Date: February 29, 2016
[PHOTO: Mohamed Harkat wipes away tears during a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, that marked the 10th anniversary of his arrest and detention on a security certificate.]
It’s been a very busy few weeks for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet on the immigration and foreign policy front. They’ve made some bold moves. But their work is not yet finished.
Last week, Immigration Minister John McCallum introduced a bill to reverse the previous government’s controversial two-tier citizenship law, which allowed the government to revoke the citizenship of Canadians convicted of terrorism and other offences. McCallum called it “a question of principle.”
On February 15, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion asserted the government’s intention to ask for clemency in death penalty cases abroad. Canada, he said, “must end this incoherent double standard. Canada opposes the death penalty and will ask for clemency in each and every case, no exceptions.”
On February 18, the government confirmed it was dropping the previous government’s appeal of the decision to grant bail to Omar Khadr. That same day, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Health Minister Jane Philpott announced the reinstatement of health care coverage for refugees.
And back in December, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale promised that he would review controversial directives enacted by the Harper government that allow for the sharing of security information with allies even in cases where that might lead to a suspect’s torture. Those directives were opposed by many human rights groups and described as contrary to international law and Canada’s United Nations commitments.
Bold moves, but not enough of them. Let’s get back to Mr. Dion’s comment about double standards for a moment. How can we reconcile Mr. Dion’s reasoning on the death penalty with the clear double standard involved in Ottawa’s continued attempts to deport Ottawa-based convention refugee and security certificate detainee Mohamed Harkat back to Algeria — where he faces a very real risk of torture and death?
Harkat was arrested in 2002 and then released under strict conditions in 2006. He’s been under surveillance ever since.
Those detained under security certificates have no access to the secret information the government uses to accuse them of association with terrorism. Neither do their lawyers. The Supreme Court of Canada has expressed “discomfort” with security certificates, calling them “imperfect” — but stopping short of declaring them (in their current form) unconstitutional. The court has, however, declared unconstitutional the practice of destroying original information on which the allegations are based.
Despite this, the government is still relying on summaries of information that was destroyed for its rationale for keeping Mr. Harkat under surveillance and seeking his deportation.
The Federal Court also has ruled that the threat posed by Mr. Harkat has significantly decreased since his initial detention in 2002. Since 2009 all of the assessments done by CBSA, CSIS and the Federal Court state that Mr. Harkat poses a low risk. In September 2009, the court dropped many of his release conditions after CSIS said that he did not pose the threat they initially thought.
It’s very important to remember that Mr. Harkat has never committed a crime, nor has he been charged with one; this is not disputed by Canada’s security agencies. Mr. Harkat’s reputation has been smeared through the use of unexamined (because secret) allegations, through witnesses who later were found to have failed polygraph tests. He has abided by his release conditions to the letter since his release from jail in 2006, despite the immense pressure the authorities have put on him and his family.
The aim of the security certificate regime is deportation. A finding of “reasonableness” (in a process that applies the lowest standard of evidence in any judicial proceeding in Canada) is automatically converted into a deportation order. But for Mr. Harkat, deportation is a mortal threat; he would be sent to Algeria, a country identified by Amnesty International as one with an extremely poor human rights record.
Mr. Harkat fears torture and execution if he is returned — especially after having been labeled a terrorist by Canada, despite never having been charged and never having committed a crime. He has every reason to be afraid.
At minimum, the government of Canada should reconsider its intention to deport Mr. Harkat. It also needs to take a hard, critical look at the section of the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act that allows for security certificates — a law that all too often is used to remove rights and deport people, not protect them. The injustice of the security certificate system was even recognized by Prime Minister Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, in his 2006 documentary, Secure Freedom.
So far, Prime Minister Trudeau’s new government has indicated a willingness to undo at least some of the damage done by the previous government to Canada’s human rights record, at home and abroad. But they’re not done yet. Since mid-December, hundreds of concerned Canadians have sent letters of support asking Goodale to drop the proceedings. Canada has been given another opportunity to stop Mohamed Harkat’s deportation — and any others that might result in torture or death.
Do the right thing, Mr. Trudeau. Let him stay.
The Justice for Mohamed Harkat committee advocates on Mr. Harkat’s behalf for the abolition of the security certificate system, and to prevent his deportation.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.
© 2016 iPolitics