Photos From Our Recent Press Conference

posted on April 27, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Julie Oliver
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Date: April 25, 2012

Mohamad Harkat, Ottawa
Mohamed Harkat smiles at a press conference in Ottawa, April 25, 2012. Photo by Julie Oliver for The Ottawa Citizen. All rights reserved.

See more of Julie Oliver's photos of the press conference.



Minor victory for Harkat in fight against deportation

posted on April 26, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Michael Aubry
Source: The Ottawa Sun
URL: [link]
Date: April 25, 2012

OTTAWA - Suspected terrorist Mohamed Harkat made significant headway in his fight against deportation on Wednesday.

The Federal Court of Appeal overturned electronic phone record evidence that Harkat’s lawyer said was pivotal in the case against him.

The records were recorded by CSIS and were said to pin terrorist ties to Harkat, but they’ve since been destroyed.

A three-panel judge said the records could no longer be used against him because he must be able to know what evidence is arrayed against him.

“My first response, my eyes started tearing down and my heart started pounding hard and I was shocked,” Hakart said.

“One day,, I’m going to clear my name. It gave me hope.”

But on Wednesday the Court of Appeal upheld the use of “special advocates,” who represent Harkat and are shown secret evidence denied to Harkat’s lawyers.
“While we are pleased to see that the court did find that there were some glaring problems with respect to Mr. Harkat’s case, we are also disappointed that the court did not find unconstitutional the secret trial process,” said Matthew Behrens, a member of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials.

Harkat said he’s been nervous ever since he found out the decision was coming down the pipe.

“I couldn’t sleep, I had a hard time to adjust,” he said. “Today is back to normal. I’m glad the appeal came to this decision, it has helped me clear my name and declare I’m innocent.”

The Algerian-born Harkat was arrested in Ottawa in 2002 and detained for three and a half years on a security certificate alleging he was connected to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and a risk to national security. He has consistently denied the allegations.

Since his release from custody, he has been battling efforts to deport him to Algeria, where he alleges he’ll be tortured, and has said the security certificate process is unconstitutional because it prevents him from seeing secret evidence in the case.

While Harkat is under house arrest, he must wear a GPS-tracking wristband, he can’t use the internet or the telephone, and he can’t leave Ottawa without the Canadian Border Service Agency’s approval.

Harkat’s lawyers earlier argued that secret proceedings, the destruction of original material by CSIS and the limitations of special advocates meant he could not effectively challenge his case, a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The decision to disallow the electronic evidence will send the case back to a federal trial judge, prolonging Harkat’s more than 10-year ordeal.

Timeline: Harkat court battle

Significant dates in the Mohamed Harkat case:

Dec. 10, 2002 -- Harkat is arrested outside his Ottawa apartment on a security certificate issued on the recommendation of CSIS.

Oct. 25, 2004 -- A hearing to determine the validity of the security certificate begins.

Dec. 10. 2004 -- The Federal Court of Appeal upholds a 2003 decision that declared the use of security certificates constitutional.

March 22, 2005 -- Federal Court Justice Eleanor Dawson upholds Harkat's security certificate.

Sept. 6, 2005 -- Federal Court of Appeal upholds security certificate.

Jan, 19, 2006 -- Top court agrees to hear Harkat's appeal.

Feb. 23, 2007 -- The Supreme Court rules security certificates unconstitutional, gives the government a year to rewrite the law.

Oct. 20, 2009 -- Federal Court Justice Simon Noel chastises CSIS for "filtering evidence" in failing to tell the court that an informant failed a 2002 lie detector test.

Feb. 1, 2010 -- Harkat takes the stand in his own defence.

June 2, 2010 -- Federal Court proceedings wrap up.

December 2010 -- Justice Noel gives Harkat deportation orders to be sent back to Algeria. Harkat appeals the decision, with his lawyers agruing the secret trial process violated his Charter rights.

Jan. 21, 2010 -- Harkat appeals to the Federal Court of Appeal to strike down the security certificate program because it's unconstitutional.

