Canada To Sign UN's Anti-Torture Protocol After Years Of Delay

posted on May 05, 2016 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

by The Canadian Press
Source: Huffington Post
URL: [link]
Date: May 2, 2016

OTTAWA — Canada is prepared to join a key United Nations anti-torture agreement more than a decade after it was first passed.

The UN's optional protocol to the convention against torture allows for the establishment of national and international systems for inspecting detention centres where torture often takes place in secrecy.

It was first approved by the world body in 2002.

Although dozens of countries have signed on, Canada has not ratified the protocol. The Harper government twice promised to do so, but never did.

The new Trudeau government will follow through, says

Chantal Gagnon, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, says the Trudeau government plans to make good on the commitment.

"The minister just announced that we agree that the government of Canada should join this important protocol," Gagnon said of what Dion had to say at a private reception earlier Monday.

"We are taking the first step towards doing so by beginning formal consultations on the optional protocol with provincial and territorial governments."

Move welcomed by activists

Mohamed Fahmy, who spent more than a year in a prison in Egypt, welcomed the move on Twitter, calling it history in the making.

Activist groups have been pressing for ratification for years; Amnesty International Canada has yet another news conference on the subject scheduled for Tuesday.

Supporters of the protocol say it is an important step in freeing the world from the practice of torture.

They say Canadian ratification would strengthen the country's ability to press other countries to open detention centres to increased scrutiny.

With files from Mike Blanchfield

Copyright ©2016, Inc. "The Huffington Post" is a registered trademark of, Inc. All rights reserved. 2016©

Liberals must end Canada's 'previous complicity in torture,' says victim

posted on May 05, 2016 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

by Mike Blanchfield (CP)
Source: CBC News
URL: [link]
Date: May 3, 2016

A prominent Canadian victim of abuse behind bars in Syria is calling on the government to cancel controversial directives that allow for the sharing of intelligence that could lead to torture.

Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian who was imprisoned and tortured in Syria for almost two years, said Tuesday it is time the Liberals ditched the policy that was enacted by the previous Conservative government.

Almalki said the current government must end Canada's "previous complicity in torture."

Almalki and other human rights activists said cancelling the directives is the next logical step for the government after it announced Monday it was prepared to join a key United Nations anti-torture agreement more than a decade after it was first passed.

Almalki was part of a group of human rights activists that praised Monday's surprise announcement by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. But they said the government must go further, and cancel the torture directives.

"Many of the prisoners I've interviewed have reverted to saying things that necessarily didn't happen or they were told to confess in order to avoid the torture," said Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist who was imprisoned in Egypt.

Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International Canada, said his organization has been campaigning for years to get the controversial torture directives thrown out.

"It certainly would be very much in keeping with the spirit of what we heard yesterday ... to rescind that very troubling ministerial direction and bring our intelligence sharing practices into line with our international obligations," said Neve.

Fahmy and Neve warned Dion and the provinces not to dither and to bring Canada into full compliance with the anti-torture convention within one year.

The federal government must now consult with the provinces on the legal way forward for Canada to formally join the UN anti-torture convention.

© The Canadian Press, 2016

Canada to join UN anti-torture protocol after more than a decade

posted on May 05, 2016 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

by The Canadian Press
Source: The Globe & Mail
URL: [link]
Date: May 2, 2016

Canada is prepared to join a key United Nations anti-torture agreement more than a decade after it was first passed.

The UN’s optional protocol to the convention against torture allows for the establishment of national and international systems for inspecting detention centres where torture often takes place in secrecy.

It was first approved by the world body in 2002.

Although dozens of countries have signed on, Canada has not ratified the protocol. The Harper government twice promised to do so, but never did.

The new Trudeau government will follow through, says

Chantal Gagnon, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, says the Trudeau government plans to make good on the commitment.

Copyright 2016 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Harkat buoyed by U.K. court ruling that six terror suspects can't be deported

posted on April 26, 2016 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: April 25, 2016

[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat's defence team hopes a recent UK decision on six terror accused will help in Harkat's fight against deportation to Algeria.]

Mohamed Harkat’s defence team will use a recent British court ruling to argue that the Algerian-born terror suspect should not be deported to the turbulent North African country.

A panel of judges from the United Kingdom’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled last week that six Algerian terror suspects cannot be deported because of the “real risk” they’ll be tortured in their native country.

The judges said the situation in Algeria is unpredictable given the threat of Islamism in the region, and the frail health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Bouteflika, 79, suffered a serious stroke in April 2013 and questions remain about who’s actually running the country.

The U.K. judges said Algeria’s volatility undermined the government’s argument that “diplomatic assurances” could be relied upon to protect the six terror suspects from torture if deported.

