Terror suspect Mohamed Harkat seeks relaxation of strict monitoring
OTTAWA – Federal authorities are balking at terror suspect Mohamed Harkat’s desire for more leeway to use the internet and travel freely within Canada, saying he continues to pose a threat almost 15 years after being arrested.
Harkat is asking the Federal Court of Canada to approve his application for less strict monitoring of his everyday activities by the Canada Border Services Agency as he awaits the outcome of his protracted legal saga.
A two-day court hearing begins today to determine whether current restrictions on the Algerian refugee will be eased.
Harkat, 49, was taken into custody in Ottawa in December 2002 on suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent.
The federal government is trying to deport the former pizza-delivery man to Algeria using a national security certificate – a legal tool for removing non-citizens suspected of ties to extremism or espionage. Harkat fears he will be imprisoned and tortured if returned to his homeland.
Following his arrest, Harkat was locked up for more than three years. He was released in June 2006 under stringent conditions that have since been relaxed somewhat.
Harkat now lives at home with wife Sophie. He has access to a computer connected to the internet at his residence. He has to report in person to the border services agency every two weeks. And though Harkat can travel within Canada, he must provide the border agency with five days’ notice of his plans as well as a full itinerary when leaving the national capital. He also has to report to the border agency by phone once a day while travelling.
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Harkat’s submission to the court argues he “presents no threat to Canada or to any person” and that he has diligently complied with conditions for more than a decade. “A continuation of these conditions is not justified.”
The couple says the restrictions now in place have caused great stress and hardship, even preventing them from having children.
Harkat wants permission to have a mobile phone, laptop computer and tablet with internet connectivity for use outside the home. He wishes to report to the border agency monthly by phone, through voice verification. And he wants restrictions on his travel lifted, with the exception that he remain in Canada.
Authorities are willing to allow Harkat to travel anywhere in Ontario or Quebec for up to 24 hours without notifying the border agency, and agree to him reporting in person once a month.
But they oppose the idea of Harkat having internet access outside the home, saying it would undermine their ability to keep tabs on his communications.
In a submission to the court, the ministers of public safety and immigration say an October 2016 assessment by the border services agency concluded that any risks are neutralized by Harkat’s compliance with the existing terms and conditions.
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“The fact that there is no new information linking Mr. Harkat to threat-related information activities does not warrant the variations he is requesting,” the federal submission says. “The Ministers have not changed their position that Mr. Harkat remains a threat.”
Federal Court Justice Simon Noel ruled in 2010 that there were grounds to believe Harkat is a security threat who maintained ties to Osama bin Laden’s terror network after coming to Canada.
Civil libertarians have long criticized the security certificate process as fundamentally unjust because the detainee sees only a summary of the accusations, making it difficult to challenge them.
In a 2014 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada said the security certificate regime does not violate the person’s right to know and contest the allegations they face. However, the high court provided detailed guidance on applying the process to ensure it is fair.
The Supreme Court also concluded Harkat “benefited from a fair process” when Noel reviewed his case.
Harkat’s file continues to grind along.
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The border agency is in the process of seeking a “danger opinion” as a step toward deportation.
A delegate of the immigration minister will determine whether Harkat poses a danger to national security and, if so, whether the risk to Harkat of removing him outweighs the danger or severity of the acts he allegedly committed.
Many supporters, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, have written to the government on Harkat’s behalf over the years.
© 2017 The Canadian Press