April 15, 2012 -- The court of appeal upholds his security certificate for a second time, but disallows key phone record evidence against Harkat, sending him back to a new federal trial.

Copyright © 2012 All rights reserved.



Harkat deserves new hearing, federal appeal court rules

posted on April 26, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Andrew Duffy and Don Butler
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: April 26, 2012

[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat, centre, with lawyers Matt Webber, left, and Norm Boxall, holds a press conference Wednesday in Ottawa after the Federal Court of Appeal said he deserves a new hearing to determine if he’s a threat to national security.]

OTTAWA — Mohamed Harkat has been sleeping poorly of late. The Ottawa man knew the Federal Court of Appeal was about to make a decision that could have life or death consequences for him.

Depending on how the court ruled, Harkat — who was arrested in 2002 on a security certificate and has been in prison or under house arrest ever since — was facing deportation to his native Algeria, where he feared he would be tortured or killed.

That threat receded Wednesday — perhaps for good — after the appeal court ruled that Harkat, 43, deserves a new hearing to determine if he’s a threat to national security.

“It’s not over, but at least one day I’m going to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said a visibly relieved Harkat, who couldn’t seem to stop smiling.

“It gives me another day to breathe on this earth. It’s just a matter of time to clear my name and declare I’m innocent.”

The appeal court found Harkat’s right to a fair hearing was compromised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which destroyed recordings of taped conversations from the mid-1990s.


The original recordings were destroyed in keeping with what was then internal policy at the CSIS. Analysts prepared written summaries of the conversations, which became key evidence at Harkat’s hearing.

Federal Court Judge Simon Noël relied on those classified summaries in 2010 when he determined that Harkat was an al-Qaeda agent who maintained contact with Islamic extremists such as Canadian Ahmed Said Khadr, a key al-Qaeda figure, and Abu Zubaydah, a facilitator in the Osama bin Laden network.

Harkat received a more limited summary — a “summary of the summaries” — of the wiretapped conversations. The appeal court, however, said Harkat deserved more since his right to a fair trial was compromised by the destruction of the original tapes.

“The summaries are the remnants of the destroyed originals. They are the problem, not the solution,” said Justice Gilles Létourneau, writing for the panel.

To remedy the problem, the appeal court ordered Noël to reconsider the case without the benefit of those summarized conversations in which Harkat was not one of the speakers.

That way, the court reasoned, Harkat will be able to point out inconsistencies or other problems with conversations in which he was involved.

The ruling means Noël will have to reconsider the case with a more limited collection of evidence. It’s conceivable that a new judge will start the case from scratch.

It will be the third time that a Federal Court judge must rule on whether the government made a reasonable decision in declaring Harkat a threat to national security.

Harkat has twice been found by the Federal Court to be an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, but both of those “reasonableness” rulings have now been overturned.

Harkat learned of the latest decision from Matt Webber, one of his lawyers, who called his house Wednesday morning. “My eyes started tearing down and my heart started pounding hard,” he told reporters. “I was actually worried that the decision was coming today, because my life’s on the line.”

Harkat remains under house arrest, required to wear a GPS device at all times. He’s forbidden to use the Internet or a cellphone, cannot leave Ottawa without permission and must report weekly to the Canadian Border Services Agency. In fact, Wednesday was his day to check in with the CBSA.

“I’m still living under really hard restrictions,” Harkat said. But after Wednesday’s decision, “I’m hopeful for the future. I would like to have children like anybody else, and live a normal life.”

That future remains uncertain. But Webber and Harkat’s other lawyer, Norm Boxall, were both optimistic that their client will win his case on its merits at the new hearing.

Boxall called the excluded conversation summaries “pivotal evidence,” while Webber said they were instrumental in Noël’s finding that issuing a security certificate in Harkat’s case was reasonable. “Without those conversations, we’re optimistic that the ultimate result should be very different,” he said.

The appeal court also overturned Noël’s decision to grant CSIS sources a “class privilege,” a special legal status which meant they did not have to face cross-examination, even in a closed courtroom.