The Algerians, who live in England under strict bail conditions, have been fighting deportation for 10 years.

In Canada, the federal government continues to pursue the deportation of Ottawa’s Harkat 14 years after he was first arrested on the strength of a national security certificate.

A feature of federal immigration law, security certificates give the government the power to remove foreign-born terror suspects based, in part, on secret evidence.

Harkat’s lawyer, Barbara Jackman, said the U.K. court ruling will form part of her submission to the federal official who must now decide whether Harkat should be deported.

That official, known as a minister’s delegate, must weigh the risk that Harkat poses to Canadians against the risk that he will be tortured in Algeria.

“The U.K. judgment,” Jackman said, “appears to be solidly grounded in the framework of human rights protection obligations.”

As signatories to the UN convention against torture, Canada and the U.K. are prohibited from returning people to countries where they face a substantial risk of torture or other inhuman treatment.

The Canadian government has sought to reduce the level of risk in the Harkat case by obtaining diplomatic assurances from the Algerian government that the al-Qaida-linked terror suspect wouldn’t be mistreated.

Harkat’s wife, Sophie, said the U.K. case shows that those guarantees are not worth the paper on which they’re written. “It confirms that diplomatic assurances are not reliable — and they’re the backbone of the whole process,” she said.

Harkat intends to formally petition Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale later this year to allow him to stay in Canada. The minister has the statutory power to halt Harkat’s deportation if he finds that the action is “not contrary to the national interest.”

“This has lasted so long, we just want to put an end to this,” said Sophie Harkat. “Why do they want to go on with this process?”

Harkat, 47, has enlisted the support of dozens of high-profile Canadians, including Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minster’s brother. In a letter to Goodale, issued in Februrary, Alexandre Trudeau said he’s “absolutely convinced” that Harkat poses no danger to public safety in Canada.

In May 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the government’s revised security certificate regime and affirmed a decision that found Harkat to be an active member of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The case against Harkat was built on 13 wiretapped phone conversations and at least two unnamed informants, one of whom failed a lie-detector test.

Harkat insists he will be tortured or killed if returned to Algeria, the country from which he fled in March 1990 during a military crackdown on government opponents.

Last week, Harkat underwent shoulder surgery to correct a longstanding injury that he suffered in a fall while delivering pizzas before his arrest in December 2002.

© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.

Hold CBSA Accountable For Deporting Detainees To Torture

posted on March 11, 2016 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Monia Mazigh
Source: Huffington Post - The Blog
URL: [link]
Date: March 10, 2016

On March 8, 2016, an unidentified man died in the custody of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). The name of the person was not released, almost as if it doesn't matter already, or as if he had never existed in the first place.

Was he a refugee, someone with no papers? Was he young or old, healthy or not? We don't know. We might never know. No independent investigation has been ordered. CBSA continues to be above all forms of scrutiny. This is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the fate of another man remains in the hands of the CBSA and the organization's recent assessment of his deportation to Algeria. Indeed Mohamed Harkat has been fighting a security certificate for over a decade.

A security certificate is a tool that allows the government to order the deportation of an individual deemed to represent a national security threat to Canada. The suspect can't see the evidence against him. He is basically fighting a moving shadow.

In human rights activism circles, we call it a Kafkaesque situation in reference to the absurdity of the "Trial" by Franz Kafka. A tool which was initially meant to expedite the removal of a potential "risk" turned out to be no more than a shameful tool to be used in dealing with refugees and immigrants.

After the first version of the security certificate process was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2007, the government introduced a second version of security certificate process where the suspect can be represented by a special advocate who is cleared to know the secret evidence against his client, but still can't share it or discuss it with him.

In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada expressed "discomfort" with that new version, calling it "imperfect" and not ideal, but not declaring it unconstitutional, either.

Despite all the legal battles Mohamed Harkat and his wife have been conducting to allow him to stay in Canada, he finds himself today facing deportation to Algeria. Recently CBSA filed a report where it plainly concludes that Mohamed Harkat should be deported to Algeria, despite the risk of being tortured there if he returns.

Reading some parts of the report, it seems clear that CBSA never learned any lessons from all the previous cases where Canada was found complicit in the torture of Canadians.

Basically, the CBSA's approach can be summarized by the following: Mohamed Harkat's actions (or "potential" actions) have been amplified, and his risks of torture and abuse in Algeria have been minimized.

Even the fact that Mohamed Harkat has been married to Sophie Lamarche, who has been fighting all these years to keep him in Canada, has been described in very demeaning words.

Using a patriarchal cliché on how a man's contribution is assessed in the family, the report concluded that Sophie Lamarche wouldn't suffer much since Mohamed Harkat hasn't been financially supportive.

