by Andrew Duffy
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Date: September 18, 2015
The federal government has launched deportation proceedings against Algerian-born terror suspect Mohamed Harkat 20 years after he first arrived in Ottawa as a refugee claimant.
The case had been dormant for more than a year — ever since the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the government’s security certificate regime and affirmed a decision that found Harkat to be an active member of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
But for reasons that remain unexplained, the government took no action against Harkat for 15 months after its court victory.
A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said Friday she would “not speak to specific cases.”
Late last month, almost four weeks into the federal election campaign, Harkat received an official letter from the CBSA informing him that the first step in his deportation process had begun.
“He was totally devastated,” Harkat’s wife, Sophie, said in an interview. “That big grey cloud he’s had over his head for 13 years, it just got a lot darker.”
Harkat said her husband had hoped the government wouldn’t pursue his deportation. “How big a threat can he be if they wait 15 months to issue this letter?”
Two years ago, an electronic tracking bracelet was removed from Harkat’s leg and his release conditions relaxed to allow him to travel outside of Ottawa, use a mobile phone and an Internet-connected computer.
Monia Mazigh, national co-ordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, said the move to deport Harkat comes at an odd time: with an election in full swing and with no certainty about what party will form the next government.
“We see this as a very, very dangerous move,” said Mazigh, who argued that Canada should not deport someone if there is even the slightest possibility that they will be mistreated or tortured.
Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said returning Harkat to Algeria would put him at serious risk of being placed under “incommunicado detention,” a situation in which prisoners are denied access to family, lawyers and physicians. Amnesty, he said, has documented numerous cases of terror suspects being held for prolonged periods under such conditions, putting them at increased risk of torture.
Harkat, 47, was first arrested on the strength of a security certificate in December 2002. He spent more than three years in jail and another seven years under strict house arrest during a legal odyssey that twice saw his case go the Supreme Court.
The deportation process promises to raise more difficult legal issues. The first step involves an assessment of the danger that Harkat poses to Canadians.
A government official appointed by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander will have to determine whether Harkat remains a serious threat to national security given his public profile, the passage of time and other factors. If the minister’s delegate concludes such a risk exists, the official must then assess what kind of torture risk Harkat would face if returned to Algeria, and whether the government can rely on diplomatic assurances that he won’t be mistreated.
Those two risk assessments would then be weighed against one another to arrive at a deportation decision.
The Supreme Court has already ruled that terror suspects can only be deported in “exceptional circumstances” to countries where they face a substantial risk of torture, but it has not defined the full meaning of that concept.
Harkat arrived in Ottawa as a refugee in September 1995 after living in Pakistan for five years. Before his arrest, Harkat worked as a pizza delivery man and gas station attendant while also developing an expensive casino gambling habit. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) built a case against him based on 13 wiretapped phone conversations recorded between 1996 and 1998, and at least two unnamed informants, one of whom failed a CSIS lie-detector test.
In 2009, CSIS issued a threat assessment report that suggested Harkat had played a mostly logistical role for jihadists and did not engage in acts of violence. It concluded that his threat to Canadians had diminished over time but not disappeared.
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