Wednesday’s ruling was not an unblemished success for Harkat’s legal team, however. To their dismay, the appeal court upheld the constitutionality of the revised security certificate regime. The law, remade by Parliament in 2008, is used to deport foreign-born terror suspects from Canada.

“The revised Act provides the judge with the necessary tools to ensure a fair process,” wrote Létourneau.

Not surprisingly, Harkat’s lawyers disagree. “We remain convinced that this regime is unconstitutional,” Boxall said. “It’s just not enough to be advised in a hearsay fashion of some summary of the case. You have to be able to meet and challenge a case to have a real right to act in your own defence.”

Should Harkat lose his case at the new hearing, Boxall said he would seek leave from the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling on the law’s constitutionality.

The previous version of the security certificate law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in February 2007.

The new iteration of the law gives defendants the right to be represented in secret hearings by security-cleared lawyers known as special advocates. They’re also shown more government evidence than in the past.

Harkat’s lawyers argued the new law did not go far enough, and continued to leave the terror suspect in the dark about key details of the government’s case.

What’s more, they said the government made it impossible to meaningfully challenge key wiretap recordings.

Without the original tapes, Harkat’s lawyers said they couldn’t challenge the accuracy of translations or put the conversations into context.

CSIS relied on at least two sources in building its case against Harkat. One of the sources failed a lie-detector test in 2002, a fact that was not disclosed in court until May 2009.

Noël ultimately decided that the source’s information could only be relied upon if corroborated.

But the appeal court noted that some of the summarized conversations at issue in the case involved the same source, identified only as XXX. And some of the corroborating evidence that Noël relied upon, the appeal court noted, “is significantly more limited than XXX’s information had been.”

Harkat, a former pizza delivery man and gas station attendant, has lived in Ottawa since September 1995. He came to Canada from Pakistan, where he lived for five years after fleeing his native Algeria.

Noël found that Harkat, while living in Pakistan, operated a guest house for a Saudi-born terrorist, Ibn Khattab, and maintained links to Al Gamaa Al Islamiya and Islamic extremist group in Egypt.

In Canada, according to Noël, Harkat used the methods of a sleeper agent and maintained contact with Islamic extremists.

Harkat is one of three men still in the security certificate process. The other two, Mohamed Majoub and Mahmoud Jaballah, are both under house arrest. A hearing for Majoub is currently under way and Jaballah’s hearing is scheduled to resume in May.

Two other men, Adil Charkaoui, of Montreal, and Hassan Almrei, of Toronto, have had their security certificates quashed. Both men are now suing the federal government for millions in damages.

The government deployed security certificates with some regularity between 1991 and 2003. But it has issued just one in the past decade, arresting a suspected Russian spy in 2006. He was subsequently deported.

Matthew Behrens, of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, said the government has backed away from security certificates because the political climate has changed.

“Once people found out that people like Mr. Harkat and Mr. Majoub and Jaballah and others were being subjected to this Star Chamber medieval process, a lot of people got very upset,” he said.

Though CSIS “continues to play up paranoia and threats,” Behrens said, “I think they can smell the public opinion that says these things are simply unacceptable.”

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen



Terror suspect wins partial court victory

posted on April 26, 2012 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

by Mike Blanchfield (CP)
Source: Metro News Ottawa
URL: [link]
Date: April 25, 2012


[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat takes part in a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Harkat, a suspected terrorist that the federal government wants to deport, has won a partial victory before the Federal Court of Appeal. ]

OTTAWA – A man the federal government wants to deport over alleged ties to al-Qaida has won a partial victory at the Federal Court of Appeal.

In a complex ruling Wednesday, the court upheld the constitutionality of Canada’s security certificate process in the case of Mohamed Harkat. But it also found that some evidence against him must be excluded from a new court hearing.

The former Ottawa pizza-delivery man faces removal from Canada under a certificate that declares him a security threat because of alleged terrorist links. He denies any terror connection.

Harkat and his lawyers greeted the ruling as good news because it gives him another chance to clear his name at a new Federal Court hearing at a later date.