But how about trying to find a job if you have been labeled a terrorist or an alleged "sleeper agent?" Did CBSA try to answer that question? Perhaps Maher Arar, Abdullah Al Malki, Ahmed Al Maati, Muayed Nurredine and Benamar Benatta can help them by sharing their own disastrous employment experience.

Moreover, why should a relationship be strictly examined from this perspective? What happen to affection, to partnership, to companionship?

Furthermore, the report goes on and makes the astonishing inference that since Mohamed Harkat does not have any kids with Sophie, his deportation won't be as serious for the couple.

First of all, why do they meddle in these private matters? And second, since when was the number of children a couple has used as a criterion in avoiding the deportation of people overseas? Didn't we see cases where CBSA ordered the deportation of a mother despite the fact that her kids will stay in Canada?

This report is not and will not be represent the end of the ordeal for Mohamed Harkat. More legal challenges lie ahead. However, this report is another serious story to add to the long list of stories about the lack of accountability and oversight for CBSA.

Mohamed Harkat and his wife Sophie will continue to fight the injustice done to them in the name of national security. Meanwhile, CBSA needs to answer its actions to the Parliament of Canada and to all Canadians.

Copyright ©2016, Inc.

Why is Ottawa still trying to deport Mohamed Harkat?

posted on March 05, 2016 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by "Justice for Mohamed Harkat"
Source: iPolitics
URL: [link]
Date: February 29, 2016

[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat wipes away tears during a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, that marked the 10th anniversary of his arrest and detention on a security certificate.]

It’s been a very busy few weeks for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet on the immigration and foreign policy front. They’ve made some bold moves. But their work is not yet finished.

Last week, Immigration Minister John McCallum introduced a bill to reverse the previous government’s controversial two-tier citizenship law, which allowed the government to revoke the citizenship of Canadians convicted of terrorism and other offences. McCallum called it “a question of principle.”

On February 15, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion asserted the government’s intention to ask for clemency in death penalty cases abroad. Canada, he said, “must end this incoherent double standard. Canada opposes the death penalty and will ask for clemency in each and every case, no exceptions.”

On February 18, the government confirmed it was dropping the previous government’s appeal of the decision to grant bail to Omar Khadr. That same day, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Health Minister Jane Philpott announced the reinstatement of health care coverage for refugees.

And back in December, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale promised that he would review controversial directives enacted by the Harper government that allow for the sharing of security information with allies even in cases where that might lead to a suspect’s torture. Those directives were opposed by many human rights groups and described as contrary to international law and Canada’s United Nations commitments.

Bold moves, but not enough of them. Let’s get back to Mr. Dion’s comment about double standards for a moment. How can we reconcile Mr. Dion’s reasoning on the death penalty with the clear double standard involved in Ottawa’s continued attempts to deport Ottawa-based convention refugee and security certificate detainee Mohamed Harkat back to Algeria — where he faces a very real risk of torture and death?

Thirteen years ago, Harkat, a former pizza delivery man, was taken into custody on suspicion of being an al Qaida sleeper agent; he denies the accusation. Using the national security certificate — a seldom-used tool in immigration law for removing non-citizens suspected of extremism or espionage — Ottawa has been trying ever since to have him deported.

Harkat was arrested in 2002 and then released under strict conditions in 2006. He’s been under surveillance ever since.

Those detained under security certificates have no access to the secret information the government uses to accuse them of association with terrorism. Neither do their lawyers. The Supreme Court of Canada has expressed “discomfort” with security certificates, calling them “imperfect” — but stopping short of declaring them (in their current form) unconstitutional. The court has, however, declared unconstitutional the practice of destroying original information on which the allegations are based.

Despite this, the government is still relying on summaries of information that was destroyed for its rationale for keeping Mr. Harkat under surveillance and seeking his deportation.

The Federal Court also has ruled that the threat posed by Mr. Harkat has significantly decreased since his initial detention in 2002. Since 2009 all of the assessments done by CBSA, CSIS and the Federal Court state that Mr. Harkat poses a low risk. In September 2009, the court dropped many of his release conditions after CSIS said that he did not pose the threat they initially thought.

It’s very important to remember that Mr. Harkat has never committed a crime, nor has he been charged with one; this is not disputed by Canada’s security agencies. Mr. Harkat’s reputation has been smeared through the use of unexamined (because secret) allegations, through witnesses who later were found to have failed polygraph tests. He has abided by his release conditions to the letter since his release from jail in 2006, despite the immense pressure the authorities have put on him and his family.

