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.
Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy
Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.
Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”
Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.
Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.
The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.
Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.
“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”
It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.
Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.
The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.
Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.
“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”
Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)
Canada, echoing U.S., says it fears armed conflict could erupt in Ukraine
Canada fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any more aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/blinken-says-russian-attack-ukraine-could-come-very-short-notice-2022-01-19 said earlier that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice”. Moscow, which has stationed military equipment and tens of thousands of troops near the border, denies it is planning an invasion and blames the West for rising tensions.
“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government … and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border,” Trudeau told a news conference.
Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau said.
“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage.”
Canadian troops are in Latvia as part of a NATO mission and Trudeau said they would “continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front”.
Canada has had a 200-strong training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/canada-condemns-russian-troop-movements-near-ukraine-mulls-weapons-supplies-kyiv-2022-01-18 on Tuesday said Ottawa would make a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.
Trudeau side-stepped a question about sending defensive weapons, saying any decision would “be based on what is best for the people of Ukraine”.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Will Dunham and Philippa Fletcher)
Canada's inflation rate rises to new 30-year high of 4.8% – CBC News
The Consumer Price Index increased at an annual pace of 4.8 per cent in December, as sharply higher prices for food led to the cost of living going up at its fastest rate since 1991.
Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that grocery prices increased by 5.7 per cent, the biggest annual gain since 2011.
The price of fresh produce is being walloped by two things, the data agency said: “Unfavourable weather conditions in growing regions, as well as supply chain disruptions.”
The price of apples has increased by 6.7 per cent in the past year, and oranges by almost as much — 6.6 per cent.
The U.S. is the major supplier of oranges to Canada, and because of bad weather and a plant disease called citrus greening, the major growing region of Florida is on track to produce the smallest number of oranges since 1945.
That’s causing the price of frozen concentrated orange juice to skyrocket on commodities markets.
“If you’re an orange juice drinker, it means your prices are going to be going up at the store,” analyst Phil Flynn, with Chicago-based commodity trading firm Price Group, told CBC News. “The cost of orange juice has almost doubled here in the last few months, and that’s going to be passed down to the consumers.”
Other types of food are going up quickly, too. The price of frozen beef has gone up by almost 12 per cent in the past year, while ham and bacon are up by about 15 per cent.
Kendra Sozinho, a manager at the Fiesta Farms grocery store in Toronto, says costs from suppliers are going up faster than she’s ever seen “We’re seeing almost every single supplier increasing their pricing whech then increases our pricing,” she told CBC News in an interview. “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen a jump like this.”
WATCH | Grocery store manager explains why prices are going up:
Economist Tu Nguyen with consultancy RSM says food price increases could be set to get even worse in the coming weeks and months because of new rules forbidding unvaccinated truckers from entering the country.
“The current bout of inflation is driven by supply chain disruptions, pent-up demand and inflation expectations,” she said. “While pent-up demand is expected to ease as pandemic spending winds down, supply chain and inflation expectations remain paramount challenges.”
Expect a rate hike soon
Food is far from the only thing becoming more expensive.
Shelter costs have risen by 5.4 per cent in the past year, faster than the overall inflation rate. And unlike the global forces at play pushing up food prices, the factors driving up shelter costs are all Canadian-made, TD Bank economist James Marple said.
“The one exception to the global nature of the current inflationary environment, is housing inflation, which is both domestically driven and, outside of increased incidents of extreme weather driving up insurance prices, directly related to the Bank of Canada’s policy stance,” he said.
Politicians weigh in
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre placed the blame for high inflation squarely at the foot of the federal government, noting that as a country with abundant energy and food resources, Canada should have a built-in advantage when it comes to keeping a lid on prices.
“The biggest increases for consumer products have been those that we source right here at home, not those that depend on foreign supply chains,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
“Home price inflation is a home-grown problem,” he went on, arguing that record government spending under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to blame for inflation. “The more he spends, the more things cost,” Poilievre said.
The Prime Minister, for his part, rejected that claim and said his government has a plan in place to face the inflationary challenges that many countries are facing.
WATCH | Trudeau talks about record high inflation:
Lending rates were slashed to record lows in the early days of the pandemic to stimulate the economy. But two years of rock bottom mortgage rates have proven to be jet fuel for Canada’s housing market, causing many policy makers to suggest the time has come for the Bank of Canada to hike its rate to cool things down.
After Wednesday’s inflation report, investors think there’s about a 75 per cent chance of a rate hike as soon as next week, when the bank is set to meet.
“Inflation is likely to come down over the next year, but getting it there will require tighter financial conditions and rate hikes by the Bank of Canada,” Marple said.
Semiconductor shortage persists
And an ongoing lack of semiconductor microchips continues to drive up the price of just about anything with a microchip in it.
That includes durable goods like washing machines and other household appliances, the price of which have gone up by 5.7 per cent in the past 12 months. New car prices are up by even more — 7.2 per cent.
If there was one area of relief for consumers, it was gas prices, where the price to fill up at the pump fell by 4.1 per cent during the month. That’s the biggest monthly drop since April 2020. But compared to a year ago, gas prices are still 33 per cent higher than they were in December 2020.
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