He lives under house arrest with his wife, Sophie, under a strict set of conditions that includes wearing an electronic tracking bracelet on his ankle, weekly reporting to authorities and a ban on leaving town without permission.

The court ruled that the use of so-called special advocates — lawyers appointed as watchdogs for the accused during closed-door hearings — is constitutional.

But it also said that because the originals of certain conversations were destroyed by Canada’s spy agency, any remnants of that material must be excluded from a re-hearing of Harkat’s bid to quash the security certificate against him.
Harkat’s lawyers said the exclusion of that pivotal evidence means that their client has a good chance of succeeding when the Federal Court reconsiders the case.

“We believe this will have a profound effect for the good of our client,” said lawyer Matt Webber.

Lawyer Norm Boxall said he is happy for Harkat but “we remain solidly of the belief this (security certificate) regime is unconstitutional,” he said.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was pleased with the ruling because it upheld the constitutionality of the security certificate system.

Toews called the security certificate “an important tool in an array of tools.”

The minister declined to comment further, saying the case is still before the courts.

Harkat, 43, was arrested more than nine years ago on suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent, although he denies any involvement in terrorism.

If Harkat is successful in his next legal challenge, the federal government could continue to appeal the case, possibly to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Boxall said it would be “disappointing and unfair” for the government to pursue the case, given that the bulk of the evidence against Harkat has now been excluded.

Wednesday’s ruling “solves the issue” for Harkat, said Boxall.

“But the issue for the process itself and continued proceedings with secret evidence that remains for another day with a final word on it,” said Boxall.

Harkat appeared emotional at times at a news conference after his lawyers obtained a copy of the ruling.

“It gives me another day to breathe on this earth,” he said.

“It’s not over but at least one day I’m going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the security certificate system five years ago, saying it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 2008, the government revamped the process and reissued certificates against Harkat and others.

A major change was the addition of the special advocates.

A judge ruled in late 2010 that the retooled system was constitutional, a ruling that was upheld Wednesday.

Copyright 2001-2012, Free Daily News Group Inc.



Mohamed Harkat remporte une victoire partielle en Cour fédérale d'appel

posted on April 26, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Source: Radio-Canada
URL: [link]
Date: 25 avril 2012

press conference,  april 25, 2012
Mohamed Harkat après le jugement de la Cour fédérale d'appel.

Mohamed Harkat, soupçonné d'être un agent d'Al-Qaïda, remporte mercredi une victoire partielle en Cour fédérale d'appel.

Le tribunal confirme la constitutionnalité du système canadien des certificats de sécurité dans le dossier de Harkat.

La cour estime toutefois que certaines preuves déposées contre Harkat devront être exclues d'un nouvel examen du certificat de sécurité contre lui.

Le tribunal juge que les enregistrements originaux de ces conversations ont été détruits par les autorités.

Par ailleurs, la Cour fédérale d'appel juge constitutionnel le recours aux "avocats spéciaux" responsables de veiller aux intérêts de l'accusé lors d'audiences à huis clos.

Réactions des proches de Harkat

Le jugement est bien accueilli par le Comité justice pour Mohamed Harkat.

« Ça veut simplement dire qu'il ne sera pas déporté demain matin. Ce n'est pas fini. Le cauchemar pour lui continue. » — Christian Legeais, porte-parole du Comité justice pour Mohamed Harkat.

Sophie Harkat, la femme du principal intéressé, se dit pour sa par surprise par la décision du tribunal. Elle est soulagée, mais est consciente que les démarches sont loin d'être terminées.

« Ce n'est pas la décision idéale pour nous, parce que ça va encore étirer les choses. On veut abolir ce processus-là parce qu'un processus comme ça dans
une démocratie ne devrait pas exister. » — Sophie Harkat, la femme de Mohamed Harkat

Le résident d'Ottawa pourrait être expulsé du Canada en vertu d'un certificat selon lequel il représente une menace à la sécurité, en raison de ses présumés liens terroristes.