The aim of the security certificate regime is deportation. A finding of “reasonableness” (in a process that applies the lowest standard of evidence in any judicial proceeding in Canada) is automatically converted into a deportation order. But for Mr. Harkat, deportation is a mortal threat; he would be sent to Algeria, a country identified by Amnesty International as one with an extremely poor human rights record.

Mr. Harkat fears torture and execution if he is returned — especially after having been labeled a terrorist by Canada, despite never having been charged and never having committed a crime. He has every reason to be afraid.

At minimum, the government of Canada should reconsider its intention to deport Mr. Harkat. It also needs to take a hard, critical look at the section of the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act that allows for security certificates — a law that all too often is used to remove rights and deport people, not protect them. The injustice of the security certificate system was even recognized by Prime Minister Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, in his 2006 documentary, Secure Freedom.

So far, Prime Minister Trudeau’s new government has indicated a willingness to undo at least some of the damage done by the previous government to Canada’s human rights record, at home and abroad. But they’re not done yet. Since mid-December, hundreds of concerned Canadians have sent letters of support asking Goodale to drop the proceedings. Canada has been given another opportunity to stop Mohamed Harkat’s deportation — and any others that might result in torture or death.

Do the right thing, Mr. Trudeau. Let him stay.

The Justice for Mohamed Harkat committee advocates on Mr. Harkat’s behalf for the abolition of the security certificate system, and to prevent his deportation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

© 2016 iPolitics

OTTAWA CITIZEN: Government takes next step to deport Harkat

posted on March 05, 2016 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: March 4, 2016

The federal government has taken another step toward the deportation of Ottawa’s Mohamed Harkat, filing a confidential report that says the terror suspect should be sent back to Algeria despite facing some risk of torture.

The report was prepared by Anne-Marie Charbonneau, manager of the danger assessments section of the Canada Border Services Agency.

It recommends to the senior government official who must ultimately decide Harkat’s fate — someone known as the minister’s delegate — that he be deported to Algeria because of his terror-related activities and the danger he poses.

If Harkat is not removed, the report warns, he would be free to “resume his contacts with members of the Islamic extremist network.”

“Mr. Harkat’s presence constitutes a real threat to the security of Canada and Canadians, as well as the security of other nations and their citizens,” concludes the risk assessment report, portions of which have been viewed by the Citizen.

The Harkat case was thrust back into the news this week after the Citizen revealed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, wrote a letter to the Liberal government, asking that deportation proceedings be halted.

Harkat has repeatedly expressed his belief that being deported to Algeria would result in his torture or death.

Charbonneau concedes that the human rights situation in Algeria remains a concern and that deportees who have been linked to terrorism face increased risks of harm.

While noting it’s impossible to say that Harkat faces no risk of torture or other cruel treatment, she concludes that he’s unlikely to face such harm upon deportation.

Charbonneau says his risk has been lowered by his high-profile and by the diplomatic assurances received from the Algerian government, which pledged to respect international prohibitions against torture.

The report also suggests Harkat’s wife — if she decides to stay in Canada without her husband — will not be financially disadvantaged since he has contributed little to their household income.

In an interview, Sophie Harkat said she was outraged by the hypocrisy of that suggestion when her husband has been effectively barred from employment by the government’s unfair labelling of him.

“You don’t know how much Mo wants to go back to work: He’s desperate to work, desperate,” said Harkat, noting her husband maintained three jobs — two at gas stations and one at Pizza Pizza — before his arrest.

“He’s applied for I don’t know how many jobs and he never gets called back.”

A 2013 medical report found that Harkat suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression.

Harkat’s defence team will now have the opportunity to make its own submissions to the minister’s delegate, who will have to weigh Harkat’s risk of being tortured in Algeria against the risk he poses to Canadians if he remains in this country.

A decision on deportation is expected later this year.

That decision, however, can be appealed to the Federal Court of Canada, and there’s every reason to believe that the case could end up in the Supreme Court for a third time.

The high court has yet to define the “exceptional circumstances” under which Canada can deport someone to a country where they face the risk of torture.

Earlier this week, Alexandre Trudeau appealed to the Liberal government to end the deportation proceedings, saying that Harkat “poses no danger whatsoever to the public or to public safety in Canada.”

He is among dozens of high-profile Canadians who have sent letters to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on behalf of the Justice for the Mohamed Harkat Committee, a lobby group trying to bring public pressure to bear to end the government’s 14-year campaign to deport him.

Harkat supporters have been encouraged by recent Liberal initiatives, including proposed changes to a law that allowed the government to strip citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorism, and Foreign Minster Stéphane Dion’s vow to seek clemency for all Canadians involved in death penalty cases abroad.

