Accused terrorist Mohamed Harkat freed of tracking device

posted on July 22, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Megan Gillis
Source: The Ottawa Sun
URL: [link]
Date: July 18, 2013

PHOTO: Terror suspect Mohamed Harkat has been freed from the GPS tracking anklet that he has had on for seven years. The device was removed on a federal judge’s order Thursday. Harkat cools off at a water park near his home in Ottawa, On. Thursday, July 18, 2013. This was the first time in seven years that Harkat wore shorts. Tony Caldwell/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency

Terror suspect Mohamed Harkat has been freed from the GPS tracking anklet that kept him “an animal on a leash” for seven years.

He slept in Thursday, the morning after the device was removed on a federal judge’s order, instead of waking at dawn to spend two hours charging it. He can wear shorts in the heat.

The weight he dragged with every step is gone.

“It’s relief, like breathing pure oxygen,” he said Thursday.

“It’s one step to clear my name. It gives me hope for the future, the victory just around the corner. It’s just a matter of time to get there.”

Harkat, 44, can also have a basic cell phone and use a desktop computer connected to the Internet, although it will be subject to monthly inspections.

“It goes without saying” that he can’t access jihad sites or contact anyone linked to terrorism, Judge Simon Noel wrote.

The next step is the Supreme Court in his fight against Canada’s system of security certificates, which allow non-citizens judged security threats to be detained and deported without seeing all the evidence against them.

It’s been more than a decade since the former pizza deliveryman was arrested outside his Vanier home.

The Algerian refugee denies allegations he was an al-Qaida sleeper agent who once ran a safe house in Pakistan for Islamic extremists.

He spent 3 1/2 years behind bars before being released on strict conditions. He’s since been served with a notice of deportation.

Federal Court Judge Noel cited the passage of time and its reduction of the risk Harkat poses to national security in concluding the “demanding, intrusive” conditions were “disproportionate.”

“The initial danger has diminished considerably,” Noel wrote in a decision released Thursday. “Mr. Harkat has complied through time with the strict conditions. Conditions of release therefore have to be adapted to this new favourable reality for Mr. Harkat.”

He’s now a “well-known person” who owes a lot to his friends and family and won’t disappoint them with a breach.

“The consequences for him are too important,” Noel wrote.

Matthew Webber, one of the lawyers who will take Harkat’s fight to the top court in October, called the changes to his conditions “sweeping.” It’s a “significant legal observation” that a judge found any risk to Canada has dropped over time.

“We still have the Supreme Court on the horizon,” Webber said, adding “the case isn’t over yet.”

megan.gillis AT

Twitter: @ottawsun_megan

Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.

The secret court: Judges to go into hiding for Harkat hearing

posted on July 21, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Colin Freeze
Source: The Globe & Mail
URL: [link]
Date: July 19, 2013

When the Supreme Court of Canada returns from its summer hiatus, it will go underground – convening for an unprecedented bunker-style session.

During a unique, closed hearing on Oct. 11, the nine top court judges will meet with sworn-to-secrecy lawyers inside a secure room – and not necessarily at the Supreme Court itself. Together, they will review top-secret files relating to how informants passed intelligence to the government on terrorism suspect Mohamed Harkat.

How sensitive is this information? Canada’s top court won’t even reveal where the hearing will take place. “The court cannot disclose the location of the in camera portion of the hearing for reasons of national security,” executive legal officer Owen Rees wrote in an e-mailed response to Globe and Mail questions.

Such secrecy is unheard of for the Supreme Court, an institution that televises its hearings, while writing rulings upholding open courts (and sometimes alleging that closed court hearings can give rise to “mischief that flows from a presumption of secrecy”).

“This is a court and a Chief Justice that have always moved in the direction of more openness to the public,” said Adam Dodek, a University of Ottawa law professor. Given this history, he said “there’d have to be incredibly compelling evidence of a security risk” for any sort of secret hearing.

