under NO legal obligation to talk with them. If they are at your door and refuse to leave, call 911 and call one of the following lawyers."
A CSIS spokesperson called Toronto media outlets yesterday to deny the allegations, which Hindy has repeated through interviews with reporters this week.
"The allegations were so serious ... we had to step up to the plate at this point. We take allegations against CSIS very seriously. This is no different, but this one was taken into the public domain," CSIS public liaison officer Kathryn Locke said yesterday.
Locke said this was likely the first time in the spy agency's 20-year history that it offered unprompted comments on public allegations. Normally unable to comment on ongoing investigations, the federal agency has adopted a new mandate to better educate the public about its operations, Locke said.
Hindy first raised the allegations of harassment during a private May meeting between Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan and Muslim leaders. Locke said those comments launched an internal investigation which dismissed Hindy's claims. CSIS then turned to Toronto police to launch an investigation, which is still ongoing.
"We were so disappointed in his charges in the media because they were unsubstantiated," Locke said yesterday. "CSIS really has clear policies at how we conduct interviews. Our investigators must always adhere to these policies ... there are serious repercussions if you don't adhere."
Hindy, who is the imam and president of Scarborough's Salaheddin Islamic Centre, said the woman who approached him with the allegations—that CSIS agents pushed her and purposely came to her home when her husband was at the mosque for Friday prayers— is too frightened to go public and would not likely cooperate with the police investigation.
The allegations come at a critical time, in light of the London bombings and warnings that Canada may become the next site of a terrorist attack.
CSIS needs to maintain a good relationship with Muslim leaders and informants within the community. Some Muslims are also worried about a backlash.
Last week, Canadian imams from across the country signed a declaration condemning the London attacks, vowing to fight terrorism and offering support to the spy agency and the RCMP. But there was a mixed reaction to the statement; most vociferously opposed was Hindy.
Hindy has widely circulated his view that rather than make political statements against terrorism, Muslim leaders should openly discuss the oppression of Muslims in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq and thereby make themselves approachable to youths who might be persuaded to become violent. He cites a recent example of how six youths came to him with visions of fighting abroad, saying he convinced them to protest peacefully from home.
While he says he still believes cooperating with CSIS is important, he is unapologetic about the flyer and says Muslims should not be intimidated.
"I thought this was the best way to inform the community of their rights," Hindy said yesterday.
This is not the first time Hindy, a graduate of the University of Western Ontario with a PhD in engineering and a retired former employee of Ontario Hydro, has openly criticized CSIS.
It's also widely known that the agency has closely monitored his Islamic centre since Ahmed Said Khadr began attending the mosque in the 1990s. Khadr, an Egyptian-born Canadian citizen who was killed in battle with Pakistani forces in October 2003, was believed to be the country's highest-ranking Al Qaeda financier.
Hindy has also not shied away from the media, either in Canada or as a Canadian voice abroad, telling CNN last year that Canadian Muslims have had their freedoms restricted.