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Canadians are coming home after being imprisoned abroad for terrorism-related crimes – Global News



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.

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Canada’s terrorism offenders are coming out of prison still radicalized

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.

Khalid Awan is back in Canada after serving a sentence for transferring money to a terrorist group.

Khalid Awan is back in Canada after serving a sentence for transferring money to a terrorist group.

Global News

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.

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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.

Khalid Awan following his return to Canada after 17 years in U.S. prisons.

Khalid Awan following his return to Canada after 17 years in U.S. prisons.

Khalid Awan

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.

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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.

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“He’s a VIP in Pakistan,” he said.

Ex-Pakistan president says country’s intelligence used terrorist group to attack India

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.

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He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years. In interviews with Global News, he denied having committed any crimes.

Khalid Awan, back in Canada.

Khalid Awan, back in Canada.

Khalid Awan

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.

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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.

Terror reports to reference ideology, not religions after ‘Sikh extremism’ criticism: Goodale

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.

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Khalid Awan, left, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Harjit Singh and Gurbax Singh, from U.S. court files.

Khalid Awan, left, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Harjit Singh and Gurbax Singh, from U.S. court files.

U.S. Department of Justice

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.”

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Deadly Toronto hammer attack was terrorism, police allege

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.

Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, where Khalid Awan was held for part of his 17 years behind bars. EPA/JUSTIN LANE

Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, where Khalid Awan was held for part of his 17 years behind bars. EPA/JUSTIN LANE

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.

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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.

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Canada joins diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021 12:43PM EST

Last Updated Wednesday, December 8, 2021 4:27PM EST

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will join a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year, citing extensive human rights abuses by the Communist regime in the host country.

The decision comes two days after the United States announced it would not send government officials to the Olympics over concerns about China’s human rights record, and particularly allegations of genocide against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province.

Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have all since followed suit.

Trudeau said Canada too is “extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government.”

“I don’t think the decision by Canada or by many other countries to choose to not send a diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics is going to come as a surprise to China,” he said Wednesday.

“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns for human rights violations.”

A diplomatic boycott means Canadian athletes can and will still compete but no government officials will attend, including Pascale St-Onge, the new minister of sport.

While it has been rare in recent years for the prime minister to attend an Olympics, Canada normally sends multiple government representatives including cabinet ministers and often the governor general.

Last summer, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough represented the Canadian government at the delayed Tokyo Olympics. In 2018 in Pyeongchang, Trudeau requested then-governor general Julie Payette attend for Canada. Kirsty Duncan, then the sport minister, attended both the Olympics and Paralympics along with several staff members.

Former governor general David Johnston attended for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

There were some calls for countries to stage a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing over human rights concerns, or at least to refuse to attend the opening ceremonies. But former prime minister Stephen Harper rejected that idea and sent his foreign affairs minister, David Emerson, to attend the games, including the opening ceremonies.

China denies allegations of human rights abuses and is accusing the United States of upending the political neutrality of sport. Chinese diplomats slammed the decisions by the U.S. and Australia, accusing countries of using the Olympics as a pawn, and adding several times that “nobody cares” whether diplomats attend the Games.

Mac Ross, a kinesiology professor at Western University’s International Centre for Olympic Studies, said Canada is sending a message to China and the International Olympic Committee that it “will not support the hosting of Olympic Games against the backdrop of widespread human rights violations.”

Ross also said China’s accusation that the boycotts politicize the Olympics ignores how many times China itself boycotted the Games.

“The People’s Republic of China has staged full boycotts of the Olympics multiple times, on purely political grounds,” Ross said. “Why are boycotts suddenly unacceptable? The answer is simple: they place the regime’s human rights record front and centre.”

In a written statement, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker and Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Karen O’Neill said they respect the decision made by the government.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee remain concerned about the issues in China but understand the Games will create an important platform to draw attention to them,” they said. “History has shown that athlete boycotts only hurt athletes without creating meaningful change.”

The Chinese Embassy in Canada has not yet reacted to Canada’s decision, but tweeted ahead of the announcement that “the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are about athletic excellence and global unity. Stop using it as a platform for grandstanding and division.”

China threatened to take “countermeasures” against the U.S. but has not specified what that means.

Trudeau said Wednesday concerns about arbitrary detention of any foreign nationals by the Chinese government continues to be a concern but that Canada will do everything necessary to ensure the safety of Canadian athletes competing in Beijing.

“We know that our athletes need to have one thing in mind that is representing their countries to the best of their ability and winning that gold medal for Canada,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said the RCMP are always involved in ensuring security for Canada’s athletes and that Canada’s diplomatic missions in China will also be helping ensure the athletes have everything they need.

Canada’s diplomatic relationship with China is still strained following nearly three years of tension over China’s detention of two Canadians. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were finally released from Chinese prison in September.

Canada always alleged they were detained in retaliation for its decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States, which wanted her extradited there to face fraud charges.

The two Michaels, as Kovrig and Spavor came to be called, were freed the same day Meng struck a plea deal with the U.S. and was released from Canada.

Opposition Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he supports a diplomatic boycott but accused Trudeau of lagging behind Canada’s allies in making the decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC News



The latest:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tighter restrictions Wednesday to stem the spread of the omicron variant, urging people in England to again work from home and mandating COVID-19 passes for entrance into nightclubs and large events.