L'homme de 43 ans, d'origine algérienne, a été arrêté en 2002, mais il nie toute activité terroriste. Il a été remis en liberté sous des conditions très strictes.

En complément

Audio - Le journaliste René Hardy donne les détails du jugement de la Cour fédérale d'appel dans le dossier de Mohamed Harkat.

Vidéo - Le journaliste Gilles Taillon explique la décision de la Cour fédérale d'appel dans le dossier de Mohamed Harkat.

Tous droits réservés © Société Radio-Canada 2012.



CBC: Harkat wins partial victory in terrorism case

posted on April 26, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Source: CBC News
URL: [link]
Date: April 25, 2012


Mohamed Harkat is no closer to deportation today after the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa ordered his case back to a federal court judge, saying some of his rights had been violated.

Harkat, a former Ottawa pizza delivery man, was arrested in 2002 and is facing removal from Canada under a certificate that declares him a security threat due to alleged terrorist links. Mohamed Harkat has been in and out of court fighting a deportation order since his arrest in 2002.

A judge who scrutinized the certificate said Harkat maintained ties to Osama bin Laden's terror network, including Ahmed Said Khadr — the late father of Toronto's Omar Khadr, who has spent years in a U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Harkat, 43, has repeatedly denied any involvement with political extremism.

His lawyers argued to the Federal Court of Appeal that the security certificate system was unconstitutional, and said Harkat's rights were violated during the process because he was denied access to the evidence against him.

The three-judge panel found Harkat's rights were violated because he was denied access to electronic recordings that have since been destroyed.

The summaries of that evidence can now no longer be used against Harkat and requires the case to be reheard by the judge, said Court of Appeal Judge Gilles Létourneau in a written decision.

The panel also found that the judge erred in finding CSIS informers fall into a privileged class who are granted conditions of anonymity.

Security certificates constitutional

But the court did rule the current security certificate system is constitutional.

The original security certificate system was thrown out by the Supreme Court five years ago, but revamped to include so-called special advocates — lawyers who serve as watchdogs and test the evidence on behalf of the defendant, but who are limited in their ability to pursue evidence beyond what they are presented.

Wednesday's ruling is likely to be appealed.

Harkat claims he's a refugee from Algeria and that he would be tortured if he's sent back.

He lives at home with his wife, Sophie, but continues to wear an electronic tracking bracelet on his ankle, must check in with authorities weekly and cannot leave town without permission.

Copyright © CBC 2012



Accused terrorist Harkat wins partial victory on appeal

posted on April 25, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Source: CTV News
URL:
Date: April 25, 2012


[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat is shown as he leaves Canada Border Services Agency after receiving his deportation papers in Ottawa Friday Jan. 21, 2011.]

Both the federal government and suspected terrorist Mohamed Harkat can claim partial victories, after the Federal Court of Appeal issued a complex ruling Wednesday on the process that placed Harkat under a security certificate.

In its ruling, the court upheld the constitutionality of the government's security certificate process.

However, it referred Harkat's case for a new hearing because the Ottawa man was not privy to the full contents of recorded evidence used against him. Those recordings have since been destroyed in keeping with policy of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The court said only the recorded conversations that Harkat was privy to may be used as evidence.

The court also ruled that it was wrong for Harkat's trial judge to create a special "class privilege" for CSIS informers that guaranteed them rights to confidentiality and anonymity similar to police informants.

The Ottawa gas station attendant and pizza delivery man was arrested in December 2002 on accusations that he had affiliation with al Qaeda, allegations he denies.

His lawyers have also been fighting a deportation order to Harkat's native Algeria.

© 2012 CTV All rights reserved.



‘Special advocate’ ruling a partial victory for Ottawa in terror case

posted on April 25, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Kirk Makin
Source: The Globe and Mail
URL: [link]
Date: April 25, 2012


A contentious terrorism provision creating the use of “special advocates” who are privy to secret government evidence is constitutional, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled today.

But the federal government’s victory triumph was tempered by a finding that the rights of suspected terrorist Mohamed Harkat were violated by the use of electronic recordings that have since been destroyed.

