Mohamed Harkat girds himself for another fight to stay

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

by Debra Black Source: The Toronto Star URL: [link] Date: August 2, 2016 Former security-certificate detainee ruled a threat for alleged Al Qaeda ties is battling deportation in the latest chapter of a 14-year saga.

PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat is pictured at his home in Ottawa. The native-born Algerian, who fled that nation amid political upheaval, arrived in Canada in 1995. He was imprisoned for 42 months in 2002 on suspicion of ties to terrorism. Mohamed Harkat — an Algerian who says he was wrongly accused of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent — hopes he can finally win his freedom and the right to stay in Canada. “What the government is doing is wrong, and it’s not fair,” Harkat said in an exclusive interview with the Star. “And they got the wrong guy.” Harkat, who came to Canada in 1995 and claimed refugee status, has been fighting deportation since his arrest on a national security certificate in December 2002. He still dreams of one day becoming a Canadian citizen, even though his life in Canada has been very different from what he’d expected. “I thought one day I would have children, a house, a family . . . everything is destroyed. When I met Sophie, we had a plan to buy a house and have children.” The 47-year-old Harkat says he’s innocent and will face torture and persecution in his native Algeria if he is deported. Canada Border Services Agency did not comment on the specifics of the case, but confirmed that Harkat is under a removal order, following a Federal Court decision upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. Esme Bailey, a senior media spokesperson for CBSA, added that the removal order “can only be enforced once due process under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act has taken place.” A February 2016 CBSA document — marked top secret — states that, “should Mr. Harkat be allowed to remain in Canada, it can be presumed that, given the opportunity, he would work toward the ends espoused by the Bin Laden Network.” It recommends his removal from Canada. His lawyer, Barbara Jackman, plans to argue, in a formal petition to the public safety minister, that Harkat will face torture and persecution if sent back. She also plans to argue he is not a threat to Canada and should be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds. In early September, she will seek an exemption from deportation. Canadian law does not allow deportation to a country where torture will occur unless there are exceptional circumstances. “You send him back with the public profile he’s got, and it’s asking for him to be further detained and tortured,” Jackman said. “I can’t see anything exceptional about Harkat’s case that would require he be deported to torture.”

Amnesty International Canada has taken on Harkat’s cause. “Right from the beginning we have taken a position that he would face human rights violations and have been opposed to his deportation,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of the human rights organization. “He would almost certainly be detained upon return. There’s a very good risk he would be held in incommunicado detention once imprisoned. Individuals that are in incommunicado detention are the ones at greatest risk of torture.” Although under the threat of deportation, Harkat says: “The one thing I always remind myself is, I’m still in Canada. If I’m in Algeria, I would be dead a long time ago.” Harkat blames Islamophobia for what some would describe as his Kafkaesque arrest, imprisonment in solitary confinement for a year and house arrest. Jackman agrees. “That’s the real root of the Harkat case: Islamophobia.” She maintains the Canadian government, after the U.S. terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, used security certificates to make a point, either to a specific community or Canadians generally, that the country is taking care of terrorists. As for Harkat, he denies being a sleeper agent and says an unknown informant set him up for inexplicable reasons. The former gas station attendant and pizza delivery driver fled Algeria to escape a military-backed government. He first fled to Saudi Arabia and then worked in Peshawar, Pakistan, for five years for the Muslim World League, helping refugees. He has never been charged with a crime but has been held under the security certificate regime, which allows Parliament to deport foreign-born terrorism suspects. The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the security certificate policy was constitutional. The government’s case against Harkat was built on statements from two informants — one of whom didn’t pass a lie-detector test — and 13 wiretapped phone conversations, recorded between 1996 and 1998, that were destroyed. A Federal Court judge ruled in 2010 that Harkat was a member of the Al Qaeda network and was linked to Saudi-born Ibn Khattab, Canadian Ahmed Said Khadr and Abu Zubaydah. And the judge ruled that Harkat was a terrorist threat to national security. That decision was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2012, then reinstated by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2014. Harkat denies all the allegations. Since his arrest in December 2002, Harkat has spent more than three years in jail — including a year in solitary confinement — and many more under house arrest. He had a tracking anklet removed last year. Harkat, who was studying to be an electronics engineer in Algeria before he fled, is described by friends and family as a kind and loving man. Since his arrest, he has battled depression and is now in therapy, he said. And a recent surgery to his rotator cuff has made it difficult to do the things he loves, like fixing things and carpentry. Raised on a farm, he was one of eight children in his family, all boys. His mother kept trying to have a girl, he joked. But it didn’t happen. “He’s a lovely man who loves life and nature,” said Ottawa friend and supporter Robert Marois. “He likes to work with wood.” Added another friend and supporter, Ria Heynen: “This man is so gentle and kind . . . there’s not a milligram of hatred or aggressiveness.” His wife, Sophie, says she has never doubted his innocence. They met at the gas station where he worked after Sophie had been on a bad blind date. “He had such big brown eyes, and he was smiling behind the counter, and he was being so friendly.” After that initial meeting, she found excuses to go to the gas station. They began dating, then married in 2001. And then he was picked up. “From the start it was obvious that it was a mistake, that he was innocent,” recalls Sophie of her husband’s arrest. “It was impossible that the person they were describing was the person I married.” His supporters include prominent Canadians such as former U.N. ambassador Stephen Lewis, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and Queen’s University associate law professor Sharryn Aiken, as well as Maher Arar, who cleared his name after being wrongly accused of being a terrorist. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre Trudeau, has also written to the minister of public safety on Harkat’s behalf, saying: “Moe considers himself Canadian: he loves this country, he came here to escape persecution and for a better life, and he does not belong anywhere else.” Organizations such as the Canadian and B.C. civil liberties associations have added their voices to those asking Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale to exempt Harkat from deportation. If Goodale decides there is no risk of torture and opts to send Harkat back, Jackman says there will be a constitutional challenge. But Harkat is hopeful the new Liberal government will decide he is not a threat to Canada and will allow him to stay. “I got arrested before the Americans went to war in Iraq. And now we’ve already left the war. And I’m still in this condition. And I’m still suffering. It’s time to give me my life back,” he says. Adds Sophie: “We’ve lost 14 years of our life. We don’t have kids because of this. We don’t have good jobs because of this. We don’t own a home. We don’t have normal lives because of this. It’s time for it to end . . . He’s an innocent man who is facing torture. He’s an innocent man who has been put through hell.” With files from Tonda McCharles and The Canadian Press

© Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. 1996 - 2016