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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Participants speak out for civil liberties

Julia Shearson wants the U.S. government to explain why she was detained Jan. 8 while entering the country from Canada through the Peace Bridge border crossing in Buffalo.

Ms. Shearson has no criminal record. She is a U.S. citizen, whose ancestors came here on the Mayflower and eventually settled in Ohio in 1813. She taught at Harvard University.

"As a law-abiding American citizen, being handcuffed and detained at the U.S.-Canadian border as a suspected terrorist was a defining moment for me," said Ms. Shearson, executive director of the Ohio Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It gave me a glimpse of what lies ahead if we Americans so easily surrender our cherished rights," she said.

Ms. Shearson of Geneva, Ohio, who is a convert to Islam, was one of the panelists who spoke last night at a meeting in West Toledo about being detained by U.S. authorities while returning from Canada after routine visits.

About 40 people attended the forum at the Sanger branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. The session was sponsored by the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, Dearborn, Mich.; the Arab American Institute, an advocacy group in Washington; the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, and the Greater Toledo Association of Arab Americans.

"By telling these stories, we hope to help defend our Constitution and the values of equality and liberty," she said.

Abe Dabdoub, 39, the plant manager for Material Sciences Corp. in Walbridge, a Saudi Arabia-born, Monclova Township resident, also shared his story.

A Canadian citizen naturalized as a U.S. citizen a year ago, Mr. Dabdoub told how he was handcuffed and detained by U.S. authorities for 2 1/2 hours in August at the Ambassador Bridge crossing in Detroit when returning after a 1 1/2-day visit with his relatives in Windsor, Ont.

Mr. Dabdoub was frisked, fingerprinted, and questioned before he was released. The officers told him they weren't at liberty to tell him why he was being detained, he said.

"Since then, I've had it happen to me 11 straight times," he said.

Last night's forum was part of Liberty and Justice for All, a campaign to defend civil liberties and human rights, Linda Mansour, a Toledo lawyer who opened the meeting, said.

The campaign is coordinated by the Rights Working Group, which defines itself as a nationwide coalition of groups and individuals committed to ensuring liberty and justice for all, with a goal to ensure that the government's actions honor their principles.

"[The group] came out of the aftermath of September 11 as a result of the Patriot Act that was signed into law by President Bush and the sweeping civil liberty abuses that resulted in the targeting of Arabs and Muslims [and] South Asians for selective enforcement of that law," Ms. Mansour said.



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