Life has been disorienting for Khalid Awan since he was deported to Canada from the United States, where he served a 14-year sentence for transferring money to a Sikh extremist group in Pakistan.
Cell phones confound him. Police cars frighten him. Although pushing 60, he had to go back to college to make himself employable again. And where have all the video stores gone?
“It’s very hard,” he said.
Awan is among a handful of Canadians who’ve come home after having been imprisoned abroad for terrorism-related offences — in his case “providing money and financial services” to the Khalistan Commando Force.
Global News reported on Thursday that five terrorism offenders had been released from Canadian prisons in the past year, and three more could be let out in 2020.
But in addition to those exiting the Canadian corrections system, more with convictions for terrorism-related crimes have been returning to Canada from foreign prisons.
They include those imprisoned for their roles in Al Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers and Sikh extremism.
What happens when they return?
In Awan’s case, not much.
He lives in a basement apartment in Oshawa, Ont. His collection of replica swords decorates the walls. A mounted knock-off of John Wayne’s rifle hangs above the computer in his home office.
The 58-year-old former immigration consultant does not seem to concern Canada’s national security authorities. The only official visit he’s received came in the days after he obtained a new Canadian passport.
The officer who knocked on his door (his business card said he was from Public Safety Canada, but did not give his job title) left after 20 minutes, apparently satisfied because Awan was allowed to keep his 10-year passport.
Awan hasn’t tried to travel yet but doesn’t think he’s on any no-fly lists. He insists he’s not a threat to anyone, and was never really involved in terrorism anyway.
All he did was hang around the wrong people, he said.
“This is my biggest mistake.”
Asked what steps were taken when Canadians returned from abroad after serving terrorism-related sentences, the RCMP said offenders deemed threats could face management by government agencies, criminal investigations or terrorism peace bonds.
“The RCMP will assess and mitigate potential threats to public safety on a case by case basis,” said Cpl. Caroline Duval.
When he was deported back to Canada in the summer of 2018, Awan brought a long list of grievances with him. He calls his case a travesty of justice, and describes himself as a former political prisoner.
He’s trying to move on, but can’t let go. He’s filed three lawsuits in the U.S., and one in Canada. He made a complaint against the RCMP for assisting the FBI investigation. It was dismissed.
He wants an apology from Canada, which he alleges did not provide him with adequate consular services, or ensure he was treated properly in prison, where he says he was held in segregation, assaulted by a guard and denied Muslim-appropriate food.
“They never helped me,” he said.
He wants to sit down with Canadian political leaders and tell them the government failed him. His requests to meet them have so far been unsuccessful. He wants to write a book about what he went through.
He said he wants to open peoples’ eyes. He doesn’t want anyone else to go through what he did. He wants to send a message to the government: “Don’t play with the peoples’ lives.”
Despite his conviction, Awan denied being part of a fundraising network supplying a terrorist group. He said he thought the money he transferred to Pakistan was for wedding gifts and said his prosecution was punishment for refusing to work undercover for the FBI.
He said the leader of the Khalistan Commando Force, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, was his brother-in-law’s neighbour in Lahore and they would visit. He said Panjwar was supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
“He’s a VIP in Pakistan,” he said.
In his home office, Awan has catalogued his complaints in stacks of documents, some coded with coloured tabs. They tell the story of how he left Pakistan and, on May 25, 1992, arrived in Canada from New York hidden in the rear of a tractor-trailer.
He paid a smuggler to arrange the journey, he said.
His refugee claim was successful and he became a Canadian citizen in 1996, living initially in Montreal, then in Toronto, where he opened an immigration consulting firm before moving to New York to open a branch office.
He was living in Long Island when Al Qaeda struck the Twin Towers. He saw the buildings burn from his car, stuck in traffic, trying to get to a medical appointment in Manhattan.
Six weeks later, he was arrested as part of the 9/11 investigation. The FBI had received a tip that one of the hijackers, Marwan Al-Shehhi, was seen at Awan’s apartment before the attacks.
It was a mistake. The person seen at the apartment was not Al-Shehhi. But the FBI investigation turned up evidence of financial crimes, and Awan was charged with money-laundering and fraud.
