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HomeBusinessJailed Pakistani eco-protester’s visa violation hearing held in secret

Jailed Pakistani eco-protester’s visa violation hearing held in secret

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Bob Mackin

The Simon Fraser University student from Pakistan who leads an environmental protest group that blocks bridges and highways appeared at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada on June 23.

But reporters were shut out of the hearing.

Muhammad Zain Ul-Haq, a Pakistani national outside the North Fraser Pretrial Centre (Save Old Growth)

Muhammad Zain Ul-Haq is a director of Eco-Mobilization Canada, the federally incorporated not-for-profit that is better known as the Save Old Growth protest group and funded by the U.S.-based Climate Emergency Foundation.

Haq, 21, surrendered to Canada Border Services Agency on June 21 and is being held at its facility in Surrey. Haq is a candidate for deportation, after CBSA issued a warrant for alleged violation of his student visa due to numerous charges of criminal mischief and at least one conviction for contempt of court. 

IRB hearings are, by default, open to the public. But, adjudicator Ian Pillai opened Haq’s 48-hour detention review hearing by suggesting that a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to close the hearing may apply due to certain, unspecified information. 

Haq’s lawyer, Randall Cohn, agreed with Pillai. 

Pillai closed the hearing to hear submissions by lawyers for both sides, returned to hear a reporter’s constitutional arguments in favour of an open hearing, took a break and returned to give his reasons why it would continue in secret. 

Pillai ruled that Haq’s hearing would be closed because the benefits of security, life and liberty outweigh the negative effect of limiting freedom of expression. 

“There is some information that’s already in the public sphere. However, there may be information that can come out at this hearing that could seriously impact Mr. Haq,” Pillai said. “So I do find that it is necessary to prevent the serious risks that potentially could come up.”

Haq formed the Extinction Rebellion splinter group in January and began a new wave of blockades on June 13 aimed at convincing the NDP government to ban old growth logging. It is part of an international network of radical activist groups that aim to cause widespread economic upheaval by stopping innocent motorists — including public transit drivers and passengers and emergency services workers — from using public motorways.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick

Haq spent nine days in jail in February after a 14-day sentence for contempt in B.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 15. He had blocked a Trans Mountain Pipeline construction site last September under his capacity as the national action and strategy coordinator for Extinction Rebellion. 

Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick acknowledged Haq said members of Extinction Rebellion are non-violent, but she said aspects relating to Haq were “concerning,” including comments he made to the Vancouver Sun about the potential for violence stemming from the pipeline. 

“He refers to ‘forcing government change’. He refers to the government actions as being ‘treason’. These are very troubling comments, in my view,” Fitzpatrick said. 

In an Instagram video shot outside the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, Haq joked about spending his time watching Seinfeld reruns in jail.

Court records about Haq’s mischief charges show that he is scheduled to fix a date for trial on June 27 in Richmond, a pretrial conference in Vancouver on June 29, another hearing on July 6, trial on Nov. 15 in Vancouver and a pretrial conference on Feb. 16 in Vancouver. In several of those matters, he is represented by lawyer Abdul Abdulmalik. 

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