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

Doc Ignite! Help Us Complete The Secret Trial 5!

posted on January 15, 2013 | in Category Misc | PermaLink

Click on the image below to watch the video at Vimeo.com:

promo for the film project The Secret Trial 5

VIDEO: Ottawa Sun Interview with Mohamed and Sophie (Nov, 2012)

posted on December 15, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Doug Hempstead
Source: The Ottawa Sun
URL: [link]
Date: November 22, 2012

Mohamed and Sophie at home, Nov 2012
LINK TO VIDEO: www.justiceforharkat.com/download.php?view.270

Source: OTTAWA SUN: Mohamed Harkat gets shot to clear himself at Supreme Court

Les 10 ans d'enfer de Mohamed Harkat

posted on December 11, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

par Philippe Orfali
Source: La Presse
Date: 11 décembre 2012

[PHOTO: Hier marquaient les dix ans de l'arrestation de Mohamed Harkat, devant son appartement d'Ottawa.]

Le 10 décembre 2002, tout basculait pour Mohamed Harkat, son épouse Sophie et leurs proches. Alors qu'il sortait faire des emplettes, l'homme d'origine algérienne à la vie en apparence rangée était arrêté. Son crime allégué, le pire de tous: terrorisme.

Pour quelles raisons, et surtout, en se basant sur quelles preuves? Impossible de le savoir. Arrêté en vertu d'un certificat de sécurité, celui qui avait obtenu en 1998 le statut de réfugié n'aura pas accès à l'ensemble des preuves que détient le gouvernement contre lui.

« Ça viole à peu près tous les principes du droit. Chacun a droit de savoir ce qu'on lui reproche. Or, ce n'est pas le cas avec ceux qui font l'objet d'un certificat de sécurité», a souligné hier Elizabeth May, la chef du Parti vert.

Hier marquaient les dix ans de l'arrestation de Mohamed Harkat, devant son appartement d'Ottawa. Dix années, dont près de quatre passées derrière les barreaux, certaines passées en incarcération solitaire.

Comble de l'ironie, cette date coïncide avec la Journée internationale des droits de la personne.

« Ce pays ne représente plus les valeurs humaines avec lesquelles j'ai été élevée, laisse tomber Pierrette Brunette, la belle-mère de Mohamed Harkat. La vie de ma famille a été, est et sera à jamais perturbée par toutes les conditions de vie de mon gendre. Ce sont des facteurs difficiles à supporter, même après tout ce temps-là.»

© La Presse, ltée. Tous droits réservés.

Canada's secret trials, immigration policy under fire on Human Rights Day

posted on December 11, 2012 | in Category Canada's Immigration Policy | PermaLink

by David P. Ball
Source: Rabble.ca
URL: [link]
Date: December 10, 2012

Organizers in at least eight cities across the country are rallying support for Canadian Muslims rounded up in the so-called War on Terror -- particularly the ongoing punishment without trial of three men under security certificates.

The events, which kicked off last night with a candlelight vigil in Vancouver, include what is billed as a "family-friendly noise demonstration" in front of Montreal's Laval Immigration Prevention Centre today, as well as events in Toronto, Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, and Halifax.

The actions coincide with the unveiling, 64 years ago, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 -- a document frequently cited by the Canadian government as it criticizes other regimes' behaviour around the world, such as Iran or Syria.

But Dec. 10 is not only International Human Rights Day. It is also the day that Mohamed Harkat was arrested on alleged terrorism-related charges ten years ago, when he was imprisoned for nearly four years, one of which in solitary confinement.

Last week, fellow security certificate detainee Mohammed Mahjoub -- who heads to court tomorrow (Dec. 11) for a review of his security certificate conditions -- demanded an independent inquiry into abuses under Canada's secret trials regime.

"I am a political prisoner here in Canada," Mahjoub said in a statement. "My case is political; it is not a legal one."

"Never in these twelve years have I been charged with any crime. Never has the secret information used to destroy my reputation been disclosed to me. Never have I been given the dignity of a fair and open trial... My hands are far, far cleaner than the hands of the Canadian and Egyptian officials involved in my case. I have never terrorized any person in my life. Today I am calling for an independent inquiry into my case, aimed at holding the individuals, agencies and structures responsible for all these abuses accountable for their actions."

