Arshad Khan's Threadbare is understandably a little rough around the edges (some shaky camera, sound and lighting), but delivers an emotional and lucid blow to the dangerously paranoid and racist echelons of state power in Canada. The 40 minute documentary follows the story of the “Toronto 24″–the South Asian men in Toronto wrongly suspected of being a terror cell operating inside Canada, supposedly targeting the CN tower. After violent and publicized arrests of the men, their names and loose associations with Al-Queda (they had no associations with Al-Qaeda at all) traveled the globe, culminating in CNN reports and front page stories on every Canadian newspaper. Khan's film traces the absurd media blow-up following their arrest and detention, and offers some more sober insights into irresponsible and responsible journalism from some of the writers at Canada's only large left-of-center daily, The Toronto Star.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) project that was racially profiling these men and wrongfully surveilling their lives as they went about school, jobs and regular life, was called Project Thread. Some extremely loose connections between the 24 (such as being Pakistani and Muslim, or allegedly attending the same business school) was enough of a “thread” to knock in their doors one morning and drag them to prison where many stayed for months despite no charges and dropped allegations two weeks later. The film also documents the small but fierce group of people who rally in support of the detained men, who call themselves Project Threadbare.
Khan's powerful film is a window into the soul of this country, and it is a soul in need of searching. Canada is a country built from the blood of genocide (First Nations), slave labour (Chinese Rail Workers), and the unwanted (European Jews immediately following WWII), to name only a few unjust stones of our shaky foundation. It is also a country of immigrants, regardless of when any of us “arrived”. It is a country with a government desperately trying to sell the multicultural project, the image of a diverse and pluralistic Canada–one nation of many nations–to the rest of the world. And when we look comparatively South to the US, it perhaps doesn't look that far from the truth. But we do not often look within. To uncover the dark corners of the soul of this history and this place, we need to start with the deeply racist and chauvinist parts of this country's institutions and concomitant structures of power. To do this we need committed intellectuals, committed activists, committed citizens, and committed artists.
Thankfully, Khan is one such artist, and has put together an inspirational film with few resources at his disposal.
If you watch Khan's film and do not feel a sense of shame, anger and disgust as the innocent men are deported out of this country for the unrepentant act of being accused of terrorism, then perhaps it is already too late. But if you clench your fists as I did, and are ready to take up the fight for real diversity, for real equality and real justice for all, then we might be getting closer to describing the edges of a country called Canada. Otherwise, our apathy will continue to fuel racism and exclusion. Watching films like Threadbare points us in the right direction, and is one thread worth raveling.
To get involved and find out more about this case and Project Threadbare, or to find out more on the film, visit the official film site.