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Some Canadians suddenly blocked from U.S. even though targeting of Iranian-born travellers was ‘corrected’

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As she sat in an otherwise empty interrogation room face-to-face with a U.S. border agent, Shirin Fahimi found herself in a scenario she’d only ever seen in the movies.

A long table separated her from the officer. On the ceiling were four monitors. Her heart was beating fast.

“Are you Muslim?” Fahimi recalled the agent asking her.

“That was a shocking question for me,” she told CBC News. “I don’t know if any other Canadian at the border is being asked this question of what do you believe.”

Fahimi, a 31-year-old Toronto-area artist, was born in Iran. Over the years, she said she’s faced extra questioning in exchange for the freedom to travel the United States.

But on Feb. 4, shortly after she checked in at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Fahimi was led to a room where she said she was peppered one-on-one with questions she never imagined she would face as a Canadian citizen.

What was her position on the Iranian government, why did she move to Canada and why was her husband’s name so long were some of the questions.

 

On Feb. 4, shortly after she checked in at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Shirin Fahimi was led to a room where she says she was peppered with questions she never imagined she would face as a Canadian citizen.  (Zinnia Naqvi)

 

‘Who is Canadian now?’

The interrogation lasted about 45 minutes and ended with Fahimi in tears. Not only was she denied travel to San Francisco for a scheduled performance, she was also left questioning if the Canadian citizenship she’d waited so long for was somehow worth less because of where she was born.

“Who is Canadian now?” Fahimi said. “You question your belonging.”

Fahimi isn’t alone. CBC News has interviewed five other Iranian-born Canadian citizens who were denied entry even after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) admitted that officers at its Seattle field office were wrongly detaining Iranian-born travellers amid escalating U.S.-Iran tensions following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.

Two of those people said they had served in the Iranian military before moving to Canada — which is mandatory in Iran.

The cases have some wondering if the refusals are part of a broader strategy targeting Iranian-born travellers.

During the Jan. 4 weekend, up to 200 travellers of Iranian descent travelling from British Columbia were reportedly detained and questioned for several hours at the Peace Arch border crossing in Washington state.

 

 

The agency denied any such directive came from the top, with CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan telling reporters the actions were “not in line with our direction and so that was immediately corrected. And it was very unique to that one sector.”

The targeting was said to have ended after Jan. 5, as stories of Iranian-born travellers who had been stopped at the border began coming to light, according to a U.S. border officer, whose identity CBC News withheld over concerns of repercussions from his employer.

 

For Saman Zamanzadeh, the only recourse he sees is for the Canadian government to step in and make sure its citizens aren’t being discriminated against.  (Submitted by Saman Zamanzadeh)

 

On Jan. 31, Saman Zamanzadeh, 35, was heading to Orlando, Fla., for an engineering conference. A Canadian citizen since July 2018, he’d travelled to the U.S. numerous times without issue.

This time, at secondary screening, he was asked about a time — before he became a Canadian — when his application for a visitor’s visa was denied. That was around the time of U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban that barred individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

At the time, Zamanzadeh cancelled his trip, deciding it could wait. His entry woes ended when he became a Canadian citizen — only to return again in recent weeks.

It was the same for Ahmad Keshavarzian.

The 59-year-old construction consultant and his wife were planning to travel to Orlando to see their daughter when he was stopped at Pearson airport. Keshavarzian, who became a Canadian citizen in 2017, had faced secondary screening before, but had always been able to cross the border after answering a few questions.

This time, after 20 minutes of interrogation, Keshavarzian was deemed inadmissible, and told he did not have the necessary visa to cross the border. Canadian citizens generally don’t require visas to travel to the U.S. except in very specific cases, according to the U.S. Embassy’s website.

‘No policy’ to detain based on nationality: CBP

The two Iranian-born Canadian citizens who had served in the Iranian military told CBC News they had never before undergone secondary screening until the killing of Soleimani. One was held up at a land crossing at the Champlain–St. Bernard de Lacolle crossing connecting Quebec and New York on Jan. 17; the other at Pearson airport on Jan. 20.

In an emailed statement this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection told CBC News “there is no policy or rule that would permit CBP to target or detain individuals based on nationality alone.”

Why not make the Americans accountable for cases like this?– Immigration lawyer Len Saunders

CBP officers “are trained to enforce U.S. laws uniformly and fairly, and they do not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” spokesperson Jason Givens said in the statement.