The matters at hand are legal tangents relating to the decade-old Harkat case being mulled by the Federal Court of Canada, a level of court that so frequently deals with state secrets that it has built ultra-secure courtrooms impenetrable to outsiders or even sophisticated spying equipment. Now the Supreme Court is being pulled into this subterranean legal world as the nine justices ponder a pivotal question: How much secrecy should judges afford to Canadian Security Intelligence Service sources?

Government lawyers argue that CSIS informants need to be invested with a “class privilege” – a legal distinction that would make the anonymity surrounding the CSIS-informant relationship legally inviolable. Anything less, the government argues in a public filing, would cause CSIS informants to “close up like a clam.”

The legal issues arise in the Harkat case, which has twice landed on the Supreme Court’s doorstep and is poised to do so again this fall. Accused of being an Algerian al-Qaeda sleeper agent under Canada’s controversial “security-certificate” law, Mr. Harkat has seen his liberties restricted in Canada since 2002, when a CSIS dossier first persuaded a Federal Court judge to brand him as too dangerous to remain at large in Canada.

Eleven years later, Mr. Harkat is still here, denying ties to al-Qaeda, and fighting forms of house arrest and a looming deportation. On Thursday, the Federal Court allowed Mr. Harkat to stop wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet that had been on his ankle for years.

Demanding that he be allowed to confront his accusers and specific allegations, he is challenging the law.

The CSIS sources who first informed on Mr. Harkat are unknown. On Oct. 10, the Supreme Court will have a public hearing into the constitutionality of the so-called “security-certificate” regime that’s being used to neutralize Mr. Harkat. The next day, the judges will disappear to the secret hearing so as to better peruse the CSIS files.

Never drawn as deeply into a security-certificate case before, the Supreme Court must abide by laws requiring judges to do all they can “to ensure the confidentiality of information” in such cases. Their counterparts at Federal Court have done this, sources say, by being very cautious indeed – for example, by installing secure data networks in the secret courtrooms, and periodically sweeping these facilities for listening devices.

The quandary now is that, while the Supreme Court is not known to have sufficiently secure courtrooms built into its home base, the Federal Court’s facilities are said to be too small to accommodate nine judges. So the best location for the Harkat hearing is not clear.

What is clear is that secure intelligence courtrooms appear to have been in Canada for at least 30 years. In 1984, Parliament passed the CSIS Act, which created the standalone spy service from the remains of the discredited RCMP Security Service. This, in turn, led the Federal Court to build an ultrasecure courtroom, with a separate, top-secret-cleared staff.

For years, this primary secure Federal Court facility was known to insiders only as “the bunker,” for its cheerless ambience – a grotty, windowless, cinder block room in the basement of an Ottawa federal building. The bunker eventually expanded as a secondary court was cobbled out of an adjacent storage room. More recently, the two courts moved together to some more cheery surroundings – somewhere.

Roula Eatrides, a spokeswoman for the Federal Court, explained in an e-mailed reply to Globe questions that even Federal Court staffers only learn about these facilities on a “need to know” basis. She stressed that “these proceedings involve highly classified and sensitive information” and added that those who attend are “permanently bound to secrecy.”

Today’s facilities are “two secure courtrooms located in the same secure facilities,” said Ms. Eatrides, before adding that “the exact location is not widely disclosed for security reasons.”

© Copyright 2013 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Les autorités retirent le bracelet GPS du présumé terroriste Mohamed Harkat

posted on July 18, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

par La Presse canadienne
Source: Le Devoir
URL: [link]
Date: 18 juillet 2013

Ottawa — La femme d'un résidant d'Ottawa accusé d'avoir des liens avec des groupes terroristes a annoncé jeudi que les autorités avaient retiré le bracelet de surveillance électronique de la cheville de son mari.

Sophie Harkat a affirmé que l'Agence des services frontaliers du Canada (ASFC) avait enlevé l'appareil mercredi soir dans la foulée d'un ordre de la cour visant à adoucir les conditions de mise en liberté de Mohamed Harkat.

Le jugement de la Cour fédérale, qui fait suite à une audience ayant eu lieu en juin, n'a pas encore été rendu public.

