Just back in Montreal, Samir* is still shaken by his stay in Algeria. He tells us his experience on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals against his family.
Samir* was at Algiers airport and about to return to Canada when he was held for a very long time at customs by officers, then taken to several places for questioning. These interrogations will cause him to miss his flight home.
During the various interrogations, he is asked questions about his life, his family, but also about his activism in Canada.
” They asked questions. That’s it, about the citizens’ movement. They don’t like Algerians demonstrating abroad. It’s crisp and clear. »
Samir* does not hide it, he has been involved for years in the Algerian community in Montreal and has participated in numerous demonstrations, among other things to denounce the oppression and detention of political prisoners in Algeria.
He took part in demonstrations in recent years in Montreal to support the Hirak, the pro-democracy movement in Algeria.
After several hours of interrogation, he will finally be released.
Back in Canada, after the shock of this experience, it is a feeling of indignation that inhabits him.
We are Canadians. […] I have supported peoples, I have signed petitions from the peoples of Asia. Why would I not support the Algerian people?
Two other Canadian-Algerians told us that they experienced the same scenario at Algiers airport and that they too were questioned for hours, among other things, about their civic involvement in Montreal. These two people say they have since been unable to leave Algeria.
One of them is Hadjira Belkacem. She is an educator in a family daycare center and is the founder of the Association of Muslim burial in Quebec. His association offers financial and moral support to Muslim families in Quebec who have lost a loved one.
She insists on talking to us openly.
She was held for twelve hours as she was about to take her flight back to Canada.
They asked me, for the Muslim Grave Association, how the collections were made, who gives the money. These kinds of questions about financesshe explains.
The investigators tell her that a complaint has been filed against her and that she is suspected of belonging to a terrorist group and of financing it.
” I said it was false information, lies. There is nothing truthful in that. »
After her interrogation, and despite repeated requests to several authorities, no one confirms to her whether or not she can leave the country. She has since hired a lawyer in Algeria to try to get more information.
Hadjira Belkacem does not dare to buy a plane ticket again, for fear of being blocked once again at Algerian customs.
I went to the airport two or three times, I think. […] The person at the airport said to me, “Ma’am, there’s no guarantee. You can go buy your ticket, get ready to board and be turned away. There’s no guarantee.”
Sabrina* experienced the same situation as Hadjira. Like Samir, she wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. She too has hired a lawyer to try to get an answer from the Algerian authorities: so far, she has not been told clearly whether or not she can leave Algeria.
Do we want to silence the Algerian diaspora?
Last February, a Canadian of Algerian origin, Lazhar Zouaïmia, was imprisoned in Algeria, accused of terrorism, but his family maintains that he is paying the price for his civic involvement in Montreal.
He was released on March 30 and is expected to return to Canada on April 9. Terrorism charges against him were dropped. However, he will have to appear before the Algerian court at the end of May to be tried for the offense of undermining national unity.
According to Francesco Cavatorta, professor of political science at Laval University and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Africa and the Middle East, this kind of story is neither new nor surprising.
Try to see what diasporas from elsewhere do when they are abroad, it is normal for the vast majority of authoritarian countries. They need to ensure the stability of the regimehe explains.
Randomly calling out or disturbing people who are not activists by profession is a good strategy [pour le régime]he continues. Precisely because it’s random, so you never know if it’s going to be your turn to be stopped when you come home.
” It’s a good strategy to ensure that people don’t get involved at all. »
According to him, the weight of the different diasporas has grown in recent years, thanks in part to social media.
The rise of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes in the past 20 years has meant that now, he points out, there is more global interest in those abroad.
A Canadian-Algerian living in Montreal also confirms this feeling within the Algerian-Canadian community.
The Lazhar Zouaïmia case is a very, very serious precedent, because we say to ourselves […] if he, they arrest him, why not us? It’s more than fear. people are terrifiedshe argues.
According to her, many fear reprisals to the point of canceling trips planned in the coming months to Algeria.
All those who are around me and who continue to militate within the framework of Hirak have canceled their ticketshe admits.
Global Affairs Canada says it is aware that
some Canadians are said to have been detained in Algeria, or even questioned before leaving the countrywithout however revealing the number of people in this situation.
The Algerian Embassy in Ottawa and the Algerian Consulate in Montreal did not respond to our interview requests.
*The names and genders of those who testified have been changed to protect them from reprisals.