The Liberal government of then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien first ordered Harkat’s arrest in December 2002 on a security certificate, which allows federal officials to present evidence in secret.

Sophie Harkat said she doesn’t have the strength for another Supreme Court challenge and just wants the marathon case to end: “We don’t ask for an apology; we don’t ask for money. We just want it to end.”

© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.

OTTAWA CITIZEN: Trudeau's brother asks government to keep Harkat in Canada

posted on March 01, 2016 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: March 1, 2016

[PHOTO: Justin and Alexandre Trudeau in 2010. Ottawa Citizen files]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brother has written to a federal cabinet minister on behalf of Ottawa’s Mohamed Harkat, asking the Liberal government to continue its “sunny ways” by allowing the Algerian-born terror suspect to stay in Canada.

Alexandre Trudeau, a Montreal-based filmmaker, said he has a policy of not lobbying the Liberal government in any way, but decided to make an exception in the Harkat case because his involvement in the cause predated his older brother’s entry into politics.

In his letter, dated Feb. 27, Trudeau appealed to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to halt the unfair security certificate process and end the government’s attempt to deport Harkat.

“I urge you to use your unique position as minister, and the discretion afforded to you under the law, to exempt Mohamed Harkat from deportation and let him stay and live a productive life in Canada,” Alexandre Trudeau wrote, adding: “Make this decision of yours another shining example of your government’s commitment to sunny ways.”

The letter marks the first time that Trudeau, 42, has entered the political arena since his brother became prime minister in October.

Harkat, 47, is now fighting deportation, and has enlisted the support of dozens of high-profile Canadians in that effort.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, former UN ambassador Stephen Lewis, torture victim Maher Arar, and Omar Khadr lawyer Dennis Edney are among those who have petitioned the government to end its ongoing attempt to deport Harkat.

Alexandre Trudeau has been involved in the Harkat case for more than a decade. In 2005, he offered to act as a surety for Harkat during a bail application. Trudeau also wrote and directed a 2006 documentary, Secure Freedom, that examined the human rights abuses that took place in the name of Canadian national security after 9/11.

The second son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau has kept a low profile since his brother took office, but he has never been afraid to take unpopular stands. A globetrotting journalist and documentary filmmaker, Alexandre Trudeau has criticized Canada’s intervention in Afghanistan and Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza; he also heaped praise on Cuba’s Fidel Castro as “something of a superman” in a 2006 essay.

Trudeau shares a birthday (Dec. 25) with his brother, Justin, and served as a senior adviser on his 2012-13 campaign for the Liberal Party leadership.

In his letter to Goodale, Trudeau said security certificates remain a “fundamentally unfair measure” since they preclude the ability of suspects like Harkat to challenge the evidence against them.

“I am absolutely convinced that at this moment, he (Harkat) poses no danger whatsoever to the public or to public safety in Canada,” Alexandre Trudeau wrote, “but rather offers a positive commitment to the life he has created here.

“Just as importantly, Canadian and international law prohibit complicity in torture, and there is good reason to believe that Mohamed’s deportation to Algeria could lead to his torture.”

The law that governs security certificates, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, gives the minister the power to stop a deportation as long as it’s “not contrary to the national interest.”

In May 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the government’s revised security certificate regime and affirmed a decision that found Harkat to be an active member of the al-Qaida terrorist network. The case against Harkat was built on 13 wiretapped phone conversations and at least two unnamed informants, one of whom failed a lie-detector test.

The case remained dormant for 15 months until, halfway through last year’s federal election campaign, the government launched deportation proceedings.

Harkat insists he will be tortured or killed if returned as a terror suspect to Algeria, the country from which he fled in March 1990 during a military crackdown on government opponents.

Amnesty International Canada has warned that returning Harkat to Algeria would put him at risk of torture since many terror suspects are held in “incommunicado detention” where they’re routinely denied access to family, lawyers and doctors.

In its annual report on conditions in Algeria, Amnesty International condemned the North African country for refusing visits by UN human rights officials investigating torture, enforced disappearances and counter-terrorism measures.

© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.

Algeria: Government Bars UN Experts from Probing Human Rights Abuses, AI

posted on March 01, 2016 | in Category International | PermaLink

by Kamailoudini Tagba
Source: North Africa Post
URL: [link]
Date: February 25, 2016

Amnesty International lashed out at Algerian authorities in its human rights annual report presented Wednesday because of their persistent refusal to let UN experts investigate human right abuses and because they granted immunity to the authors of the grave crimes and tortures cased during the internal bloody war of 1990s.

“The authorities persisted in their refusal to allow visits to Algeria by some UN human rights bodies and experts, including those with mandates on torture, counter-terrorism, enforced disappearances and freedom of association,” the report says.