Mme Harkat a toutefois confié à La Presse canadienne que son époux et elle étaient revenus à leur résidence mercredi et découvert que l'ASFC leur avait laissé un message téléphonique leur demandant de se présenter à l'un de ses bureaux pour que le bracelet GPS puisse être retiré.

M. Harkat, un réfugié algérien, a été arrêté il y a plus de 10 ans en vertu d'un certificat de sécurité parce qu'il était soupçonné d'être un agent double d'al-Qaïda, une accusation qu'il a démentie.

Depuis sept ans, il est assigné à son domicile et soumis à des conditions très strictes.

© Le Devoir 2002-2013

Mohamed Harkat has tracking bracelet removed

posted on July 18, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Jim Bronskill (CP)
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: July 18, 2013

Accused terrorist, Mohamed Harkat, has tracking bracelet removed

OTTAWA — The wife of an Ottawa man accused of terrorist ties says border agents have removed an electronic tracking bracelet from his ankle.

Canada Border Services Agency took the tracking device off late Wednesday as part of a court-ordered relaxation of Mohamed Harkat's release conditions, Sophie Harkat said Thursday.

It has been more than a decade since Harkat, a refugee from Algeria, was arrested under a national security certificate on suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent — an accusation he denies.

Harkat, 44, has essentially been living under house arrest with stringent conditions — including the tracking bracelet — for seven years.

Sophie Harkat and her husband arrived home Wednesday to a phone message telling them to come to a border services office to have the bracelet removed.

"He feels like he's no longer an animal with a leash," she said in interview. "His eyes were just sparkling last night. And we were high-fiving each other."

In a ruling released Thursday, Federal Court of Canada Justice Simon Noel said Harkat may also possess a basic mobile phone for calls and text messaging, and a home computer connected to the Internet.

He must agree to give the border agency the mobile phone number and access to records of communication retained by the service provider. Harkat must also allow the agency access to his computer for monthly inspection.

"It goes without saying that Mr. Harkat shall not use his computer to access jihad sites or any other sites of this nature and shall not communicate with anyone who may have direct or indirect connections with jihad or terrorism," says Noel's ruling.

In addition, Harkat will be allowed to travel outside the national capital area, through he must provide five working days' notice to the border agency, along with his itinerary.

Previously, he could not leave the area without permission and was denied access to a mobile phone or a computer with Internet connectivity. The federal government was willing to allow Harkat a phone, but balked at the idea of giving him access to the Internet or removing his tracking bracelet.

The time for those restrictions has passed, Noel concluded.

"The initial danger has diminished considerably. Mr. Harkat has complied through time with the strict conditions," he wrote in his ruling.

"Conditions of release therefore have to be adapted to this new favourable reality for Mr. Harkat."

The judge noted that since his marriage to Sophie, Harkat had adapted nicely to his new environment.

"He is a well-known person who has developed a stable relationship and new friends. He owes a lot to his family and friends, and he is not in a position to disappoint them by breaching any of the remaining conditions of release. The consequences for him are too important."

Harkat's case has been tied up in the courts since the former pizza delivery man's arrest on Dec. 10, 2002.

Security certificates have been used since 1991 to deport non-citizens accused of being terrorists or spies. The person named in a certificate receives only a summary of the case against them, which critics say violates the tenets of fundamental justice.

In October, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a challenge of the security certificate system brought by Harkat and his lawyers.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

PHOTOS: Harkat Bail review Hearing, June 11, 2013

posted on June 17, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Thanks to Ottawa Fro for taking these photos of Moe and some of his supporters outside the court room, at Moe's bail review. June 11, 2013.

June 11, 2013, Ottawa
Click on image to see more photos

Mohamed Harkat asks court to scrap GPS ankle bracelet

posted on June 11, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

By Doug Hempstead
Source: The Ottawa Sun
URL: [link]
Date: June 11, 2013

OTTAWA — Just the thought of not having to lie on a bed for two hours each day to recharge his GPS tracking ankle bracelet was enough to make Mohamed Harkat smile Tuesday.

The Algerian citizen, suspected of having ties to terrorism, has worn one for seven years.

