OTTAWA – The federal government says it will allow an Ottawa man accused of terrorist ties to have a mobile phone but balks at the idea of giving Mohamed Harkat access to the Internet or removing his electronic tracking bracelet.
In documents filed with the Federal Court, the government says it is also open to dropping a requirement that Harkat get prior approval before travelling out of town.
The concessions would ease current release conditions for Harkat, but fall short of the full list of freedoms he will seek Tuesday during a one-day Federal Court hearing.
It has been more than a decade since Harkat, a refugee from Algeria, was arrested under a national security certificate on suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent. He has essentially been living under house arrest with stringent conditions for seven years.
Harkat, 44, lives at home in Ottawa with wife Sophie, but wears an electronic GPS bracelet on his ankle, must check in with authorities regularly and cannot leave the capital area without permission. He is denied access to a mobile phone or a computer with Internet connectivity.
“I feel dehumanized and degraded on a daily basis,” Harkat says in an affidavit in support of his request for less onerous conditions. “The GPS ankle bracelet I am required to wear is a constant reminder of this.”
Harkat denies any involvement in terrorist activities. He says his decade-long ordeal has taken a toll, and that he’s been treated by a psychiatrist for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia for the last three years.
“I feel that much of my psychological difficulties are a result of the extremely restrictive conditions under which I live,” he says in the affidavit.
Harkat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Colin Cameron, says his patient takes four medications – two of which have had to be increased a number of times over the last three years – to manage his “significant depressive, post-traumatic stress and anxiety symptoms.”
In a brief to the court, Harkat’s lawyers call the current release conditions “harsh and excessive.”
Harkat argues his current lack of access to the Internet prevents him from emailing family members, the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, legal counsel or even the Canada Border Services Agency, which monitors his daily movements and approves or denies travel requests.
In addition, he says, he “feels uneasy” about not having a mobile phone in the event of an emergency when away from home – noting his wife suffers from diabetes and his nephew has allergies that require him to carry an epi-pen.
In its court submission, the government says the conditions imposed on Harkat – including GPS monitoring and the prohibition on Internet access – are proportional to the danger.
“The threat posed by Mr. Harkat relates directly to his ability to meet and communicate with persons associated with terrorism,” says the brief. “The conditions were imposed in order for the Court to be reassured that Mr. Harkat would not maintain or undertake such contacts.”
Harkat argues he has done everything expected of him to date.
“I have not breached any of my conditions since they were reviewed in September 2009. Compliance with the conditions is the predominant focus of my daily activities. I am very serious about respecting my conditions of release and clearing my name.”
The border services agency notes “erratic and unusual driving” by Harkat that may be “indicative of a wilful attempt to hinder (border agency) surveillance operations,” but agrees that there have been “no breaches of the terms and conditions” imposed on him since the last review.
However, federal lawyers say the lack of any breaches “is an indication that the conditions are working effectively, and are serving to mitigate the risk posed by Mr. Harkat.”
Security certificates have been used since 1991 to deport non-citizens accused of being terrorists or spies. The person named in a certificate receives only a summary of the case against them, which critics say makes for a mockery of fundamental justice.
Harkat’s case has been bound up in legal proceedings since the former pizza delivery man’s arrest on Dec. 10, 2002.
In October, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear a challenge of the security certificate system brought by Harkat and his lawyers.
The hearing will come more than five years after the Conservative government revamped the certificate regime in an effort to make it consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Two other security certificate cases – both involving men from Egypt – remain before the courts.