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Canada: Mohamed Harkat's 14-year fight against deportation to Algeria Open in fullscreen

Jillian Kestler-D'Amours

Canada: Mohamed Harkat's 14-year fight against deportation to Algeria

The government alleged Harkat was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent [Harkat family/Creative Commons]

Date of publication: 13 December, 2016

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In-depth: Algerian refugee has been accused of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent in secret evidence he has not been allowed to see, reports Jillian Kestler D'Amours.

An Algerian man who has lived under stringent restrictions in Canada for 14 years is still fighting the government's effort to deport him back to Algeria, where he says he faces a threat of torture.

Mohamed Harkat has lived under some of the strictest conditions in Canada, after the government issued a rare and extremely contentious national security tool, known as a "security certificate", against him in 2002.

The government alleged Harkat was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, an accusation he has always vehemently denied.

"I'm here once again - and hopefully for the last time - to ask the Liberal government to do the right thing and drop the deportation proceedings against my husband and respect the convention [against torture]. It's the right and only thing to do," Harkat's wife, Sophia, said at a press conference in Ottawa on 9 December.

"Fourteen years is enough. We deserve our life back," she said.

Harkat's story

Harkat came to Canada in 1995. He received refugee status two years later after claiming government prosecution if he were returned to his native Algeria.

In 2002, he was arrested near his home in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, and detained under a security certificate.

Falling under the country's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), a security certificate can only be used against foreign nationals and permanent residents deemed inadmissible to Canada for reasons of national security, human rights violations or involvement in serious crimes.

The Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration must first sign a security certificate, and, if upheld by a federal court as reasonable, it then becomes an order for removal from Canada.

Since 1978, when the process was first created, Canada has used security certificates against just 27 individuals.

Though he was never charged with a crime, Harkat spent three and a half years in jail - including a year in solitary confinement - before being released under strict bail conditions, including GPS monitoring, 24-hour supervision, and a curfew.

The Canadian government has accused Harkat of being an al-Qaeda "sleeper" agent.

But, since security certificates allow the government to use classified information, the evidence to back up this allegation was never disclosed to Harkat, his legal team, or made known openly in court.

Fourteen years is enough. We deserve our life back.
- Sophie Harkat

The government's case against him is based on testimony from two informants, including one that did not pass a lie detector test, according to a report in the Toronto Star.

Harkat has challenged his security certificate in Canadian courts.

But the Federal Court of Canada upheld the security certificate against him, writing that Harkat "has engaged in terrorism, that he is a danger to the security of Canada and that he is a member of the Bin Laden Network through his past work".

Then, in 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada did the same, finding that the security certificate against him was constitutional. The use of classified evidence in security certificate proceedings was consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country's top court ruled.

The ruling came after a 2008 decision by Canada's Conservative government, under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to create "special advocates" to monitor security certificate proceedings.

Special advocates, who have security clearance, are tasked with arguing in the interests of the person subject to a security certificate, and challenging the government's claims, wherever suitable, that evidence must remain secret to protect national security.

The new position was formed following the Supreme Court's decision a year earlier to cancel a security certificate against Moroccan national, and resident of Montreal, Adil Charkaoui.

'Injustice of secret trials'

Despite the court's ruling, human rights groups across Canada have raised serious concerns about the use of security certificates.

Questions have also surfaced about whether information obtained through torture is being used as secret evidence in security certificate proceedings, and what responsibility Canada has to eliminate that practice.

The Canadian government "has failed to take the necessary steps... to protect citizens from torture and to end the injustice of secret trials," said Tim McSorley, the national coordinator for the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, an Ottawa-based advocacy group.

"We call on the government to ensure that those facing security certificates, including Mr Harkat, have full knowledge of the evidence being presented against them," McSorley said last week at the press conference in Ottawa.

"We also reiterate our call for the government to ultimately do away with security certificates altogether."

Sophie Harkat, meanwhile, also called on the government to stop the deportation proceedings against her husband, whom she said is a contributing member of Canadian society with a large circle of family and friends that want him to remain in Canada.

"May justice prevail," she said, "and may the truth come out."

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours

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