Now a Federal Court judge is considering Harkat's plea to have it removed after a lengthy submission by his lawyer, Matthew Webber.

Harkat, 44, arrived in Canada in 1995 and was granted refugee status in 1998.

He was arrested outside his Ottawa home on Dec. 10, 2002, and accused of operating a safe house for Islamic extremists in Pakistan when he was 19 and having associations with terrorist groups.

He was jailed for 3 1/2 years — including one year in solitary confinement — and released on bail June 21, 2006.

The government issued a security certificate against him and served him with a notice of deportation in 2011.

If Harkat were allowed to use a computer, he'd be willing to allow Canada Border Services Agency or CSIS access to the device remotely or in-person to monitor his e-mails and the websites he visits, Webber said.

The GPS is the major issue. Webber said the stress of wearing the bracelet has taken a psychological and physical toll on Harkat.

Judge Simon Noel said there are "bound to be consequences when a person is subjected to the certificate procedure," but later suggested Harkat could perhaps wear some sort of watch-like device instead.

It's not known how long Noel will take to make a decision on the restrictions.

Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.

Accused terrorist Mohamed Harkat back in court

posted on June 11, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Ottawa Citizen and The Canadian Press
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: June 11, 2013

OTTAWA - Mohamed Harkat returns to Federal Court Tuesday seeking complete removal or a relaxation of conditions on his release from detention under a Security Certificate.

Leading up to Tuesday’s hearing, the federal government said it will allow the Ottawa man accused of terrorist ties to have a mobile phone but it balked at the idea of giving Harkat access to the Internet or removing his electronic tracking bracelet.

In documents filed with the Federal Court, the government also said it is open to dropping a requirement that Harkat get prior approval before travelling out of town.

The concessions would ease current release conditions for Harkat, but fall short of the full list of freedoms he is seeking during Tuesday’s one-day Federal Court hearing.

It has been more than a decade since Harkat, a refugee from Algeria, was arrested under a national security certificate on suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent. He has essentially been living under house arrest with stringent conditions for seven years.

Harkat, 44, lives at home in Ottawa with wife Sophie, but wears an electronic GPS bracelet on his ankle, must check in with authorities regularly and cannot leave the capital area without permission. He is denied access to a mobile phone or a computer with Internet connectivity.

“I feel dehumanized and degraded on a daily basis,” Harkat says in an affidavit in support of his request for less onerous conditions. “The GPS ankle bracelet I am required to wear is a constant reminder of this.”

Harkat denies any involvement in terrorist activities. He says his decade-long ordeal has taken a toll, and that he’s been treated by a psychiatrist for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia for the last three years.

“I feel that much of my psychological difficulties are a result of the extremely restrictive conditions under which I live,” he says in the affidavit.

Harkat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Colin Cameron, says his patient takes four medications — two of which have had to be increased a number of times over the last three years — to manage his “significant depressive, post-traumatic stress and anxiety symptoms.”

In a brief to the court, Harkat’s lawyers call the current release conditions “harsh and excessive.”

Harkat argues his current lack of access to the Internet prevents him from emailing family members, the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, legal counsel or even the Canada Border Services Agency, which monitors his daily movements and approves or denies travel requests.

In addition, he says, he “feels uneasy” about not having a mobile phone in the event of an emergency when away from home — noting his wife suffers from diabetes and his nephew has allergies that require him to carry an epi-pen.

In its court submission, the government says the conditions imposed on Harkat — including GPS monitoring and the prohibition on Internet access — are proportional to the danger.

“The threat posed by Mr. Harkat relates directly to his ability to meet and communicate with persons associated with terrorism,” says the brief. “The conditions were imposed in order for the Court to be reassured that Mr. Harkat would not maintain or undertake such contacts.”

Harkat argues he has done everything expected of him to date.

“I have not breached any of my conditions since they were reviewed in September 2009. Compliance with the conditions is the predominant focus of my daily activities. I am very serious about respecting my conditions of release and clearing my name.”

