The Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) at U of T has created a student support hotline that provides legal advice for U of T students who have been visited by organizations such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The National Security Student Support Hotline is a collaboration between the Downtown Legal Services clinic, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the IIS.
The project was created after stories emerged in the past year about former Muslim Students’ Association executives across Canada being visited by CSIS.
“For a number of years it’s come to mine and a number of people’s attention at universities across Canada [that] since 9/11… students at universities are often approached by field agents for a conversation,” said Anver Emon, a Professor of Law and History and the Director of the IIS.
CSIS is a civilian intelligence service that covers a broad range of issues. Unlike the RCMP, it does not seek information related to ongoing criminal investigations. “In the case of CSIS… knowing what your rights are, knowing the legal landscape and knowing what you should do is not straight forward,” said Emon.
In a previous interview with The Varsity, John Townsend, Head of Public Relations for CSIS, said that, “when CSIS seeks cooperation or assistance from Canadians, we emphasize that discussions are voluntary. CSIS ensures our approach is lawful, ethical, necessary, and proportionate.”
Emon said that anecdotal evidence from lawyers who had dealt with these cases suggested it was not uncommon for CSIS agents to say to interviewees who considered seeking legal advice that, “If you’re going to get a lawyer, that just makes you look guilty.”
“And that’s a problem for those of us who are law professors and lawyers who value education, who value the recognition that knowing what our rights are is part of what makes us citizens of this country or residents,” Emon said.
“It is against CSIS policy for CSIS employees to discourage anyone from seeking legal advice,” said CSIS’s Townsend.
Students who call the hotline will be asked to make a brief report about their encounter. The IIS, who manages the call centre, will then connect the student to a volunteer lawyer. From there, the lawyer and the student will form an attorney-client relationship, where the IIS no longer plays a role.
“There’s a number of factors that go into any sort of conversation, which is why the lawyer-client relationship… was the best vehicle to maximize the educational possibility of this program,” said Emon.
Emon emphasized that Muslim students have only been the most recent group to be targeted by CSIS. “We know that this kind of practice has been existing for many years or decades. A while ago, Latin American students were approached by CSIS. We heard that our Sikh students in the past had been questioned, Tamil students have been subject to this, so there is a history.”
“This is a hotline for any U of T student regardless of religion, race, gender, identity, politics.”