Mahjoub was locked in jail for eight years following his arrest in 2000, nearly three of which he was in solidarity confinement, until his subsequent house arrest for four-and-a-half years that continues today. Canada also maintains certificates for Harkat and Mahmoud Jaballah.

The protests also draw attention to the federal government's new immigration and refugee crackdown, which kicks into effect on Dec. 15 -- allowing for automatic, indefinite detention of so-called "irregular" asylum-seekers, making deportations to certain countries easier, and reducing appeal rights.

"We deliberately wanted to put security certificates back in the context of immigration issues," Mary Foster, with the Justice for Mahjoub Network, told rabble.ca. "It is important to address the issue of immigration detention because thousands of people are being detained every year, without any charge, trial and for indefinite periods -- in the cases of security certificate detainees, for more than a decade."

"In other words, the liberty of immigrants is being treated as worthless, and with a great deal less respect than that of many other people in the country -- it is a complete violation of the principle of equality. It is important to understand the role that security certificates play in justifying immigration detention. By playing up the idea that immigrants are dangerous, and need to be controlled for public safety, the government is able to gain support for their anti-immigrant policies, and silence outcry against injustices towards immigrants."

In Vancouver, a small circle gathered in the darkness with candles outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, reading poetry, singing and speaking about post-9/11 racial profiling and Islamophobia in Canada.

"We're against security certificates as a form of racial profiling," vigil organizer Imtiaz Popat, with the group Siraat, told rabble.ca. "Although the security certificates existed before 9/11, they have been used against Muslims specifically."

"The State -- whether it be the United States, Canada or any state -- is using the War on Terror as an excuse to take away our human rights. It's not just Muslims -- all our civil liberties are being taken away in the name of the War on Terror. These are excuses to take away our rights."

Also attending the rally was José Figueroa, a Salvadoran refugee to Vancouver who has faced deportation for several years, and continues to fight for his and other refugee rights through the We Are All José campaign.

"We are here to support this vigil for people suffering the injustices here in Canada,” he told rabble.ca. "This was called to support refugees and immigrants facing bogus allegations of terrorism.

"Myself, I'm here to fight for the rights of my family, who are Canadians. We need to unite the community on these issues."

Figueroa said that the use of secret evidence against people issued security certificates is particularly troubling, and represents a significant abuse of human rights.

"That's the main problem: the secret evidence that is being used," he added. "Nobody knows what it is. What kind of information does the Canadian government have? They need to be more specific, and be open with the Canadian people."

According to a top lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who spoke in Vancouver several months ago, the very notion of a "global war on terror" is at the root of what critics see as abuses of civil liberties and human rights.

"The global war against terrorism [is] a very dangerous idea," ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said. "It's a dangerous proposition that we are involved in this war that has no temporal boundary, no geographic boundary, and is really against an enemy that is really difficult to identify.

"To say that we're in a global war against terrorism or a global war against Al-Qaeda is really to propose something quite drastic and radical – it's to propose that we're in a forever-war and in a everywhere-war."

Canada's little-known secret trials program is one outcome of this battle, whose battlefield is more and more undefined. But the certificates' personal impact on the 28 individuals they have targeted is devastating, Popat said.

"It's a travesty of human rights how they've been treated, and many others have been treated," the Siraat spokesperson argued, pointing to current Egyptian protests against the new constitution as an example of Western government's "hypocrisy."

"When [Egyptian president] Mohamed Morsi gives himself these so-called powers, they scream foul," Popat added. "Yet, when the United States and Canada do the same thing and take away our civil liberties, that's fine -- that's okay. There's double standards there."

"There are many contradictions that not just this government, but other Canadian governments, have had in terms of human rights violations -- starting with the treatment of Aboriginal people here in this country."

For ACLU's Jaffer, any curtailment of enshrined legal rights affects everyone, not only the minority groups singled out, such as Muslims -- and human rights must be vigorously defended.