The border services agency notes “erratic and unusual driving” by Harkat that may be “indicative of a wilful attempt to hinder (border agency) surveillance operations,” but agrees that there have been “no breaches of the terms and conditions” imposed on him since the last review.

However, federal lawyers say the lack of any breaches “is an indication that the conditions are working effectively, and are serving to mitigate the risk posed by Mr. Harkat.”

Security certificates have been used since 1991 to deport non-citizens accused of being terrorists or spies. The person named in a certificate receives only a summary of the case against them, which critics say makes for a mockery of fundamental justice.

Harkat’s case has been bound up in legal proceedings since the former pizza delivery man’s arrest on Dec. 10, 2002.

In October, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a challenge of the security certificate system brought by Harkat and his lawyers.

(c) The Ottawa Citizen

Future top Mountie Paulson declared security certificate process 'off the rails'

posted on June 04, 2013 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

by Jim Bronskill (CP)
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: June 2, 2013

OTTAWA - On his way to becoming Canada's top cop, Bob Paulson told internal reviewers the national security certificate process for detaining suspected terrorists was "completely off the rails," newly released documents show.

In an interview with an auditor examining the controversial program, Paulson, now RCMP commissioner, expressed concerns about excessive state secrecy in certificate proceedings.

The national security certificate is a seldom-used tool for removing non-citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage from Canada.

"In my view, we over claim the protection of sources and methods and this is convenient if you can get away with it," say notes from the October 2009 interview, recently released under the Access to Information Act.

Paulson was assistant RCMP commissioner for national security at the time of the interview. Two years later, he was picked by the Harper government to become commissioner.

The discussion was part of a 2009-10 federal evaluation of the "relevance and performance" of the security certificate initiative, which had been revamped in 2008 after elements were found to be unconstitutional.

Despite the changes, civil libertarians have persistently criticized the national security certificate because the person named sees only a bare-bones summary of the case against them.

Opponents say federal authorities should criminally charge someone who is believed to be involved in terrorism, not try to deport them based on evidence put forward behind closed doors.

"The security certificate is an odd beast as it has come to be understood," Paulson told the interviewer. "If we had the threshold belief that we could take criminal action, we would do so."

When the review took place, four certificates had been on the books for several years, all against Muslim men accused of terrorist ties.

The government had withdrawn one certificate just a month earlier, in September 2009, in order to avoid sensitive intelligence being presented in court. Another certificate would be tossed out by the courts in early 2010.

Currently, three people arrested under security certificates — Mohamed Harkat of Algeria, and Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, both from Egypt — are out on bail under strict surveillance as their cases slowly grind through the courts.

"If we were careful about how we brought the (security certificates) to bear upon these people it may have worked better," Paulson said in the interview. "As it is being applied now the (security certificate) is completely off the rails."

Paulson decried what he saw as a failure to make certificate detainees reasonably apprised of the case against them.

"Instead we are going to make the subject 'work' for the information. 'Take our word for it' approach," say the notes.

The internal records were obtained under the federal access law by Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, who provided a copy to The Canadian Press.

In perhaps the most significant extremism case since Paulson took over, two non-citizens were charged in April under the Anti-Terrorism Act — not arrested using security certificates — for allegedly plotting to derail a passenger train.

Paulson's comments were "very forthright" and "refreshing" in suggesting the security certificate program was dysfunctional, Larsen said. "It seems that he feels that transparency and accountability have not been fully respected in the certificate proceedings."

In the 2009 interview, Paulson also took a swipe at the interdepartmental process for sharing input on the security certificate system.

"I would assess the co-ordination as being characteristic of typical departments involved in security. Siloed and self-interested," say the notes.

"Typically these interdepartmental initiatives are absent of leadership and decision-making ability. It usually turns on the goodwill of the participants rather than the co-operation delivered by leadership."

Portions of the two-page interview summary — including Paulson's recommendations for improving federal policy-making on the certificate program — were deemed too sensitive to disclose.

The RCMP has no additional comment, said Sgt. Greg Cox, a force spokesman.

The government revamped the certificate process after the Supreme Court of Canada declared it unconstitutional in 2007. A key change was the addition of special advocates — lawyers who serve as watchdogs and test federal evidence against the person facing deportation.