Algerian authorities have maintained state control on human rights and have attacked any one daring to speak against regime.

The report takes in account many aspects of human rights namely freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of association, the state of human rights activism, the justice system, women’s rights, impunity and the death penalty.

On all those aspects, the Algerian regime is severely slammed for doing nothing to improve its records.

The annual report indicates that over the year 2015, the State brutally handled gatherings and protests by activists and people claiming their rights. The report for instance explained that members of the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Unemployed (CNDDC) were handed prison terms of between one and two years.

The report also highlights government attempts to restrict freedom of association and determination to muzzle organizations and associations that fail to fall in line with government code of conduct.

“Associations seeking legal registration under Law 12-06, including Amnesty International Algeria, were left in limbo by the authorities, who failed to respond to registration applications.” the report says.

Commenting on the report, Amnesty International Algeria local Director Hassina Oussedik charged Algerian authorities for closing eyes on heinous and grave crimes committed during Algeria’s darkest history period of 1990s. For her the national reconciliation immunity granted in the new constitution to authors of grave crimes rolls back victims’ right for justice and reparation.

“The authorities continued to fail to investigate thousands of enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations and abuses, bring perpetrators to justice, and provide effective remedies to victims’ families,” the report adds.

© 2016 The North Africa Post

God Willing: The Story of Sophie Harkat

posted on February 27, 2016 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Zoe Chong
Source: The Carleton chapter of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR)
URL: [link]
Date: February 26, 2016

“Terrorism.” The word threw Sophie Harkat back into her chair, like a bomb emitting a shockwave through the earpiece of the phone. The impact forced out a scream of disbelief, and her concerned colleagues ran to her. It was a Tuesday afternoon and Sophie was at her shared office in the membership fundraising department at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. She’d just received a call from her husband’s immigration lawyer: He had been arrested. For suspected terrorism.

It was three weeks shy of their second wedding anniversary on Dec. 10, 2002, International Human Rights Day, when Mohamed Harkat was arrested under a security certificate—a controversial tool in Canadian immigration law, implemented in 1978, that allows the government to indefinitely detain non-citizens suspected of terrorism. A three-walled prison the government calls it—because the option to go back to your home country is always open, even if that means facing torture and even death. These individuals aren’t charged with a crime and don’t have access to any of the evidence against them. Since 1991, 27 men have been issued a security certificate. Currently, there are three men who have outstanding security certificates.

Mohamed Harkat, 47, an Algerian-native who has lived in Canada since 1995 and goes by Moe—a name well suited for the community handyman—has been living in Ottawa under this security certificate for over 13 years. Sophie has been fighting for his life ever since.

Moe was granted refugee status in 1997 after successfully claiming government persecution based on his political affiliations if he returned to Algeria, where his family still lives and he’ll likely never be able to see again. CSIS alleged that Moe was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent who attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and ran a guesthouse for terrorists in Pakistan, among other circumstantial evidence the government says is too dangerous to reveal.

Sophie was sitting in a cold waiting room at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre when she saw him in his jumpsuit; metal cuffs shackled his wrists, chains connected to his waist, then to his ankles. Her head was pounding from crying and worry kept her from sleep. What the hell is going on here? —the first words she said to Moe. But as he looked back at her behind the inch-thick glass that separated them, she already knew he’d been wronged. His lawyers later echoed her thoughts: He was a nice guy who got screwed by the system. She knew she had to take it on from there.

Sophie, 41, who grew up in the small town of Haileybury, ON, recalls the beginning of the family’s ordeal, with stark clarity, as we sit together at her orderly dining table while Moe works away in the garage. Sophie met Moe at a gas station she frequented on her way to and from work for a bottle of Diet Coke. One night, after a disastrous blind date, she walked in to the store in a bitter mood and Moe was behind the counter being as friendly as usual and she couldn’t help but melt under his kind gaze and genuine smile. A few months later, they eloped. Almost two years later, they were living in a small Ottawa apartment when Moe was arrested. The couple was making plans to get a bigger place and start a family. All of that was brought to a screeching halt.

Sophie has a stubborn propensity to focus on the positive—an optimism her mother, Pierrette Brunette, says she’s possessed since she was a child. This attitude pushed Sophie into immediate action after Moe’s arrest. She set up a press conference and called newsrooms herself, which earned this response: “Wait, you’re the Mrs. Harkat from Ottawa?” Like a horse out of the gate, she was ready to run with it.

Much to her high school teachers’ surprise, the always-funny improv champion didn’t pursue a career in theatre or stand-up comedy. Instead, the bilingual French Canadian studied public relations at college—a background she had no idea would be so useful.