The statement went on to say individuals who present a valid Canadian passport will be processed for entry to the U.S. as Canadian citizens but to demonstrate that they are admissible, it’s up to the applicant to “overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”

When Fahimi was denied entry, she asked the border agent why she was suddenly inadmissible despite having travelled to the U.S. so many times previously.

“Well, they made a mistake before,” she recalled the agent saying. “How could the border agency make a mistake that many times?”

Canadian government’s silence ‘disturbing’

For Zamanzadeh, the only recourse he sees is for the Canadian government to step in and make sure its citizens aren’t being discriminated against.

“I’m not a citizen of the U.S., and I can’t demand anything from their government, but I am a Canadian citizen who voted for this Liberal Party in this election, and one big reason is what was brought up by Prime Minister Trudeau: ‘A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,‘” Zamanzadeh said.

“This means a lot to us,” he said.

CBC News contacted both Global Affairs Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency this week to ask if the federal government is aware of and concerned about cases of Iranian-born Canadians being interrogated or refused entry at the border. CBC News also asked if any action is being taken to ensure Canadians of Iranian origin are not subjected to any unequal treatment.

Neither federal agency offered a response, referring any questions to the U.S.

For Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine, Wash., the silence from the Canadian government is “disturbing.”

 

Immigration lawyer Len Saunders said he’s received dozens of calls from Iranian-born travellers who have suddenly found themselves unable to travel to the U.S.

 

“They’re so willing to give the Americans this carte blanche autonomy on Canadian soil,” Saunders said. “They’ve allowed U.S. officers to … basically interrogate Canadians indefinitely at pre-flight clearances, to recommend charges if Canadians don’t co-operate with U.S. officers.”

“Why not make the Americans accountable for cases like this?”

‘A catch-22’

Since tensions between the U.S. and Iran have ramped up, Saunders said he’s received dozens of calls from Iranian-born Canadians who have been given no way to resolve their cases.

“They’re told to go to the U.S. consulate to apply for a visa. And the second they go to the consulate, the consulate says you’re Canadian, you don’t need a visa. And so it becomes kind of a catch-22.”

“It’s profiling,” Saunders said.

“These people have not violated any immigration laws. These people have not had any criminal convictions or anything which stands out as grounds of inadmissibility. The only common factor — and I hate to say this — most of them are born in Iran.”

For now, Fahimi isn’t sure if she will ever be able travel to the U.S. using her Canadian passport.

As she stared out of the train window on her way back home from Pearson, the skyline whizzing past, she thought: “After everything my parents went through for us to have this freedom, this happens.”

“Do I belong here?”

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Zimbabwean lecturer develops low-cost sun cream set to help people with Albinism

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Harare, Zimbabwe- Dr. Joey Chifamba, a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) chartered industrial chemist and pharmaceutical nanotechnology expert has developed a low-cost sun cream which is set to help people with Albinism.

According to Dr. Chifamba, the sun cream harnesses zinc and titanium from natural sources as well as indigenous trees and was made using 5th generation emerging technologies including nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Speaking to a local publication, The Herald, Dr. Chifamba said his ground-breaking sun cream will help people living with Albinism who suffer from actinic (solar-induced) skin damage, freckles, sunburn as well as other various skin cancers.

“No product has ever been developed to protect Albinistic persons from actinic damage. The sunscreens that are given to them are designed for white-skinned people and do not take into consideration specific conditions and differences found on Albinistic skins.

This makes them not very effective and not very suitable especially for all-day everyday wear since Albinism is a lifelong condition.

We employ nanosized metallic oxides sunblocks conjugated together with nano-optimized indigenous herbs with antibacterial, antifungal and wound healing effects to create aesthetically pleasing cosmeceutical products for every day all day use by Albinistic persons.

In our innovation we have developed ground-breaking cosmeceuticals which are not only sunscreens but complete actinic damage retarding treatments that consider Albinistic skin differences and deal with various symptoms of actinic damage including wrinkles, premature aging, inflammation, bacterial and fungal infections,” said Dr. Chifamba.

Furthermore, Dr. Chifamba said the products which were developed in consultation with the Albino charity organization of Zimbabwe and other Albino welfare groups, are already available to people living with Albinism who are registered with the charity organization.

People with Albinism have skin that is very sensitive to light and sun exposure. Sunburn is one of the most serious complications associated with Albinism because it can increase the risk of developing skin cancer and sun damage-related thickening of the skin.

