Did a Canadian court really call BNP a ‘terrorist organisation’?

Published : 24 Feb 2017, 10:24 AM
Updated : 24 Feb 2017, 10:24 AM

In short, the answer is yes. It happened recently in a Canadian Federal Court case Gazi v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) (2017 FC 94). The case concerned a judicial review application by a former activist of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), named Mr. Mohammad Jewel Hossain Gazi ("the applicant"), against a decision made by a Senior Immigration Officer ("SIO") in Canada who had rejected the applicant's plea for permanent residence as a protected person, under s. 72(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27 ("IRPA").

The judicial review application was also dismissed in the court. The decision to reject both by the SIO and the court were based on grounds of inadmissibility pursuant to his membership of an organisation (BNP) which, there are 'reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism' pursuant to Paragraphs 34(1)(f) and (c) of the IRPA.

In rejecting the application, the presiding judge, Justice Brown made some interesting observations and comments on the violent nature and activities of BNP. Additionally, other sources cited in the decision, including the statements of the SIO and the applicant himself, shed some important light into the workings of BNP, which has in recent times, come under intense national and international criticism for its wanton violence in separate phases in 2013-2014 and 2015.

The decision refers to a number of comments by the applicant to the CBSA National Security Screening Division about his party's reliance on violence. He indicated that BNP is a 'party that uses armed struggle or violence to reach political objectives.' He specified that when there is a strike, the party uses 'ammunitions and arms'. The BNP "uses arms like a war. They use hand bombs, pistols, and big swords. They attack the leading government's people at the time of strike or procession." (Para 7).

There is also reference to the violent methods used by the BNP on the applicant's IMM 5669 form (used for background and declaration for the purposes of immigration), where the former activist stated that BNP "…uses sticks to hit people and shoot pistols at people and throw hand bombs. They burn the stores." He also stated that he was asked by his party numerous times "to throw cocktails" (homemade crude bombs). He also admitted that he witnessed people being hurt by members of the BNP. He narrated that about two months prior to his arrival in Canada, the BNP members approached a car that was running, took the passengers outside, and beat them up.

The court also referred to the original decision of the SIO where the officer stated, while analyzing whether BNP's activities amounted to terrorist activity within the definition provided in Subsection 83.01(1) of the Canadian Criminal Code, RSC, 1985, c C-46, that: 'The hartals employed by the BNP have significant economic impact on Bangladesh's economy and have resulted in both substantial damage to property and both death and serious bodily harm caused by BNP activists and members as well as disruptions in services.' (Para 12).

He added: 'BNP's continued reliance on hartals as a tool to coerce the government by creating significant economic disruption as well as the incidences of violence that resulted from the implementation of the hartals caused by BNP members are sufficient to find that the BNP constituted terrorist acts.' (Para 14). In short, this constituted the basis for which the application by the former BNP activist for PR in Canada as a protected person was dismissed by the SIO.

The issue before the court was therefore whether the SIO's finding that he or she had reasonable grounds to believe that the BNP engaged, is engaging or will engage in terrorism, is 'reasonable' (Para 16). The court concluded that the SIO's decision that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the BNP was, is, or will be engaged in terrorism is 'reasonable' as it was supported by evidence having regard to the definition of terrorism under Canadian law (Para 26). The review was therefore dismissed by the court.

According to Canadian law, terrorist activity is defined as acts and omissions whether they are conducted in or outside Canada, that are in whole or in part for a political purpose, objective, or cause, and which are committed in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including economic security, or compelling a person or government to do or refrain from doing any act whether inside or outside Canada, where that act or omission intentionally causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by violence, endangers a person's life, causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a segment thereof, causes substantial property damage or where such acts or omissions intentionally cause serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system [Para 27].