In a way, she took on the biggest PR job—defending her husband, lobbying politicians, campaigning to the public. Moe is soft spoken and reserved—a contrast to his wife whose always-red cheeks signal her fiery nature. So it only came naturally—her husband shied away from the public eye and Sophie has become the face of the fight against Moe’s deportation and an advocate for the abolishment of secret trials. It was Moe’s face that donned the posters with the words “Stop secret trials,” but it was Sophie who spoke at every event. Working on Moe’s case is her full-time job, on top of her part-time job working as a school crossing guard. It was a complete 360 for Sophie.

“Before, I wasn’t political at all,” she says, as she cradles a cup of tea between her hands as we sit in her home, the faint murmur of a radio host’s voice coming from a speaker in the background. “I had never attended a rally. I had done none of it. Big political issues—it didn’t affect me then I didn’t care. And then this happened, and everything was affected.”

Her career. Health. Family. Life. Thirteen years of what she calls psychological torture. Yet she maintains the same unwavering drive and tenacity she had from the beginning.

After three and a half years in jail, Moe was released on strict bail conditions, which included constant supervision by Sophie or her mom, an ankle monitor and constant surveillance. Their emails and phone calls were monitored and recorded—from arguments over who should win America’s Got Talent to discussions about Moe’s case. Sophie often responded with “I’ll talk to you in person,” which CBSA thought was suspicious and later tallied to almost 400 times in court. On preapproved outings, conspicuous agents followed them closely, taking notes, bulletproof vests and large bolded letters on display. Literally breathing down their necks.

Sophie was both jailer and inmate for three and a half years, despite never being accused of any wrongdoing. Imprisoned by the process. They were living under constant worry that Moe would breach his conditions and be sent back to jail. “When he first came out, he was a different person. I was a different person,” she says. “He was living under a regime and I had my freedom and then all of a sudden, I felt suffocated—I was suffocating. We were together 24/7.”

Mohammad Mahjoub, another of the men with an outstanding security certificate in Toronto, decided to go back to jail when the repressive conditions proved too much for his family—his marriage deteriorated and his two teenagers lived with depression.

To spare his family, Moe offered on several occasions to return to jail. To relieve the almost unbearable hold the government had on their lives.

For Sophie, that was out of the question. That would be giving in to a process designed to humiliate the couple to the point of resignation. They’d worked so hard to get him out. And no way she’d return to a life of missing him. His smell—the mixture of diesel and dough that coated his skin after working at the gas station or delivering pizzas. His cold feet brushing hers as he’d get into bed. The sound of his laugh—cute and giggly, she says. I never got to hear that laugh.

Despite her unwavering loyalty, there were moments when Sophie hated Moe. When they both hated each other for making that decision.

Even after Moe’s conditions relaxed, they couldn’t just push play on their lives again. He spent three and a half years in jail and even once Moe was released under house arrest, they didn’t want to raise kids under those conditions—not being allowed to go outside. And even when it was approved, CBSA agents in bulletproof vests parked outside would be watching their every move. That wasn’t a life they wanted for their kids.

By the time they were ready, Sophie had several health issues with her diabetes. Three years ago, she suffered a miscarriage and hasn’t been able to get pregnant since. My eggs are getting old, she joked. And the chances they’ll be able to adopt? Sophie’s doubtful considering the accusations. Once you’re labelled a terrorist, it follows you for life.

“I blame the certificate for costing us a family. I absolutely blame the certificate for that,” she says.

She’s sad for her mother, who will only have her sister’s kids to pamper. Sad for her sister because she may never experience being an aunt. Sad for her husband who longs for a mini Moe running around the house. And ultimately, sad for herself: “I was meant to be a mom. At least one. At least one.”

It’s still something they’re hoping for. There’s that undying positivity again: “We love our nephew and niece like they’re our own. That’s how we have to see it.”

Yet, it’s still something that haunts her every day. The unending fear Moe could be taken from her at any moment.

For Sophie’s mother, Pierrette Brunette, she still hears her daughter’s voice in her sleep on occasion—hysterical, and yelling a panicked language she can’t understand.

“What a loss of time. What a loss of money. A lot. What a loss of energy,” she says, revealing a gap between her front teeth and her glasses resting on the tip of her nose, as we sit in a crowded café. Brunette’s features and mannerisms were so similar to her daughter’s—down to her laugh and sense of humour. Sophie told me about an encounter with a stranger who came up to her and told her she reminded her of someone she knew, which eventually turned out to be her mother.