"I wasn't around during the McCarthy era, but there are certainly at least loose parallels to what happened then... Once you accept the notion that we're at war all over world, it's very easy to accept the idea we can detain people picked up anywhere in the world -- detained militarily without charge or trial, indefinitely -- until the war is over."

Protecting and increasing human rights -- whether in Canada or abroad -- is an important task, Popat concludes. And it is important to fight not only for civil liberties, but Aboriginal rights, housing, an end to poverty, and other rights enshrined in the UN declaration -- even if they are rarely upheld.

"Human rights are a lofty goal," admits Popat. "But they're a threshold."

"The UN Declaration of Human Rights is a good document. It's not perfect, but the fact is, we don't have human rights; they are something we strive for."

David P. Ball is a writer and photojournalist in Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish land. You can read interviews and more of his work at the Left Coast Post blog on Rabble.ca. His website is www.davidpball.net . On Twitter: @davidpball

Copyright © 2001-2012 the authors

Are Your Human Rights Safe in Canada?

posted on December 11, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Shahla Khan Salter
Source: The Huffington Post Canada
URL: [link]
Date: December 10, 2012

Monday, December 10 is International Human Rights Day. And on this day three Canadians remain in prison in Iran. All three have been charged with computer-related crimes. The reason? Measures against "illegal" computer use are ruthlessly enforced by the Iranian government in an effort to wipe out online information against that government.

Our Canadian government has not been able to secure the release of these three Canadians. Talk of war against Iran makes their release ever more improbable. Will they languish there forever?

Or will a bomb, manufactured in the Western world, simply drop, one day, on Evin Prison and kill all the innocent people inside, including our three Canadians.

People say, "Well -- it's too bad they went there. They should have known better." Are we safer here in Canada?

Legally, yes. Canadian law is clear. Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to "everyone" and grants us the rights to be informed of the charge against us; tried within a reasonable period of time; not to be compelled to testify against ourselves; to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; and not to be found guilty unless the action is a crime. (These are only a portion of our Charter rights.)

The result? A vast body of Canadian law has been developed that upholds the rights of individuals even in the face of the most heinous crimes.

It means, here in Canada if the evidence is tainted by a denial of individual rights, the case can be dismissed. The protection of the individual in some cases is known to cause outrage.

But what happens if society offers no protection to the individual? Here is what would happen if you were arrested and you had no section 11 rights:

- You would not know the reason the police have arrested you.

- You would not have the right to stay silent. As a result, torture or aggressive police tactics could more likely be used to extract a confession from you, causing you to admit to a crime you did not commit.

- You would not have the right to hear the evidence against you and challenge it. So if someone said you did it, it would be regarded as true.

- You would not even have the right to challenge whether the activity that led to the arrest -- such as associating with certain people, and/or living a particular lifestyle -- constituted a crime.

In other words there would be no fair trial.

It means if your neighbours thought you were a witch, capable of causing death and destruction, you would be a witch. And if your neighbours thought you should be exiled because they didn't want witches in the community causing trouble, you would be sent away or worse.

In Canada have we moved past this notion? Not entirely.

Because in Canada, today, in light of the cases of Mohamed Harkat, Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah, if someone thinks you are a terrorist -- and someone said you are a terrorist even under torture (as in the case of Mahjoub), notwithstanding that you may have committed no terrorist act -- you may be arrested, thrown in prison, or placed under house arrest, tried without knowing the evidence against you and then deported to a country where you may be tortured and killed.

Are we a nation where the rights of criminals including pedophiles such as Graham James, Christopher Neil and others are protected -- (they were innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and remain innocent of any other crimes that potentially may have taken place) -- while men like Harkat, Mahjoub and Jaballah are locked up and labelled as "terrorists" because they "might" be guilty?

According to Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights we are. And we must change.

We must uphold the Canadian ideals found in our Charter. We must do it to protect ourselves both as individuals and a society, to ensure freedom and justice. We must remember the words of the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: ''Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.''

Or the terrorists -- the real ones -- will win. And if our justice system resembles theirs in any way shape or form, they already have.

Don't be an ayatollah Mr. Toews. Prove they are guilty against the same standards you use to prove all those pedophiles are guilty. Or set them free.

