After serving as a language and cultural adviser to the Canadian Forces in Kandahar, Hamid Alakozai went to work as a Commissionaire at the Ottawa residences of the prime minister and governor general.
But the 47-year-old was removed from his post at Rideau Cottage and Rideau Hall last year at the request of the RCMP, according to interviews and documents obtained by Global News.
The concerns stemmed partly from Facebook friends the RCMP alleged were “supportive of or participants in violent extremism,” as well as online posts, some suggesting Alakozai’s involvement in the politics of Afghanistan.
On social media, the former reservist had allegedly identified himself as the leader of the National Uprising Party of Afghanistan and the Next President of Afghanistan, as well as a medical doctor and senior legal adviser.
The case, revealed through internal RCMP security screening documents disclosed in court, highlights the close scrutiny that social media use now faces from governments and employers.
Alakozai declined to comment.
He has applied to have the RCMP decision overturned in the Federal Court of Appeal, arguing he is a “proud Canadian” and the investigator may have developed a “wrong impression.”
“I’m a patriotic Canadian citizen, especially as a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Most importantly, my intention remains to serve my country Canada,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for the Commissionaires, a non-profit security company that employs former members of the military and RCMP, confirmed Alakozai was an employee on leave.
Alakozai obtained a Secret-level security clearance and worked as a door guard at the residences of the prime minister and governor general starting in 2015, Mark Blevis said.
But he said the RCMP had contacted the Ottawa Commissionaires office in March 2018, asking that Alakozai be taken off the residences. The Governor General resides at Rideau Hall, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lives on the same grounds at Rideau Cottage.
“We removed him from that site at that time,” Blevis said. “As soon as the request came in, he was taken off the contract.”
Alakozai subsequently ran for mayor of Ottawa, finishing seventh last October.
“Security clearance is not an eligibility criteria prescribed in the Municipal Elections Act,” a spokesperson for the City of Ottawa said.
According to RCMP files and other documents before the court, Alakozai’s mother paid an international smuggler $25,000 to bring him to Canada. He had only been a Canadian citizen for two years when he returned to Afghanistan in 2006 to work with the Canadian military.
The documents show he earned high praise from Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials in Afghanistan, with one calling him “as loyal as the day is long.”
In Kandahar, he worked alongside the Canadian Special Forces and was sent “outside the secure confines of the Canadian camp in a hostile environment,” a commanding officer wrote in a reference letter.
Another letter said he had been “subjected to direct and indirect enemy fire,” while a CSIS official wrote that his “tireless support to our efforts has proven to be an exceptional force-multiplier for the CSIS program.”
He later served in the Canadian Forces reserves, went to work for the Commissionaires and applied to join the RCMP. As part of the RCMP recruiting process, he was required to undergo enhanced security screening.
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The investigation by the RCMP’s departmental security branch involved an “open-source inquiry” — meaning an examination of his Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube accounts.
“The subject has a lot of online presence on the social networks,” wrote the RCMP investigator who alleged that, of Alakozai’s 2,626 Facebook friends, “multiple of them are questionable people.”
The profile picture of one of the friends showed a masked gunman dressed in camouflage and holding a military rifle. One RCMP document suggested the photo showed a member of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
Alakozai told the investigator his wife had access to his Facebook account and had accepted friend requests. He said he was against extremist ideology. The investigation found no evidence to challenge that.
The investigator also flagged the various titles Alakozai used online, some of which raised concerns about his possible political ambitions in Afghanistan as well as misrepresentations.
Ultimately, his clearance was denied for “association, affiliation or contact with individuals who have been involved in criminal activities; and, lack of honesty, providing evasive, misleading or false information during the screening process.”
The RCMP informed Alakozai his enhanced security clearance had been denied in a letter dated June 4, 2018, but he challenged the decision in the Federal Court and lost.
“Although the investigator recognized a number of factors that supported the applicant’s reliability, including his many positive references and his previous work for Canada on the ground in Afghanistan, some concerns were also raised during the screening process,” the government wrote in its response to Alakozai’s court appeal.
The concerns included “potential inaccuracies or misrepresentations” found online.
“The investigator expressed concern with respect to these statements not only because of their possible inaccuracy but also because they suggested ongoing political ties to Afghanistan that could raise a conflict of interest,” the government wrote.
Alakozai said the misrepresentations were the result of differences of language and interpretation between Canada and Afghanistan.
In addition, the investigation found “problematic associations” with his Facebook friends — one of whom had posted photos suggesting he “was likely part of an extremist group with violent ideology.”
The investigator did not believe Alakozai supported extremism, but his failure to clean up his Facebook account “indicated a lack of judgment,” the government wrote, adding his clearance was denied due to “adverse information” that “called his reliability and judgment into question.”
The court upheld the RCMP decision on May 1, ruling it was reasonable.
Justice Paul Favel wrote that Alakozai “demonstrated through his written submissions and his oral arguments that he is a loyal Canadian citizen. The Respondent does not dispute the Applicant’s loyalty to Canada.”
But the judge said Alakozai had been “unable to satisfy the RCMP that there was no reason to doubt his reliability or trustworthiness in dealing with sensitive information in the department.”
Alakozai filed a notice of appeal regarding that decision on May 15.