Together with two others, Awan was alleged to have participated in a “bust out” scheme that used a shell company, Omega Techno Corp., to defraud credit card companies.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years. In interviews with Global News, he denied having committed any crimes.
On the eve of his release in 2006, he was brought back to New York. He thought he was being deported, but instead he was questioned about Sikh extremists.
During searches of his belongings, federal agents had turned up a list of members and supporters of the Khalistan Commando Force, as well as a photo its leader, Panjwar.
An inmate who had befriended Awan in prison, Harjit Singh, had also come forward, alleging the Canadian had told him about his close relationship with Panjwar and his role in funding the Commando Force.
The FBI wanted Awan to be a witness against two Sikh extremists living in the U.S. There was talk about sending him to India to collect information on Sikh extremist groups.
They also proposed training him to spy on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in his home village, the site of the Khusab Nuclear Complex, which produces weapons-grade plutonium, he said.
In Awan’s telling, it got dirty, with the FBI threating to turn him over to the Indian government unless he cooperated. He also claims the FBI would recommend him for a death sentence or arrest his wife in Pakistan and sisters in Montreal.
He refused to work for the FBI but made what U.S. prosecutors called “detailed admissions” about transferring money to Panjwar and his group, knowing the money was to be used for attacks against India.
Prosecutors charged him with three counts alleging he had been a “conduit” for Khalistan Commando Force supporters in the U.S., helping them transfer money to the Sikh terrorist group’s leadership.
Awan told Global News there was nothing to the case. The names the FBI found were potential clients, and the photo of Panjwar was taken at a wedding, he said. He admitted to phoning Panjwar from prison but said it was just to say hello.
He denied recruiting Singh into the KCF, and said the FBI misrepresented their conversations, which were only about visiting Pakistan to see Sikh holy sites and local theatre productions.
At the trial, prosecutors introduced recordings in which Awan “detailed how he had transferred funds raised in the United States for the KCF to Panjwar,” according to court documents.
“Also among the recorded conversations were telephone calls Awan placed from the [Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn] to Panjwar in Pakistan, in which Awan introduced Harjit as a recruit.”
Gurbax Singh and Baljinder Singh, alleged to be supporters of the Sikh extremist faction who had hosted fundraising gatherings at their homes, both testified they had used Awan to transfer $2,000 each to Panjwar.
The money was sent as wire transfers, sometimes to a cement pipe factory in Lahore, where Panjwar would pick it up. Awan would later phone to confirm Panjwar had received it, prosecutors alleged.
Meanwhile, Harjit Singh testified that Awan had talked about taking him to Pakistan following his release to meet Panjwar and undergo training on “how to use the guns, how to make the bombs.”
Following a three-week trial, a jury convicted Awan on all three counts. Prosecutors wanted a 45-year sentence but Awan’s lawyer argued he had never provided any arms to the KCF, nor committed any violence.
The judge found that Awan was not really motivated by terrorism, or a desire to fight India. Instead, he had a need to drop names and associate with powerful people. He was sentenced to 14 years.
For years of his imprisonment, Awan was segregated and held in a communications management unit, where inmates convicted of terrorism offences were kept under restrictive conditions.
He was initially limited to a single three-minute phone call per month, he said. The prison flooded, and the windows wouldn’t close, letting in drafts, and there were rats and mice, he said.
He wrote letters to Canadian MPs and went on a hunger strike.
When it was over, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement brought him to the Fort Erie border crossing and handed him to a Canada Border Services Agency officer, who gave him coffee and gum.
He said he wept upon getting back on Canadian soil. Even recalling the moment, he teared up. “It’s very hard to explain,” he said. He boarded a bus and made his way home to his family.
It was an adjustment.
After years of prison food, he could no longer stomach South Asian dishes. He had trouble sleeping. He was prone to silences. His wife wouldn’t let him talk about prison in front of the grandchildren.
Hoping to resume his immigration consulting career, he enrolled at college, so he could catch up on all he’d missed, although he’s unsure he will be allowed to practise because of his criminal record.