Albinism is a rare genetic condition caused by mutations of certain genes that affect the amount of melanin your body produces. Albinism can affect people of all races and all ethnic groups

For most types of Albinism, both parents must carry the gene in order for their child to develop the condition. Most people with Albinism have parents who are only carriers of the gene and don’t have symptoms of the condition.

Other types of Albinism, including one that only affects the eyes, mostly occur when a birthing parent passes the gene for albinism on to a child assigned male at birth.

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Donald Trump loyalist, Alex Jones ordered to pay US$49 million in punitive damages

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Donald Trump loyalist, Alex Jones ordered to pay US$49 million in punitive damages

Austin, United States of America (USA)- A jury in Texas on Friday ordered Alex Jones, a loyalist to former US President Donald Trump, to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.

The jury announced its decision a day after awarding the parents more than U$4.1 million in compensatory damages and after testimony on Friday that Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of his media outlet, Infowars, were worth US$135 million to US$270 million.

Prior to Friday’s Court proceedings, Jones told his audience that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax and that the grieving parents of those who died were actors.

The total of US$49.3 million is less than the US$150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was among the 20 children and six educators killed in the deadliest classroom shooting in US history.

“He stood up to the bully Adam Lanza and saved nine of his classmates’ lives. I hope that I did that incredible courage justice when I was able to confront Alex Jones, who is also a bully. I hope that inspires other people to do the same. This is an important day for truth, for justice, and I couldn’t be happier,” said Lewis.

Before the jurors began deliberating about the punitive damages, Wesley Todd Ball, a lawyer for the family, told the jury that it had the ability to send a message for everyone in the country and perhaps this world to hear.

“We ask that you send a very, very simple message, and that is, Stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies. Please,” said Ball.

Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights, conceded during the trial that the attack was 100 percent real and that he was wrong to have lied about it, but Heslin and Lewis told jurors that an apology wouldn’t suffice and called on them to make Jones pay for the years of suffering he has put them and other Sandy Hook families through.

The parents told jurors about how they have endured a decade of trauma, inflicted first by the murder of their son and what followed, gunshots fired at the home, online and phone threats, and harassment on the street by strangers. They said the threats and harassment were all fueled by Jones and his conspiracy theory spread to his followers via Infowars.

Jones who was in the courtroom briefly on Friday but not there for the verdict still faces two other defamation lawsuits from Sandy Hook families in Texas and Connecticut.

Nevertheless, Jones has also claimed, among things, that the Pentagon was using chemical warfare to turn people Gay, that COVID-19 is not real and that September 11 was an inside job perpetrated by the government.

 

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FBI still worried of another attack from Afghan rebel groups

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Washington D.C, United States of America (USA)- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), head, Christopher Wray has expressed grave concerns over another attack from Afghanistan rebel groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

His comments come just days after the US killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan via drone strike.

“I am worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute, ISIS-K potentially taking advantage of the deteriorating security environment, and I am worried about terrorists, including here in the United States, being inspired by what they see over there,” said the FBI director during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Al-Zawahiri was killed in a drone strike, ending a years-long manhunt which placed al-Zawahiri near the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list. The 71-year-old Egyptian national headed up the group after the death of terrorist kingpin Osama Bin Laden in an American raid in 2011 and is thought to have helped plan the 9/11 attacks.

The Department of State also cited it believes there is a higher potential for anti-American violence given the death of al-Zawahiri.

Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating a possible assassination plot against Iranian-American journalist, Masih Alinejad.

According to US news sources, a man was arrested carrying a loaded AK-47 rifle in a possible plot to assassinate her.

Alinejad herself shared security camera footage of the suspect at her front door on Twitter on Sunday, saying, “My crime is giving voice to voiceless people. The US administration must be tough on terror.”

The arrested man was taken in by Police after a traffic stop. They said he ran a stop sign and when they checked his vehicle, they found a gun in the backseat, according to the complaint filed by the FBI.

He was charged with possessing a firearm without a proper serial number. At his Friday (last week) hearing, the Judge ordered him to be held without bail.

The suspect initially claimed that he knew nothing about the weapon and said he was just in the area looking for an apartment, but later he told the investigators that he owned the gun and that he was looking for someone in Brooklyn.

In July last year, US prosecutors charged four Iranian spies with trying to kidnap Alinejad from her home in Brooklyn and taking her to Venezuela. Investigators said that they had also tried to lure her to the Middle East before that.

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