Brunette, who raised her three daughters as a single mother, says she looks at Sophie and Moe, who she describes as “the boy she never had,” and she can’t help but recognize it: “They must be an example of tenacity. Love. They love each other so much.” That love is what’s made Sophie and Moe such a driving force in the fight to end the security-certificate law. And in some ways, they’ve been successful. A certificate hasn’t been issued since 2006. “In that sense,” Sophie says, “I think we can see it as a victory. Look at the precedent we’re setting.”

“Has your optimism ever wavered throughout the years?” I ask her. And without hesitation, she responds: “No.” But she says it’s definitely punched her in the gut. They lost their Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of the security-certificate law in 2014—their last legal challenge against Moe’s security certificate.

Send me with a casket, he said. That’s how certain Moe is about his death if he’s sent back to Algeria. Hilary Homes, the acting manager of the campaigns program at Amnesty International Canada, says Moe will likely face “incommunicado detention,” often used on terror suspects by countries like Algeria in which individuals are denied access to family members, legal counsel and independent doctors, and are also at higher risk of facing torture. For instance, Algerian-born Mourad Ikhlef was deported to his home country under a security certificate in 2003, where he was imprisoned and denied basic legal rights, such as being questioned under duress.

Now the reality of deportation is closer than ever, and Sophie can no longer avoid the subject. She thought they’d see justice before it reached this point. Now that their legal remedies have run out, their only chance is to show that Moe faces certain torture and death if he’s deported, and that the risk outweighs the danger he poses to Canadians. Which can’t be too large considering his bail conditions have lightened to the point where he can travel anywhere within the Ottawa boundary. Sophie is still looking for open doors, as she put it. She’s still hopeful the new Liberal government will repeal Moe’s security certificate. Alexandre Trudeau, Prime Minister Trudeau’s brother, has been a big advocate for the abolishment of security certificates and even made a documentary about the law in 2006.

Some critics have suggested their marriage was one of “convenience”—Sophie, the poor and naïve wife clinging to a jihadist husband at all costs, and Moe, the terrorist preying on a Canadian woman and using her as a cloak for his illicit activities. Her already naturally flushed cheeks turn an even more intense pink when she addresses these claims made by the court, government officials and some individuals. “If your wife was on life support, would you disconnect her? It’s the same thing: my husband is on life support and I just don’t know when he’s going to die. I’m his lifeline here. So you want me to unplug him not knowing we didn’t get to the bottom of the case? Would you accept that for yourself?”

Matthew Behrens, coordinator for the campaign to stop secret trials in Canada and long-time supporter of the couple, says their marriage is anything but convenient. Behrens, an American-native, has been involved in social justice work for decades and he was one of the first to contact Sophie after hearing of Moe’s arrest, having worked on security certificate cases for years. “You spend two minutes in their presence and you know what a lie that is and yet, these so called intelligence people are coming to these conclusions not having met them and even if they have, they’re relying on the veil of secrecy that allows them to get away with it.”

“Moe was the perfect guy to arrest,” Sophie’s mom, Brunette, says. “He hardly spoke English so it’s hard for him to defend himself. Absolutely no family to help him. Not much money—three jobs but low pay so he didn’t have the money to pay for a lawyer. They forgot one thing, he’s married to Sophie and you watch out!”

Now, at 41 years old, Sophie has spent a third of her life in this seemingly unending battle. Psychological torture—that’s what Sophie says she’s been through for the past 13 years. Putting her life out on a platter. She gave her husband a voice when he had none.

“I do it because he’s my husband, because I love him and because I believe in his innocence and for the principle of justice—it’s as simple as that.”

And she has gained the support of several people who have given donations and posted bail for Moe; long-time supporters with equal tenacity and fierce advocacy for Moe, who have now become part of their family. These supporters have been instrumental in the fight towards abolishing the security-certificate law.

One Saturday night, about 60 of these supporters gather in a music-filled house that vibrates the hardwood floor—a special event serving as a thank you to supporters for their continued advocacy. It holds the ambience of a family reunion. The occasional high-pitched chuckle, distinctively Sophie’s, rises above the twang of an electric mandolin and accompanying chatter. Moe has a bottle of Diet Coke in hand, the same drink Sophie bought habitually at the gas station where they first met, and he later asked her out—the start of their love story. Standing next to each other, they seem like an odd couple—Sophie, loud and honest, and Moe, always looking to Sophie who stands a few inches taller. But as she puts her hand on his shoulder, their love is anything but odd.

“We just want to be normal.” A phrase Sophie repeats on several occasions throughout my time spent with her. “I know he needs me to do this, but I need him just as much as he needs me.”

“As they say,” she says with a smile, “Insha’Allah.” God willing.

CarletonJHR Copyright ©2016

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