Any such evidence can only be used against Mr. Harkat if he was privy to the contents, the court said. It sent the case back to a trial judge for reconsideration based only on the portions that are properly admissible.

In another important victory for those targeted under the security certificate process, the three-judge panel found that Mr. Harkat’s trial judge was wrong to create a special “class privilege” for informers in these cases.
The move had granted them strong guarantees of confidentiality and anonymity that are analogous to protection given to police informers.

The finding on class privilege was very significant for Mr. Harkat, since some of the key evidence used to find his security certificate valid came from anonymous informers and had also been destroyed.

The court said that Canadian Security and Intelligence Service officers were acting in good faith when they destroyed the original evidence in keeping with policy.

However, the breach of their duty to retain the information and disclose it under the act left Mr. Harkat unable to challenge the accuracy of the summary and the information – a violation of his Charter right to life, liberty and security of the person, the court said.

Mr. Harkat’s lawyers, Matt Webber and Norman Boxall, expressed delight that the judgment overturned a trial finding that their client’s security certificate was reasonable and valid.

“In our opinion, the destroyed summaries were pivotal,” Mr. Boxall said in an interview. “With their exclusion, the conclusion should be different and the certificate found unreasonable.”

Mr. Boxall also praised the appellate judges for rejecting the notion of a class privilege for CSIS informers.

“We remain of the view that the legislation is unconstitutional and unfair in denying the named person the opportunity to know and meet the case,” Mr. Boxall said.

The class privilege was a major irritant to lawyers and special advocates who attempt to test the credibility of those purporting to provide damning evidence against terror suspects.

The Federal Court of Appeal panel said that judges in security certificate cases already have discretion to protect information where there exists a danger to the safety of the source or national security.

If the alleged danger does not exist, the information must be disclosed to the named person in the security certificate, the court said.

The case was an important test of a special procedure created after the previous security certificate system was found unconstitutional.

Invoking the security certificate process has been the main federal response to refugees who are suspected of having terrorist backgrounds. About a half-dozen such refugees have spent lengthy periods in detention while the process went through rigorous legal challenges.

In a key decision in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down security certificates as being unconstitutional. The government responded by rewriting the law to allow security-cleared lawyers – known as special advocates – to attend closed hearings where they can hear government evidence and protect the rights of the accused.

Adopted from a model used in the United Kingdom, special advocates go through a designation process and are sworn to maintain the secrecy of what they hear behind closed doors.

After creating the new process, Ottawa re-filed five new certificates that designated five of the suspected terrorists – all Muslims – as being threats to national security who should be expelled from Canada.

The legal challenge alleged that parts of the special advocates procedure forbid them from communicating with the detainees or their ordinary legal counsel about the confidential information that is divulged to them in secrecy. They argued that muzzle provisions go well beyond being a legitimate means of ensuring that classified information remains off limits to the public.

However, federal prosecutors argued during the constitutional challenge that the revamped legislation strikes a fine balance between national-security interests and fairness to the detainees.

They said that revealing sensitive intelligence to suspects and lawyers – and ultimately, the public – would threaten Canada’s safety and its ability to obtain information from other spy services.

© Copyright 2012 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.



Federal Court of Appeal Decision Has Been Released

posted on April 25, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal has released its decision in the case of Mohamed Harkat vs. The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and The Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The decision was made by a panel of 3 judges.

You can download and read the Judgement below. English only. It consists of two documents: The Judgment, and The Reasons For Judgement,

The Judgement: (a 2-page summary of the decision )
PDF object
Federal-Court-of-Appeal-Apr-25-2012-Judgment.pdf


Reasons for Judgement:(The decision. 89 pages)
PDF object
Federal-Court-of-Appeal-Apr-25-2012-Reasons.pdf




Canada quietly shutters 'Gitmo North' detention facility for terror suspects

posted on April 23, 2012 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

by Tobi Cohen
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: April 17, 2012


OTTAWA — The Kingston Immigration Holding Centre in Ontario, better known as Gitmo North, was quietly closed at the end of last year, saving the Canada Border Services Agency millions of dollars and bringing a sense of relief to the handful of men who were incarcerated there, Postmedia News has learned.