“Life is not easy,” he said.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Coronavirus: Canadians should expect weeks or months of social distancing, Trudeau says – Global News
Some provinces and health officials saw glimmers of hope in the country’s COVID-19 numbers on Monday, even as the prime minister warned that Canadians shouldn’t expect life to return to normal any time soon.
Speaking in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau said officials will have a better idea of how long the crisis will last once models and predictions are developed, but success will depend on how fully Canadians practise distancing habits.
“To stay at home, to continue this period of isolation and distance is the best way to get out as quickly as possible, but certainly it will be a case of several weeks, perhaps several months,” the prime minister said in his daily update from Ottawa.
Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada
New infections and deaths continued to be reported across the country Monday, with 16,500 total cases and 321 deaths reported by 3 p.m.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s top public health officer said she was especially concerned with recent outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care homes, which have been reported in several provinces.
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Among the worst of those outbreaks is the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., where three more residents died on Sunday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths at the facility to 26.
Tam said that while older people are at a higher risk for complications, people in their 20s have also died, and nobody should consider themselves immune.
But Tam also said there was reason to be optimistic that distancing efforts were working.
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She said the case of British Columbia, which has seen its number of new cases decline in the past week, was a reason to believe that collective action could work to slow the pandemic.
“As Canadians, we may not outwardly demonstrate our pride, but our hearts are full of it and we are determined people,” she said. “When someone says flatten the curve, we say, ‘We’ll plank it.”’
Tam also updated guidelines on wearing non-medical masks, amid what she said was increasing evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by infected people who have not started to show symptoms or who never fall sick.
As a result, public health authorities have concluded that simple cloth masks can help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others in places where physical distancing is difficult, she said.
She said masks worn this way have not been proven to protect the people wearing them, and they don’t exempt wearers from other measures they should take against COVID-19, including physical distancing and regular handwashing.
While deaths rose by 13 in Ontario and by 27 in Quebec, officials in both provinces also saw reasons for optimism.
Ontario reported 309 new COVID-19 cases Monday, for a total of 4,347 cases, including 132 deaths and 1,624 patients who have recovered.
The total number of cases reported Monday represented a 7.7 per cent increase over the previous day’s total — a lower percentage increase than in previous days.
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In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault said there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” despite 27 new deaths and a total case count that rose to over 8,500.
While the province recorded 636 new cases, Legault noted that the numbers appeared to be stabilizing, and the total number of hospitalizations had increased by only eight over the day before.
“If we can have this for a few days, that would mean we are approaching the peak,” he told reporters in Quebec City, regarding the rate of infection in the province. “I don’t want to speculate, but it’s just, the numbers are encouraging today.”
The leaders all stressed that now is not the time to back off on physical distancing measures, including staying home as much as possible.
Social distancing enforcement
Trudeau has himself been working from home since his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 13.
He said that while he expects to return to the office in the days to come, he will mainly keep working from home because “that’s what we ask of everyone.”
Meanwhile, Trudeau said more than 300,000 people successfully applied for emergency financial aid in the first few hours after the federal government opened the process on Monday. The benefit offers $500 weekly payments for workers who have lost their income due to the pandemic.
The prime minister suggested the 16-week program would be expanded to offer help for people whose hours have been reduced but not eliminated, and he promised help for those who earn less than the benefit provides.
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Canadians applying for emergency benefit concerned for what comes next – Global News
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have lost their income due to COVID-19 are hoping to qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), a monthly stipend of $2,000 that will last up to four months.
Within hours of the federal government accepting applications on Monday, more than 3.1 million people have successfully applied, according to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The Canadian Revenue Agency is processing around 1000 applications per minute, the PMO told Global News.
He addressed criticism surrounding the benefit, as it currently isn’t available for gig workers, volunteer firefighters and other professions like contractors who work less than 10 hours per week.
University and college students are also part of multiple groups “falling between the cracks,” Trudeau said.
“If you are working reduced hours, down to 10 hours a week or less, we will soon announce how you will benefit from the CERB,” he said.
“We’ll also have more to say for those who are working, but making less than they would with the benefit.”