In reaching the conclusion that it is indeed reasonable to believe that the BNP was, is, or will be engaged in terrorism, the court looked at several reports from such sources as BBC, AFP, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Foreign Policy Magazine, Economist, the South Asian Terrorism Portal and the Human Rights Watch which showed the involvement of BNP, especially in recent years, in such tactics as forcibly enforcing strikes, costing a terrible economic price for the strikes, mounting firebomb attacks, causing deaths from arson attacks on buses, killing of civilians during the strikes, implementing targeted attacks on villages, attacking religious minorities, attacking polling stations, burning down schools, using street children to throw petrol bombs and creating and detonating explosives to press home their demands (Para 30).

In declaring his decision to the reject the review, Justice Brown, concluded: "The hartals employed by the BNP have significant economic impact on Bangladesh's economy and have resulted in both substantial damage to property and both death and serious bodily harm caused by BNP activists and members as well as disruptions in services." He added that these tactics rise above simple peaceful protest or advocacy. He also noted that he reasonably believes that BNP implicitly condoned the use of violence, as they never took a strong stance against them, only meekly condemning some incidents after they had taken place (Para 30).

The court also dismissed a number of objections raised by the applicant to the original decision by the SIO, such as the position of BNP as a major political party in Bangladesh (Para 33) and the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Canada (Para 34). Justice Brown noted that such factors do not exempt BNP from the operation of the terrorist membership provisions of IRPA (Para 35).

By the same token, in responding to the statement by the applicant that the Canadian Government has not listed the BNP as a 'Listed Terrorist Entity', the court stated that the absence of listing, often a political decision, is not conclusive in this regard (Para 40). The court also noted that the BNP's Constitution does not in fact contain any express disavowal of violence (Para 42). It also rejected the notion that when in opposition, the Awami League has also resorted to hartals, saying that the Awami League was not on trial in this instance.

While this decision is an embarrassing example of BNP's violence being established in a foreign jurisdiction, it should come as no surprise to the people of Bangladesh, or those having a sound knowledge of political events of Bangladesh in recent years. Throughout 2013, BNP was a passive, and sometimes active, partner of Jamaat-E-Islami in the violence centreing the war crimes trial verdicts. In the run up to the elections of 5 January 2014, 46 people were killed in the nearly two months long violence from BNP enforced blockades and strikes. 20 members of law enforcement lost their lives during this time. On the day of the election, 26 people were killed including Election Presiding Officers.

The campaign of violence targeted thousands of vehicles, mostly commuter buses. Thousands received third degree burn injuries, many handicapped for life. Government offices, power stations, business enterprises, roadside vending stalls, railway tracks mosques, temples and pagodas, all came under attack. Schools even were more spared, with 582 schools being burnt on election day. Following the elections, houses of Awami League supporters and Hindus were burnt, destroyed and looted. Around 160 incidents of such attacks and atrocities took place in 21 districts.

In a repeat of this violence, starting from 4 January 2015, BNP and its allies embarked on yet another campaign. This spate of violence resulted in the deaths of 231 people (mostly through arson and petrol bomb attacks) and injured (mostly through burning) 1,180 others. The Burn Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital was overflowing with such victims, the air heavy with their cries. Arson attacks were conducted to burn 2,903 cars, 18 rail carriages and 8 passenger water vessels. Through targeted attacks, 70 government offices were vandalized and or destroyed and 6 land offices were burnt.

Delving a bit into the past, BNP and Jamaat's attacks on religious minorities and Awami League activists and supporters following the 2001 election have also been widely documented and reported internationally, by such organisations as Amnesty International, the Canadian Government, Freedom House and the US State Department.

It is hoped that BNP now understands that the people of Bangladesh, just like the rest of the world, overwhelmingly oppose the violent politics of the past. These campaigns of fear and intimidation not only affect their own credibility as a legitimate political force, but also dents the very image of the country on a global stage. It is now 2017. Violence and intimidation do not strike any chords with the people of Bangladesh, save the wrong ones. That has been crystal clear in most of the public opinion polls carried out in recent years, which show very little sympathy for political violence, strikes, and blockades. What is expected of BNP now, for the sake of the democratic future of the country, is that it vows to never return to the path of extreme violence that it inflicted on the people between 2013 and 2015.