Appeal court to decide if Harkat a security riskposted on October 26, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink
The change in Sophie Harkat is noticeable as soon as she begins an interview or stands before a microphone and dozens of protestors. Poised and articulate, she's a confident version of the woman who was thrust shakily before television cameras when reporters arrived at her apartment doorstep almost two years earlier. That was Dec. 10, 2002, the day her husband Mohamed was accused of being an Al Qaeda member and arrested on a national security certificate, a little-used provision of the immigration act used to deport a non-Canadian citizen who is considered a threat to the country's security. Since then, Sophie has become a fierce opponent of the largely secretive process and her husband's most vocal advocate, marching in protests, circulating petitions and generating an e-mail program that has overwhelmed government employee inboxes.But today Harkat's fate is turned over to the Federal Court and for the first time the 36-year-old Algerian refugee will testify in his own defence.
Sophie knows that while it's up to Madam Justice Eleanor Dawson to decide whether the evidence presented to her privately, and in an Ottawa courtroom, is enough to conclude there's a "reasonable" probability that Harkat poses a risk to Canada, her husband will also be tried this week by the public.
"I just hope people are going to give him a chance and listen to his story. I'm asking people to be open to listening to both sides because we can't trust the secret services, fully anyhow, because we've seen they've made mistakes in the past," she said. If Dawson upholds the certificate, Harkat can be deported to his native country of Algeria where he left in 1990. He says he fears he'll be killed if deported.
Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland now represents Harkat, after his previous two attorneys left his case, and says he's frustrated preparing for a case where there's little disclosure. Due to concerns over national security, government lawyers are allowed to give evidence gathered by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, behind closed doors, which Copeland is unable to dispute.
"Probably my most apt description of how I'm preparing is that I lie awake at night wondering how I'm going to deal with the case," Copeland said.
Copeland attempted to have an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," appointed to challenge the government's censored evidence â?” something now being employed at the federal inquiry probing the circumstances of the deportation and detention of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar.
Arar was detained at New York's JFK airport on Sept. 26, 2002, during a stopover as he returned to Canada following a family vacation in Tunisia.
American authorities deported Arar to Syria where he remained behind bars for a year, without charges, before his released last fall. The inquiry is probing what role Canadian authorities may have played. But Copeland's motion to have an appointment to the court was dismissed, leaving him only with a 40-page report by CSIS that outlines the allegations against Harkat.
"The Service believes that Harkat is an Islamic extremist; a supporter of Afghani, Pakistani, and Chechen extremists; was and is a member of the Bin Laden Network; and, that Harkat's role in this terrorist network is exemplified by his actions and intentions," the brief states.
Among the claims is an allegation that Harkat associated with Abu Zubaida, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants, while travelling to Afghanistan.
Zubaida was captured in March, 2002, and a recent newspaper report said he was being kept in a Central Intelligence Agency facility in Jordan.
CSIS claims Zubaida identified Harkat, recalling him from a guest house in Peshawar, Pakistan, used predominantly for mujahideen travelling to Chechnya.
Ahmed Ressam, the former Montreal resident dubbed the "millennium bomber" after being convicted in the U.S. for a 1999 plot to blow up Los Angeles, also identified Harkat, according to CSIS.
Copeland said he plans to question the reliability of the evidence and whether it was obtained under torture.
A Canadian television report, relying on unnamed government sources, also claimed that Arar was questioned about Harkat. Arar said in an interview that while he was asked about many names Harkat was not one that was mentioned. Harkat arrived in Toronto on Oct. 6, 1995, with a false Saudi passport and was declared a refugee in February, 1997.
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