Canada quietly shutters 'Gitmo North' detention facility for terror suspects

posted on April 23, 2012 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

by Tobi Cohen
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
URL: [link]
Date: April 17, 2012

OTTAWA — The Kingston Immigration Holding Centre in Ontario, better known as Gitmo North, was quietly closed at the end of last year, saving the Canada Border Services Agency millions of dollars and bringing a sense of relief to the handful of men who were incarcerated there, Postmedia News has learned.

The costly facility, which opened in 2006 in the aftermath of 9/11 to detain just four terror suspects subject to controversial security certificates, often has been likened to the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba, where prisoners of the Iraq and Afghan wars were sent.

The Cuban facility is where Canadian war criminal and former child soldier Omar Khadr remains incarcerated and there's been speculation he could be held at Gitmo North should his request for transfer to Canada go through.

It's a prospect, however, that now seems unlikely.

"Following a review of the KIHC by the (Canada Border Services Agency) in 2009, it was decided that the facility should be permanently closed in order to allow the agency to better align its resources. Accordingly, KIHC was closed on December 31, 2011," CBSA spokeswoman Esme Bailey confirmed in an email.

"The CBSA has achieved approximately $2.5 million in annual savings by closing the KIHC."

Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, added there are "no plans for the future" of the facility which is located on the grounds of Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security prison.That's good news to Hassan Almrei who spent April 2006 to February 2009 detained at the facility where inmates were isolated from the general prison population, confined to tight quarters, subject to regular strip searches and absurd head counts given the number of them and denied conjugal visits, as well as lunch with their families. Detainees complained the portable-like accommodations were sweltering in the summer and freezing in the winter, that they had no access to dental care, that they were harassed by the guards and that floodlights in a courtyard they could not access kept them up at night. The conditions even become the subject of litigation and Almrei staged a 155-day hunger strike while incarcerated alone at the institution. "I am very very happy to hear that," Almrei said from Mississauga, Ont., adding it upset him when he heard Khadr might be sent there. "I hope that unit in Kingston will be, I don't like to use the word destroyed, I'd just like to see it flat. No more likely trace of that holding. I don't wish anybody to be there." The now-38-year-old Syrian refugee's security certificate was quashed in December 2009 after the Federal Court ruled he no longer posed a threat to national security. While the court considered the fact he was involved in an illegal document forging ring, wasn't up front about the countries he visited, used a fake passport to enter the country and associated with suspected Islamic extremists, it found none of it justified branding him a terrorist, which was largely based on testimony deemed not credible. Almrei is now trying to sue the federal government. The other men detained at the facility include Egyptian-born Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, as well as Algerian refugee Mohamed Harkat. While Mahjoub returned to the facility for about a year in March 2009 in a bid to protest the harsh conditions placed on his house arrest and the impact they had on his family, the other two were only there for a short period. Harkat's wife Sophie Lamarche visited the facility when her husband was there and called the conditions "pretty horrible." She's happy to hear it's closing but maintains it should never have been there in the first place. "That facility in my opinion, should never have existed because detaining people without charge, without accesses to evidence is unconstitutional," she said. "Guantanamo North should never have existed." Harkat has been living at home in Ottawa under strict conditions, trying to avoid deportation to Algeria, where he's certain he'll face torture. He'll find out next week whether the Federal Court of Appeal agrees the security certificate against him was reasonable. Security certificates allow a foreign national to be detained for indeterminate periods and deported without charge. Fighting them in court has proven an uphill battle since those involved are denied full disclosure of the evidence against them. The Supreme Court of Canada found them to be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 2007 for that reason, which prompted the government to amend the process by appointing lawyers who can act as "special advocates" to review the evidence. Before Paul Copeland took on the role of special advocate for Harkat and Almrei he served as Harkat's lawyer and visited him in Gitmo North. Noting it's "probably the most expensive facility created in Canada," he called it a "fairly useless" space that "provided nothing for the inmates and was a "nightmare place to stay." "It was always a waste in (terms of) the cost of keeping them," he said. "They could have put them up at the Royal York (Hotel) for way less money." While the government has since issued security certificates to deport a pair of suspected Russian spies and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, Copeland doesn't think the tool is a good one and he expects the government may stay clear of them in the future. tcohen AT © 2010 - 2012 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.