Source: The London Free Press
Date: January 25, 2010
Recently, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley released a landmark 182-page decision in the case of Hassan Almrei, an individual who has spent much of the past eight years in detention, on the basis of a security certificate.
Security certificates allow our federal government to deport non-citizens who appear to pose a risk to national security, except where they would face almost certain torture or death in their home country. In these cases, individuals face indefinite detention without the benefit of typical legal protections, including an open trial. Problematically, the security certificate process relies heavily on secret evidence gathered by CSIS, Canada's spy agency.
Although Almrei remained unaware of the secret evidence against him, Mosley was able to review the entire case justifying his detention. Mosley ultimately reached the conclusion that Almrei "has not engaged in terrorism and is not and was not a member of an organization that . . . has, does or will engage in terrorism. I find that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that Hassan Almrei is today, a danger to the security of Canada."
This unequivocal conclusion begs the question: How could Almrei have been kept in jail for nearly eight years, if the case against him can be so confidently dismissed?
The answer lies in the extraordinary measures that CSIS took to deceive the court. The decision describes CSIS's many underhanded tactics, including failing to disclose exculpatory evidence and relying on outdated and unreliable evidence to support its position, without verifying accuracy.Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that government agencies have acted unscrupulously in the name of national security. Government agencies, including the RCMP and CSIS, have been heavily criticized for similar improper and unethical conduct in many other recent national security cases. Instances of government agencies overstepping their boundaries under the pretence of security should alarm Canadians for a variety of reasons. Most important, there is a human cost for government impropriety, which can no longer be ignored. CSIS's deceptions kept Almrei detained for nearly a decade in atrocious conditions. He spent more time in solitary confinement than any other Canadian in recent history, and often had to resort to hunger strikes, once fasting for 38 days for the privilege of having heat turned on in his concrete cell. In addition, misconduct on the part of our government wastes precious resources. Added to the exorbitant cost of building a false case against Almrei, taxpayers also footed a bill of $2.6 million a year to keep him in detention, funds that could have been better used on true security threats. Finally, the inevitable result of the many recent government scandals is to create a climate of distrust. While security measures are necessary to counter terrorism, surely the most important measure is co-operation and trust between citizens and government. When governments become fanatical about protecting national security without regard to propriety and ethics, we risk alienating the same people towards whom we should be reaching out. While this most recent scandal is still fresh in our minds, and before it is replaced by another, let us hope that Canadians will now say enough is enough. Naseem Mithoowani is a local lawyer.
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