Johnson said it was time to impose stricter measures to prevent a spike of hospitalizations and deaths as the new coronavirus variant spreads rapidly in the community.

“It has become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,” he said in a news conference. “Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of omicron could currently be between two and three days.”

Johnson said that 568 cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed across the U.K., and “the true number is certain to be much higher.”

He said beginning next Monday, people should work from home if possible. Starting on Friday, the legal requirement to wear a face mask will be widened to most indoor public places in England, including cinemas. Next week, having a COVID-19 pass showing that a person has had both vaccine doses will be mandatory to enter nightclubs and places with large crowds.

Overall, the British government reported another 51,342 confirmed daily cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with 161 more people dying.

WATCH | Lawmakers blast Johnson over holiday party allegations: 

U.K. PM blasted over allegations of rule-breaking party

7 hours ago

Duration 3:15

‘How does the prime minister sleep at night?’ Labour MP asks as lawmakers blast Boris Johnson over holiday party allegations. (Credit: Reuters TV) 3:15

The announcement came as Johnson and his government faced increasing pressure to explain reports that Downing Street staff enjoyed a Christmas party that breached the country’s coronavirus rules last year, when people were banned from holding most social gatherings. Johnson on Wednesday ordered an inquiry and said he was “furious” about the situation.

The revelations have angered many in Britain, with critics saying they heavily undermine the authority of Johnson’s Conservative government in imposing virus restrictions.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:55 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Tracking Canada’s 1st home-grown COVID-19 vaccine: 

The importance of Canada’s 1st home-grown COVID-19 vaccine

19 hours ago

Duration 4:52

Quebec company Medicago is getting ready to submit data about its COVID-19 vaccine for final regulatory approval, which is a significant step for the pandemic and Canada’s bio-pharmaceutical industry. 4:52

What’s happening around the world

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 267.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, which maintains an online database of global cases. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

Children stand near a statue on a crowded street in Madrid on Wednesday as many pedestrians wear masks to protect themselves against COVD-19. (Susana Vera/Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Wednesday that governments need to reassess national responses to COVID-19 and speed up vaccination programs to tackle the omicron variant, though it is too early to say how well existing shots will protect against it.

The variant’s global spread suggests it could have a major impact on the pandemic, and the time to contain it is now before more omicron patients are hospitalized, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“We call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing,” he told a media briefing. “Any complacency now will cost lives.”

In Europe, France’s Ile-de-France region — with the capital Paris at its centre — said all hospitals are activating an emergency plan due to the strained COVID-19 situation. The plan includes stepping up the number of ICU beds and, if necessary, rescheduling treatments to free up capacities.

Meanwhile, European Union health ministers discussed measures to try to halt the spread of the omicron variant, with the Netherlands calling for negative tests for incoming travellers from outside the bloc and France urging tests even for those arriving from EU states.

Poland and several other countries in central and eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccination rates than in western Europe.

In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 died every day throughout most of November and for several days in December, and the daily death toll remains over 1,100. Ukraine, which is recording hundreds of virus deaths a day, is emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.

A health-care worker gives a booster shot against COVID-19 in Warsaw on Tuesday. (Czarek Sokolowski/The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, the mortality rate in Poland — while lower than it was in the spring — recently hit more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked. Intensive care units are full, and doctors report that more children require hospitalization, including some who went through COVID-19 without symptoms but then suffered strokes.

The situation has created a dilemma for Poland’s government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated but clearly worries about alienating voters who oppose vaccine mandates or any restrictions on economic life.

In the Americas, the number of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 200 million Wednesday amid a dispiriting holiday-season spike in cases and hospitalizations that has hit even New England, one of the most highly inoculated corners of the country. 

WATCH | U.S. could reach over 800,000 deaths by 2022: 

U.S. on track for over 800,000 COVID-19 deaths before 2022

19 hours ago

Duration 1:57

COVID-19 cases in the United States are on the rise, with the country on track to record more than 800,000 deaths by the end of the year. The White House is pushing vaccinations over lockdowns, but some Canadian health units are cautioning against non-essential travel to parts of the U.S. 1:57

Brazil will require that unvaccinated travellers entering the country go on a five-day quarantine followed by a COVID-19 test, after its president said he opposed the use of a vaccine passport.

In Africa, South Africa reported nearly 20,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, a record since the omicron variant was detected, and 36 new COVID-related deaths. It was not immediately clear how many of the infections were caused by omicron, given only a fraction of samples are sequenced, but experts believe it’s driving South Africa’s fourth wave of infections.

A weekly epidemiological report published Tuesday by WHO said that in the Middle East, the most cases reported last week were in:

  • Jordan, with 32,108 reported cases.
  • Iran, with 26,255 reported cases.
  • Lebanon, with 10,406 reported cases.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will consider expanding home treatment of COVID-19 patients, as both new daily infections and severe cases hit record highs, putting hospital capacity under strain.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 4:05 p.m. ET

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U.S. Senator asks FTC to probe Facebook’s ad practices



U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell on Wednesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Meta Platforms’ Facebook misled its advertising customers and the public about the reach of its advertisements, according to a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan.

“I urge the FTC to immediately commence an investigation into Facebook’s representations with respect to brand safety, Potential Reach, and similar metrics with respect to its advertising business and, if that investigation reveals that the company has in fact violated the law, to pursue all available sanctions as appropriate,” the letter said.


(Reporting by Chris Sanders; editing by Diane Craft)

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