However, the special advocates do their work behind closed doors due to the sensitive nature of the classified information before the court in such cases.

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to revisit the question of just how open the process should be in response to a challenge brought by Harkat.

© 2010 - 2013 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.

Harkat optimistic about appeal

posted on January 25, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Noman Bajwah
Source: Muslim Link
URL: [link]
Date: January 22, 2013

Ten years after his arrest, security certificate detainee Mohamed Harkat has something to look forward to.

Mr. Harkat’s case will become the first to test the constitutionality of Canada’s revised security certificate law as it moves to a hearing before the Supreme Court.

On November 22, the Supreme Court of Canada declared it would hear appeals from the Algerian-born Ottawa resident and the government, most likely in the fall of 2013.

“I’m confident,” Mr. Harkat replied when asked how he felt about the outcome of the appeals. “I have big hopes in the Supreme Court,” he stated.

His wife is similarly optimistic. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to go through two certificates and the federal court of appeal, but for me – the ultimate justice comes in the hands of the highest court,” Sophie Harkat told reporters.

Mr. Harkat’s attorneys have long stated that the government’s use of the security certificate process is profoundly unfair because Harkat still doesn’t know the exact detail of the allegations against him.

In April 2012, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the security certificates, but also ordered Federal Court Justice Simon Noel to reconsider his conclusion that Mr. Harkat’s continuing presence in Canada was a security threat.

The provision that is most attacked by Mr. Harkat and his supporters is the “special advocates” clause, which allows individuals aligned with the government to be privy to secret government evidence. The Federal Court of Appeal ruled in April that the use of such advocates is constitutional.

These “special advocates” are government appointed agents who must consult with the same judge who upheld the certificate to talk to the detainee. “Special advocates” are supposed to be security-cleared lawyers who are allowed to attend closed hearings where they can hear government evidence and ostensibly protect the rights of the accused.

However, a key component of the “special advocates” role is that they are forbidden from communicating with the detainees or their ordinary legal counsel about the confidential information that is divulged to them in secrecy.

Mr. Harkat was arrested outside his Ottawa home on Dec. 10, 2002 for allegedly operating a safe house for extremists in Pakistan. He was 19 years old at the time. His ten year ordeal has been marked by 43 months of imprisonment followed by three and a half years of the harshest bail and house arrest conditions imposed in Canadian history.

His family put up $100,000 to guarantee his release condition that he wear an electronic monitoring device at all times, remain under 24-hour supervision (even while at home). He also had to inform authorities 48 hours in advance if he planned on leaving his home and had to submit the names of people he planned on seeing.

Those bail conditions were eased in September 2009. Two years later, the government issued a security certificate against him and served him with a notice of deportation.

Even now, Mr. Harkat cannot use the internet, cannot use a telephone outside the house and must receive special permission to leave Ottawa. Mrs. Harkat says officials with the Canadian Border Services Agency are constantly parked outside their home.

Copyright © 2013 Eye Media Solutions Inc. All rights reserved.

Harkat recounts his turbulent decade under terrorist storm cloud

posted on January 17, 2013 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: December 10, 2012

[PHOTO: Sophie and Mohamed Harkat are marking the tenth anniversary of his initial arrest, on Dec. 10, 2002.]

OTTAWA — Ten years ago, on Dec. 10, 2002, Mohamed Harkat had a few errands to run before starting his 3 p.m. shift as a Petro-Canada gas station cashier.

First, he had to throw out the garbage at his Vanier townhouse complex, then he had to drop off an application to renew his work permit at a federal immigration office. He was hoping to find work as a short-haul truck driver.

After depositing his trash, however, Harkat was stopped in his tracks by a team of border agents and police officers.

One of the agents put his hand on Harkat’s arm and showed him a picture. Harkat stared into his own face.

“You are Mohamed Harkat?” the agent demanded.

“Yes,” Harkat said.

Harkat had been living in Ottawa for seven years, ever since making a refugee claim in 1995. But his English was still a work in progress. He didn’t understand everything the agent then told him; he knew only that he was under arrest.