Shahla Khan Salter is the Chair of Muslims for Progressive Values Canada

Copyright © 2012 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

VIDEO: Our Press Conference in Ottawa, December 10th

posted on December 11, 2012 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

Thank you, OttawaFRO, for filming and uploading to YouTube this video footage from Monday's Press conference in Ottawa. The press conference was hosted by Amnesty International Canada.

Mohamed Harkat, dix ans plus tard

posted on December 11, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

par Bahador Zabihiyan
Source: Le Devoir
URL: [link]
Date: 11 décembre 2012

[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat devant le Parlement, à Ottawa.]

Le 10 décembre 2002, Mohamed Harkat se faisait passer les menottes devant l’immeuble où il habitait à Ottawa, par un agent des services frontaliers. « Je pensais que tout rentrerait dans l’ordre en l’espace de quelques minutes », se souvient-il. Mais après trois ans et demi passés en prison et plus de six ans en résidence surveillée, le gouvernement le soupçonne toujours de terrorisme, en vertu d’un certificat de sécurité.

Son comité de soutien s’est rassemblé sur la colline parlementaire, lundi, pour souligner cette date anniversaire. La saga judiciaire que vit M. Harkat pourrait venir à terme en 2013 : la Cour suprême a récemment accepté de se pencher sur son cas en particulier et sur le régime des certificats de sécurité en général.

Les certificats de sécurité sont délivrés par le gouvernement fédéral lorsqu’il craint qu’une personne représente un danger pour la sécurité nationale ou constitue une menace terroriste. Trois certificats sont présentement actifs au pays, dont celui de M. Harkat. Cette procédure permet de détenir une personne pour une durée indéterminée sans accusation et sans accès à la preuve.

Cour suprême

Dans le cas de M. Harkat, un juge avait initialement conclu, selon la prépondérance des probabilités, qu’il avait participé à des activités terroristes, qu’il constituait un danger pour la sécurité du Canada et qu’il était membre du réseau d’Oussama ben Laden. M. Harkat nie toute activité terroriste. M. Harkat souhaite que la preuve détenue contre lui soit rendue publique afin qu’il puisse prouver son innocence. En 2007, la Cour suprême avait invalidé certaines clauses du régime de certificats de sécurité, arguant qu’elles allaient à l’encontre de la Charte canadienne des droits et des libertés. Malgré ces modifications, la Cour suprême va être de nouveau appelée à se prononcer sur la procédure, dans le courant de 2013.

Depuis 2006, M. Harkat est assigné à résidence à Ottawa, avec de sévères restrictions. Il doit notamment porter un appareil GPS à la cheville en tout temps et il n’a pas le droit de se servir d’un ordinateur ou d’un téléphone cellulaire. « Je n’ai encore jamais utilisé Internet de toute ma vie », dit-il. Ces restrictions l’empêchent d’occuper un emploi et de fonder une famille, estime-t-il.

Avec La Presse canadienne

© Le Devoir 2002-2012

Photos From Ottawa Rally and Press Conference, Dec 10

posted on December 11, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Thanks to Philippe Parent and others for taking these photos from Monday's 10th anniversary event in Ottawa.

Dec 10, 2012, Ottawa
Click on image to see more photos from Monday's rally and visual presentation on Parliament Hill

Gabrielle at press conference, Dec 10, 2012
Click on image to see more photos from Monday's press conference.

Harkat marks 10th anniversary of arrest on International Human Rights Day

posted on December 10, 2012 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

by Michelle Zilio
Source: iPolitics.ca
URL: [link]
Date: December 10, 2012

In 2002, Mohamed Harkat had many hopes for his future, including a modest home, kids and a “normal life” with his wife Sophie. He was working as a pizza delivery man and gas station cashier at the time.

A decade later, Harkat is fighting to stay in Canada and avoid deportation. Ten years ago Monday, on International Human Rights Day, Harkat was arrested in Ottawa on a security certificate, a rarely-used removal instrument for non-citizens suspected of being spies or terrorists. He was jailed for 43 months followed by 3.5 years of the toughest bail and house arrest conditions in Canadian history.