Those “fine tunings” will come in the next few days, explained Trudeau. The wage benefit is expected to cost the government $24 billion.
Global News spoke to several Canadians who have applied to CERB or are planning to apply to CERB about whether the benefit meets their needs. Many are relieved to have submitted an application, but are hesitant to feel at ease when unemployment holds many unknowns.
‘Never been laid off from a job before’
A week ago Melina Morry of Toronto was employed and working as a fashion copywriter for Harry Rosen. She and around 20 others from her e-commerce team were temporarily laid off due to COVID-19.
Harry Rosen seemed to be doing well due to an uptick in online shopping, so Morry, 28, and others were shocked when they were told they no longer had a job.
“They said it’s temporary but they don’t have any idea when things may resume to normal,” she said. “But I’ve never been laid off from a job before. I felt really disappointed at first and a bit confused.
“I kind of just thought my job would be secure through all of this. But it just goes to show that you don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Morry already applied for employment insurance last week, which will now automatically be processed for CERB.
While she says it’s reassuring to know she isn’t alone in her predicament — around 2.7 million Canadians have been laid off so far due to COVID-19, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — she’s concerned due to uncertainty about her future, she said.
“The $2,000 a month is enough for me to pay my living expenses, so that’s a huge relief,” she said.
“The only thing that concerns me is that they say this benefit is going to be for the next four months… so I’m wondering how am I going to be supplemented if I’m still not able to find a job?”
Her employer said she and others will know the status of their temporary layoff by December, leaving months in between where she will have missing income when the benefit runs out, she said.
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Currently, she is trying to view the situation as one that’s out of her control and will continue to check government updates if she still requires financial assistance past the four-month window, she said.
“I think it’s a good time to really just re-evaluate what you want to do with your life,” she said. “Hopefully things will go back to normal eventually.”
Confusion, unanswered questions around the application process
Tara Maslowsky, 26, has already been laid off for three weeks due to COVID-19, after the massage therapy clinic she worked at closed.
Her employer formally dismissed her and other staff members so they would be able to apply for employment insurance, said Maslowsky, who lives in Winnipeg.
At first, she says she was confused as to whether she was supposed to apply for unemployment insurance or whether she should wait until the CERB opens. In the last week, attempting to speak to someone who can help her with questions has been difficult, she said.
“I’m very stressed, I feel like I’m getting myself worked up about it. Last week I set my alarm to get through to Service Canada, literally all day. That was almost 500 calls to speak to somebody,” she said. “But information is changing constantly.”
Now, she says, she understands her employment insurance claim will migrate over to CERB. But because of fears about paying her bills living without her own income, the ability to connect with the government more directly would be helpful, she explained.
“I just feel that there’s so many questions that people want answers to. Unfortunately you just have to wait it out, which is stressful in itself,” she said.
While she waits for her first payment, connecting to other Canadians on social media who are going through a similar scenario now has been a source of comfort, said Maslowsky.
“We’re all just trying to help each other…everybody’s coming together and trying to help and give each other as much information as they can,” she said.
Losing income, while sick
Allyson Paynter, 50, hasn’t been dismissed from her job as a legal administrative assistant in Edmonton. But she has exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 and has had to stay home in quarantine as a result, going on a temporary leave that has caused a loss of income, she said.
Having her CERB application be approved today was a source of relief, as she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to pay her bills while she recovers.
“It’s really easing my worry, and I’m almost positive that my worry has been affecting my symptoms,” she said.
When she first spoke to Alberta Health Link, the health hotline in the province, they told her it may not be worth it to test her currently and to go to the hospital if her symptoms get worse, she said.
“Health-wise I’m not doing great. This is not the flu where you rest for a couple of days and then you feel better. This is much more serious, my chest really hurts. The symptoms are just really harsh,” she said.
Receiving the benefit would allow her to relax more while she is in quarantine, she said. Her landlord has already waived April’s rent, but she is concerned about paying her expenses next month.
“It’s been incredibly challenging dealing with my current health condition and uncertainty about my finances,” she said.
Applying to the CERB was “very easy” because Paynter says she looked up the process beforehand and set her alarm for right when the applications opened.
