Jewish lesbian couple support alleged Islamic terrorist
A Jewish lesbian couple in Ottawa have been quietly offering support to a suspectedIslamic terrorist even though they hadn't even met the man when they first got involved in a fight against Canada's security certificates.
"We had never met him at [that] point. We didn't know anything about him. But we knew that the situation wasn't right," Jean Hanson told CBC News.
Hassan Almrei's "situation" is that he's been held in jail for more than five years on a federal security certificate without being charged with anything, and without knowing what evidence the government has when it claims he was part of a forgery ring linked to al-Qaeda.
Almrei, 33, was born in Syria, and came to Canada as a refugee in January 1999 with a false United Arab Emirates passport.
He was arrested a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York.
Hanson and Diana Ralph first heard about Canada's security certificate process in 2003.
"It allows them to pick up, hold indefinitely without charges people who are not Canadian citizens," Hanson said.
"I'm sorry, I just get boggled by this all the time."
Security certificates have been available under Canadian immigration law since 1978, but debate about them only began in earnest after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Offered to put up $10,000
Concerned that the certificates infringed on civil rights and blocked access to fair trial, Hanson and Ralph showed up at a Toronto courtroom to post bail for Almrei.
They offered $10,000 toward bail, and a home for Almrei if he was released.
Almrei remained in detention, but a long-lasting relationship had been established with the women.
Almrei called the women collect almost daily, even after they moved from Toronto to Ottawa.
"I imagine, for outsiders, it looks kind of weird to be having a couple of Jewish lesbians supporting someone who is supposedly a crazy fundamentalist Islamic terrorist," said Ralph.
At first, she said, Almrei tried to convert them to Islam, and urged them to end their lesbian relationship, which is forbidden under Islamic law. But eventually he accepted them for who they are, she said.
"We very quickly became very good friends. We've kind of informally adopted him, because he has no other family in Ottawa."
"When he calls, he says to Jean, 'Hello mother,' and he says that to me, too."
The relationship grew— letters, birthday cards, visits to him in detention, and packages of clothes.
Planning for release
Hanson and Ralph are still planning for Almrei's release. They've set up a mini-apartment for him in their home.
"We put the carpet in, nice, thick carpet, 'cause he prays five times a day, and we don't want him to get cold, or his knees to hurt like they were hurting in jail," Hanson said.
"What do I say to people who think I'm crazy for doing this? Well, actually, what's interesting is that almost everybody that I've talked to is surprised that there is such a thing as security certificates," Ralph said.
"They'd never heard of such a thing. They keep saying, 'This is in Canada. This can't be happening in Canada,' and they support us."
Ralph said fighting injustice is in her blood. Her father was a lawyer at the war-crimes trials in Nuremberg after the Second World War.
"He really drummed into us the obligation to stand up for justice."
What's more, she said Jews know first-hand what it's like to be oppressed.
"There were thousands and thousands of Gentiles who came to the aid of Jews, and provided homes for their children and for them, at great personal risk, during the Holocaust and at other times.
"I think we have an obligation to return the favour when another people is being targeted that way."
Almrei is now being held in a Kingston detention centre. He's been on a hunger strike for 127 days to protest against living conditions there.