Judge eases restrictions on Harkat

posted on September 23, 2009 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

by Colin Freeze
Source: The Globe and Mail
URL: [link]
Date: September 22, 2009

A Federal Court judge has greatly eased restrictions on a man kept under scrutiny as an al-Qaeda suspect since 2002, as another one of the government's vaunted security-certificate cases has slid from the stated goal of deportation into one of perpetual low-level surveillance within Canada.

Mohamed Harkat, a 41-year-old Algerian immigrant living in Ottawa, has had his extremely onerous house-arrest conditions lifted. For the first time in seven years, he will not be kept under federal agents' constant eyes-on surveillance.

Judge Simon Noel ruled that Mr. Harkat's years in custody - half of it in prison, the other half under house arrest - have reduced the threat he once posed to Canadian national security. His decision, the judge said, followed a new federal risk assessment of the man.

Supporters of Mr. Harkat applauded in the courtroom, as he and his wife shed tears, when the new liberties were announced yesterday. "I came to this country to work," Mr. Harkat said. "I have no idea why they arrested me."Security certificates were designed to expedite the removal of dangerous immigrants, but have proven to be anything but expeditious. The power allows the federal government to brand non-citizens removable threats to Canada, on spy-service information that may never be revealed.

As fears of overseas torture stymie the government's deportation bids, however, the shadowy practices of intelligence agencies have been put on trial. Judge Noel recently found that Canada's spy service buried evidence involving an anonymous source, who flunked polygraph tests as he gave testimony against Mr. Harkat.

In his latest ruling, Judge Noel ordered government agents to cease monitoring Mr. Harkat's mail and other communications, and to take down surveillance cameras installed outside his house.

No longer will officials keep him under house arrest, nor limit him to a few pre-approved weekly excursions where he is followed by government minders at all times.

Mr. Harkat is allowed to use computers and land-line telephones, but still can't use the Internet or mobile phones. He must wear a GPS ankle bracelet so that federal authorities can always keep tabs on his whereabouts.

Later this week, a Federal Court judge will decide whether another man monitored in a parallel case ought to have any restrictions on him at all.

In an unusual legal gambit, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has decided to pull evidence from its security-certificate case against a Moroccan, Adil Charkaoui, saying it disagrees with a judge who has ordered CSIS to reveal some sources.

The spy service hopes this manoeuvre will show judges it is serious about safeguarding its secrets and force an appellate court to clarify what must be disclosed in court. However, the gambit may end up scuttling the case entirely, depending on what the Federal Court decides.

"Regardless, the disclosure of this information [involving Mr. Charkaoui] would be injurious to national security, and compromise the ability to effectively investigate security threats to Canadians," CSIS spokeswoman Manon Berube said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. "Among the most important elements of security intelligence collection is human sources. It is imperative that CSIS protect its sources, and guarantee their anonymity."

The statement added that the public disclosure of sensitive information, which would in turn be available to those whose interests are adverse to Canada, would compromise CSIS's ability to carry out its mandate and would place Canada's national security at risk.

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