News Agencies – April 8, 2012
A Montreal university student was detained at the U.S. border, held for several hours, interrogated, had his personal belongings searched and saw his computer confiscated for more than a week. What caught the authorities’ attention? His doctoral research on Islamic studies, he says. In a case that has attracted media attention in the U.S., Pascal Abidor has become embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle with the American government – and a poster child for civil-rights advocates defending the right to privacy and due process. Mr. Abidor, a 28-year-old American and French dual citizen, was returning by train to Brooklyn in May, 2010, when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent stopped him at the border in Champlain, N.Y.
The agent turned on Mr. Abidor’s computer and found photos of rallies by the Hamas militant group. He says he explained that he had downloaded them from Google as part of his McGill University doctoral dissertation on the modern history of Shiites in Lebanon.
The judge has yet to rule on whether he will dismiss the case.
A Muslim woman alleges she was mistreated by border officials at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport after she was denied entry to the United States. Ayat Manna, who lives in Halifax, said she had a one-way ticket leaving Monday for Cleveland, where she was planning to spend several months to visit her husband.
The 25-year-old was held for questioning – something she said made her believe she was targeted because she was wearing a head scarf and is a Muslim woman. Border officials questioned her for more than four hours about why she was visiting the United States.
She said she was told to go home and escorted from the building by the RCMP. “I felt like I was a terrorist. Everybody was staring at me and it was the most embarrassing moment of my life.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency denied many of her claims of poor treatment.
American Muslims attending a major religious conference in Toronto on Friday are concerned they’ll be subjected to extraordinary searches and delays by U.S. border guards when they return home. Their concern followed a ruling by a New York district judge on Thursday that such searches did not violate the U.S. constitution. Judge William Skretny wrote that Customs and Border Protection “had reason to believe that these conferences would serve as meeting points for terrorists to exchange ideas and documents, co-ordinate operations, and raise funds intended for terrorist activities.” “I believe in religious freedom, and I will not allow the federal government to intimidate me out of that belief,” he said. Last year, several dozen Muslims men and women were searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for up to six hours before being allowed to cross back into the U.S. after a conference held in Toronto. The New York Civil Liberties Association took up their case. The association sought an injunction to prevent similar inspections following this year’s conference. It also launched a lawsuit demanding the state destroy any personal information retrieved through past searches. The judge did not grant the injunction, and threw out the lawsuit.