The costly facility, which opened in 2006 in the aftermath of 9/11 to detain just four terror suspects subject to controversial security certificates, often has been likened to the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, where prisoners of the Iraq and Afghan wars were sent.

The Cuban facility is where Canadian war criminal and former child soldier Omar Khadr remains incarcerated and there's been speculation he could be held at Gitmo North should his request for transfer to Canada go through.

It's a prospect, however, that now seems unlikely.

"Following a review of the KIHC by the (Canada Border Services Agency) in 2009, it was decided that the facility should be permanently closed in order to allow the agency to better align its resources. Accordingly, KIHC was closed on December 31, 2011," CBSA spokeswoman Esme Bailey confirmed in an email.

"The CBSA has achieved approximately $2.5 million in annual savings by closing the KIHC."

Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, added there are "no plans for the future" of the facility which is located on the grounds of Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security prison.
That's good news to Hassan Almrei who spent April 2006 to February 2009 detained at the facility where inmates were isolated from the general prison population, confined to tight quarters, subject to regular strip searches and absurd head counts given the number of them and denied conjugal visits, as well as lunch with their families.

Detainees complained the portable-like accommodations were sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter, that they had no access to dental care, that they were harassed by the guards and that floodlights in a courtyard they could not access kept them up at night. The conditions even become the subject of litigation and Almrei staged a 155-day hunger strike while incarcerated alone at the institution.

"I am very very happy to hear that," Almrei said from Mississauga, Ont., adding it upset him when he heard Khadr might be sent there.

"I hope that unit in Kingston will be, I don't like to use the word destroyed, I'd just like to see it flat. No more likely trace of that holding. I don't wish anybody to be there."

The now-38-year-old Syrian refugee's security certificate was quashed in December 2009 after the Federal Court ruled he no longer posed a threat to national security.

While the court considered the fact he was involved in an illegal document forging ring, wasn't up front about the countries he visited, used a fake passport to enter the country and associated with suspected Islamic extremists, it found none of it justified branding him a terrorist, which was largely based on testimony deemed not credible.

Almrei is now trying to sue the federal government.

The other men detained at the facility include Egyptian-born Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, as well as Algerian refugee Mohamed Harkat. While Mahjoub returned to the facility for about a year in March 2009 in a bid to protest the harsh conditions placed on his house arrest and the impact they had on his family, the other two were only there for a short period.

Harkat's wife Sophie Lamarche visited the facility when her husband was there and called the conditions "pretty horrible." She's happy to hear it's closing but maintains it should never have been there in the first place.

"That facility in my opinion, should never have existed because detaining people without charge, without accesses to evidence is unconstitutional," she said. "Guantanamo North should never have existed."

Harkat has been living at home in Ottawa under strict conditions, trying to avoid deportation to Algeria, where he's certain he'll face torture. He'll find out next week whether the Federal Court of Appeal agrees the security certificate against him was reasonable.

Security certificates allow a foreign national to be detained for indeterminate periods and deported without charge. Fighting them in court has proven an uphill battle since those involved are denied full disclosure of the evidence against them.

The Supreme Court of Canada found them to be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 2007 for that reason, which prompted the government to amend the process by appointing lawyers who can act as "special advocates" to review the evidence.

Before Paul Copeland took on the role of special advocate for Harkat and Almrei he served as Harkat's lawyer and visited him in Gitmo North.

Noting it's "probably the most expensive facility created in Canada," he called it a "fairly useless" space that "provided nothing for the inmates and was a "nightmare place to stay."

"It was always a waste in (terms of) the cost of keeping them," he said. "They could have put them up at the Royal York (Hotel) for way less money."

While the government has since issued security certificates to deport a pair of suspected Russian spies and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, Copeland doesn't think the tool is a good one and he expects the government may stay clear of them in the future.

tcohen AT postmedia.com

Twitter.com/tobicohen

© 2010 - 2012 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.



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