She said she found the process much more user-friendly than the Alberta finance relief benefit, which is a one-time payment of $1,142.
“It took me less than a minute and my approval was automatic, which I must say has taken a lot of pressure off,” she said.
“I was surprised. I had been trying to apply to the Alberta one-time relief payment…and I haven’t been able to get through on that website.”
‘Very few people that are doing well’
Making sense of whether he qualifies for CERB has been “very confusing” for 32-year-old Mohammed Asaduallah from Toronto.
Asaduallah is the founder of start-up Benji, which helps freelancers by finding tax write-offs for them. As his clients are losing their source of income as well, they have to temporarily shut down, he explained.
This has resulted in a complete loss of income for himself, he said.
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“I’ve been calling the CRA saying ‘hey do I qualify, how does this work’?” he said. CERB’s guidelines state that if you voluntarily stop working, you don’t qualify for the benefit — which technically he has done by closing Benji for now, he said.
“It’s been very confusing to make sense of it,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m doing things in a compliant way and I’m not doing anything that is wrong or illegal.”
When Asaduallah applied for the benefit this morning, he said it only took a few minutes for him to complete the application.
It was so fast, it was almost “scary,” he said — as he’s used to more red tape when navigating government applications and websites, he explained.
“I was just gobsmacked, that was so fast…but for me I’m relieved that there’s funding available as quickly as it is,” he said. He says he feels lucky he’s in a group that is able to qualify for CERB, when others aren’t.
Beyond the four-month period, Asaduallah says he’s also worried for himself and other unemployed Canadians as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the country.
“There are very few people that are doing well and have jobs…many other Canadians don’t have the same privilege at the moment,” he said.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Huawei donates medical supplies to Canada amid shortage concerns – CTV News
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has quietly made a donation of medical supplies to Canada, CTV News has confirmed.
As reported first in The Globe and Mail, the donation includes more than a million masks, 30,000 goggles and 50,000 pair of gloves.
When CTV News contacted the telecommunications company, Huawei had no comment.
Huawei’s donation comes amid major concerns about Canada’s stockpile and supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes items like masks and gloves. Speaking to reporters on April 1, Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed that Canada’s stockpile appeared to fall short when the outbreak began.
“I think federal governments for decades have been underfunding things like public health preparedness and I would say that obviously governments all across the world are in the same exact situation,” Hajdu said, speaking at the daily cabinet ministers’ press conference at the time.
China produces a significant share of the world’s supply of PPE. When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted and China closed many of its factories, the global supply chain was sent reeling.
As the drought of protective equipment became clear, hospitals including Toronto’s Mt. Sinai Hospital were forced to ration their equipment. Staff at the Toronto hospital were being told last week to limit their use to one mask per day, and were not changing their masks between seeing different patients.
“I have heard those stories myself from frontline workers; I know provinces and territories are developing different sets of rules for frontline workers around the dispersement and use of personal protective equipment,” Hajdu said, adding that the government is pushing hard to build up its supply of PPE.
However, the international market for the hotly-demanded items is proving to be extremely competitive. As Hajdu noted, many other countries also did not have sufficient stockpiles, and are therefore looking to gobble up the available PPE on the global market.
“We are working I would say 24 hours, around the clock, trying to procure equipment in a global situation where equipment is extremely tight,” Hajdu said.
“Our government has the money, we have the will, we have the workforce, and everybody’s focus is firmly on getting PPE.”
As of April 2, the government had secured more than 157 million surgical masks and had ordered an additional 65 million N95 masks. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Tuesday that the government was pushing hard to beef up its supply — fast.
“We are taking a very aggressive and proactive approach to procurement every day. We are working 24/7. This country has never seen procurement like it is occurring now. It is broad-based and aggressive,” Anand said.
Meanwhile, the donation from Huawei comes as the company has been actively pushing for inclusion in Canada’s core advanced 5G network. The United States has been pushing for its allies to shut Huawei out of their 5G networks in order to keep Chinese intelligence officials away from highly sensitive information.
Canada has yet to make a decision on Huawei’s potential inclusion in its 5G network.
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