“In my head, a thousand questions came to my brain,” remembers Harkat of the moment that would mark the start of his 10-year legal odyssey.

“But I never, ever thought I’d be arrested: there is no reason. There’s nothing I did wrong.”
With his case now before the Supreme Court of Canada, the question of whether Harkat did anything wrong remains unanswered one decade after his arrest.

For all that time, Harkat has lived with the accusation that he participated in the worst possible crime: terrorism. Yet Harkat was not being charged as a criminal. He would not face a trial governed by conventional rules.

As a foreign-born refugee, he had been arrested on a federal security certificate, a powerful and rarely used instrument of Canada’s immigration law. It gave the federal government the power to detain Harkat indefinitely; to use secret evidence to brand him a terrorist; and to send him back to a country where he could be tortured.

The law was created in 1978 to swiftly deport those the government suspected of being involved in terrorism, but against whom there was insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution.

Since 9/11, however, the security certificate process has proved anything but swift. Three accused terrorists, including Harkat, have been before the courts for more than a decade.

Indeed, Harkat remains the subject of a legal process that will not be resolved for at least another year, and likely longer.

What cannot be debated, however, is the strangeness of Harkat’s decade. He has spent three and a half years in jail, including one full year in solitary confinement. He has lived under the strictest house arrest ever imposed in Canada. He has twice been declared a terrorist by Federal Court judges only to have those decisions overturned by higher courts. His face has become so well known that people recognize him on the street and in the grocery store.

In an exclusive interview to mark the anniversary of his arrest, Harkat relived the peaks and troughs of his turbulent decade.

In the days that followed his arrest, Harkat was convinced he would be released. But days turned into weeks and weeks into months as lawyers and judges grappled with a security certificate process little defined by case law.

For Harkat, the wait was painful since he was being treated by the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as its most dangerous inmate. He spent one full year in solitary confinement.

“The first year in the cell alone, it was a nightmare,” he says. “I was crying most of the time. I had no ideas what was going on in the world.”

In solitary, Harkat had no access to newspapers or television and his visits were strictly limited. He spent 20 minutes a day in the exercise yard in handcuffs and chains.

Other prisoners were sent to solitary — “the hole” — as a punishment for fighting or rule infractions. They would often express their frustration by banging on cell doors.

“They won’t let you sleep: they bang the doors all night,” Harkat says. “They don’t give a damn who’s living beside them. They drive people crazy there.”

Forty-three months after he was first jailed, Harkat was flown to Ottawa on a government jet after being released from a Kingston prison built for security certificate detainees.

It was June 21, 2006. Harkat was about to be released on the strictest set of bail conditions ever seen in Canada. The conditions required that he never be home alone; that he wear an electronic tracking bracelet and be accompanied by a surety whenever he left the house.

In addition, Harkat had to agree to have his mail searched, his phone tapped and be followed by border agents anytime he left the house.

None of that mattered, though, when he arrived at the door of his Ottawa home. Walking through the front door, he says, was the best moment since his arrest.

“The air smells different, it even feels different,” he says. “You appreciate the things around you when it’s gone for awhile.”

Harkat, his wife and extended family celebrated with a halal roast beef dinner.

Months later, in February 2007, they had reason to celebrate again when the Supreme Court ruled the country’s security certificate regime was unconstitutional. The court found the secretive process denied defendants the fundamental right to meet the case against them, and ordered the government to rewrite it.

Harkat felt vindicated: he had been telling anyone who would listen the same thing for more than four years.

“The Supreme Court said the system doesn’t work. That’s what I was waiting for,” he says. “That was a good day. It gave us hope.”

The high court decision overturned a Federal Court judge’s finding — based largely on secret evidence — that Harkat was a terrorist.

Mohamed Harkat was in the shower when Canadian border agents came to arrest him for a second time. An agent walked into the bathroom on Jan. 29, 2008 and hauled him out of the shower.

“He gave me a towel and said, ‘Get dressed,’” Harkat remembers. “I thought, ‘What is going on?’”