“Before I got arrested, we were planning to have a house, have kids, have normal life, and now it’s all up in the air,” said Harkat, an Algerian citizen who made his refugee claim in Canada in 1995. “Ten years later, I have been left in (the) dark.”

While the government has suspicions of him being an al-Qaida sleeper agent, Harkat has consistently denied any links to terrorism. He is one of three men in Canada, all Muslims, who have appeared before the courts on a security certificate.

Standing in the rain on Parliament Hill Monday morning, Harkat and approximately 20 supporters marked the 10th anniversary of his initial arrest.

“It’s a sad day. It’s supposed to be celebrating human rights in Canada and justice for all. Ten years later, you see me fighting for something everybody has a right to — an open and fair trial,” said Harkat.

After a short demonstration on the steps of the Hill, Harkat and his family made their way into Centre Block for an emotionally-charged press conference led by Amnesty International. Politicians, human rights groups and Harkat’s family members called for the government to “drop the security certificate regime.”

Under the federal security certificate law, established in 1978, the government has the power to indefinitely detain non-citizens suspected of being terrorists, use secret evidence against them and deport them to any country, regardless of whether they they could face torture.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews would not comment on the Harkat case Monday. His press secretary, Julie Carmichael, said in an email the government believes security certificates are needed to protect Canadians from “dangerous foreign nationals, including terrorists,” as “it is clear that Canada is not immune from the threat of homegrown or international radical led terrorism.”

NDP Public Safety Critic Randall Garrison and Green Party MP Elizabeth May beg to differ. They supported Harkat at the press conference Monday.

“With the political excuse that terrorism allows us to drop all our norms, forget about human rights and that anything including torture is permissible in an era where terrorism can be whispered, I think it’s really important to stand firmly that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is non-negotiable and security certificates are offensive,” said May. ”Mohamed Harkat has put up with a great deal of uncertainty. His family has been enormously brave.”

The past decade has been a roller coaster of emotions for Mohamed and his family.

After five years in jail and under house arrest, Mohamed had a glimmer of hope in 2007 when the Supreme Court struck down the security certificate regime, deeming it unfair for accused individuals, and asked the government to rework the process.

A year later, the government claimed to have improved the process, using lawyers as watchdogs to monitor evidence against individuals facing deportation. Mohamed was arrested again and reissued a security certificate for breaching his bail conditions – something he still says he did not do.

The Harkat family experienced a sigh of relief in 2009, when it was found that one of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informants in the case had failed a lie detector test. A few months later, the court suddenly removed some of Mohamed’s toughest bail conditions.

Although his bail conditions have improved, Mohamed is still required to wear a GPS tracking bracelet on his ankle at all times, and cannot use the internet, a phone outside of his home, or leave Ottawa without permission. He said the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) still follows him regularly.

“For example yesterday, the CBSA … was already parked outside of my house. See the kind of life I am living. I went to my mother in law’s to visit her yesterday and the car behind me was following me everywhere,” Mohamed told reporters Monday. “I can’t have normal life like anybody else.”

The family’s hopes were crushed again in December 2010 when Federal Court Justice Simon Noël ruled that the government’s decision that Mohamed was a terrorist threat was reasonable.

At Monday’s press conference, a tearful Gabrielle Brunette-Poirier, Mohamed’s 13-year-old niece, recounted the effects of the decade-long ordeal on her family.

“Not many kids can say that they have gone shopping for school supplies while being followed by CBSA agents or having their uncle tied up to an extension cord just so he can charge the GPS on his ankle,” said Brunette-Poirier, as Mohamed stood behind her, wiping tears from his face.

The most recent development in Mohamed’s case was welcomed by the Harkats. After the Federal Court ruled in April that some mid-1990s conversations be excluded from the evidence against Mohamed since CSIS destroyed the original tapes, both sides requested an appeal. On Nov. 22, the Supreme Court announced it would hear appeals from Mohamed and the government in 2013.

“The Supreme Court accepting the case will raise the bar higher than expected,” said Mohamed. “I hope, after ten years, this is the last period of injustice. I hope it ends in good news for me.”


michellezilio AT ipolitics DOT ca

© 2012 iPolitics Inc.

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