The agent accused Harkat of violating his bail, which required him to live with his wife, Sophie, and mother-in-law, Pierrette Brunette.

A sad, strange story would later emerge in court. Brunette, it turned out, had split with her former partner, Alois Weidemann, in whose Heron Gate home the Harkats lived. The failed romance poisoned the home and left Weidemann with the Harkats as unwelcome tenants.

Harkat, who was released from jail after four days, felt the arrest was particularly unfair since he had been so careful to abide by his bail conditions. “We were following every single order,” he says.

Border agents would again appear at Harkat’s door little more than one year later, in May 2009.

The Canada Border Services Agency had been given the right to conduct unannounced searches of the home as part of Harkat’s bail order. Sixteen agents and police officers with three dog teams swept the house for six hours. They left with 12 boxes of material, including a home computer and a family photo album.

A judge later ruled the search was an intelligence-gathering exercise that breached the Harkats’ privacy rights.

“I was like a dog on a chain and they could pull my chain anytime they wanted,” Harkat says. “They could walk in anytime they wanted; that was what we lived with.”

By the middle of 2009, almost seven years after his arrest, Mohamed Harkat thought he could see light through the storm.

The government’s case against him was in trouble. It had just been revealed that a key CSIS informant in the case had failed a lie-detector test — a fact not previously disclosed to the court.

For Harkat, the finding went to the heart of the problem with security certificates. He believes the process affords dubious informants too much protection.

In his case, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) informants testified only in secret, and even then were not subject to cross-examination by Harkat’s lawyers.

“I’m thinking the informant is scared from 9/11 — and they (CSIS) showered him with lots of money,” says Harkat.

Then, in September 2009, the court unexpectedly lifted the most difficult terms of Harkat’s bail. It meant he could stay home alone and go outside without a surety as long as he wore his tracking bracelet.

CSIS even downgraded the threat posed by Harkat. In a report to the court, it described him as a someone who played a mostly logistical role for international jihadists and did not engage in violent acts.

At the time, Harkat firmly believed his legal odyssey was coming to end.

The Harkats began to plan for their future. They talked about starting a family; Mohamed Harkat decided to go to college to pursue accreditation as an electrician or plumber.

That’s how confident they were that Federal Court Justice Simon Noël would quash the security certificate.

The cases against two other security certificate detainees had already crumbled and the Harkats were certain that theirs would be next.

They could not have been more wrong. In December 2010, Noël ruled that the government had made a reasonable decision in concluding that Harkat was a terrorist threat to national security.

Noël dismissed Harkat’s testimony as simplistic, dishonest and misleading, and upheld almost all of the government’s allegations against him.

The Harkats heard the news in their lawyer’s office. “It felt like someone put a nail in my heart,” says Harkat, who regards it as one of the worst days of his epic decade.

The Supreme Court will consider the Harkat case next year as it examines the constitutionality of the federal government’s security certificate regime.

Among other things, Harkat will argue that the current regime puts too much emphasis on secret evidence and affords too much protection to CSIS informants.

He points to the case of Mubin Shaikh, a CSIS and RCMP informant, who testified publicly against members of a terrorist cell, known as the Toronto 18, and continues to live in the city without incident.

“Why can’t the same thing happen in my case? Why should it be so different?” asks Harkat, who continues to press his demand for a fair and open trial.

“I still have hope in the system,” he says.

Harkat’s wife, Sophie, says the fight to clear her husband’s name has become intensely personal. During the past decade, she has become a lighting rod for critics who accuse her of wilful blindness. Some have insisted hers is a marriage of convenience.

“I’ve got nothing to win by staying in this relationship: there’s nothing convenient about it,” she says. “If I wanted to go 10 years ago, I could have left 10 years ago.

“But I believe in his innocence and I believe in due process. People should stop attacking me. I’m just fighting for human rights here.”

Still, she admits to being worn down by the decade and the fight that still looms.

“In 10 years, other people move on, other people graduate, other people have kids. We don’t.”

© Copyright The Ottawa Citizen 2012

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