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Mohamed Harkat never committed any act of violence, political or otherwise, and no other crime.
And yet the Canadian government labelled him a terrorist.
It based its accusation on secret testimony and evidence, and said national security justified the secrecy.
That accusation was enough to put Harkat in prison for more than three years. Nearly 10 years ago he was released to, in effect, the custody of his wife Sophie.
In that time he has not violated the conditions of his release nor broken Canadian law in any other way.
Nonetheless, the Canadian government now wants to deport him back to his native Algeria. He and his supporters say if that happens it is almost certain Harkat will be tortured, and perhaps killed.
Leaving aside the particulars of Harkat’s case, Algeria’s lamentable human rights record would give little comfort to anyone who had once been accepted as a refugee from that North African country and now faced the prospect of being forcibly returned.
The highly respected U.S.-based international organization Human Rights Watch says this about the current Algerian government’s performance on human rights:
“Despite the Algerian government’s promises in 2011 to introduce reforms, Algeria has made little progress since then on improving human rights. Authorities curtail free speech and the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and peaceful protest. They also arbitrarily arrest and prosecute political and trade union activists. Perpetrators of torture, enforced disappearances, unlawful killings, and other serious rights abuses committed during the civil war enjoy impunity. The Algerian government blocks the registration of Algerian nongovernmental human rights organizations and has maintained its non-cooperation with UN human rights experts.”
Could be held incommunicado and tortured
Other international organizations, such as Amnesty International, have given Algeria similar failing grades on human rights.
Last September, when, during a federal election campaign, the Canadian government issued the deportation order, Postmedia news spoke to Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
Neve said that in Algeria Harkat could very well be subject to what he called incommunicado detention. In other words, he would be denied access to family, lawyers and even doctors.
Neve told Postmedia that Amnesty has documented numerous cases of terror suspects being held for prolonged periods under such conditions — conditions that put them risk of torture.
It is important to remember that Harkat has never been accused of anything more serious than playing a non-violent logistical support role for other suspected terrorists — and even that was a long time ago.
His wife has wondered aloud what danger the Canadian government now believes her husband might pose to Canada. Harkat has lived in Canada for 20 years, since arriving as a refugee in 1995.
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) won’t say why it still believes Harkat might continue to poise a threat that warrants deportation. In any case, it is the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), not CSIS that is undertaking the deportation proceedings.
Seven years ago, CSIS did issue a threat assessment of Harkat, in which it evaluated his continuing notional danger to Canada, which, it said, had diminished over time.
In 2008, CSIS also told a court that it had destroyed any evidence it once had inculpating Harkat.
Authorities have behaved almost without logic
The entire deportation exercise has been quite odd. It has had something of an Alice Through the Looking Glass quality
In May 2014, the government won a case testing the constitutionality of secret security certificates of the sort it used to imprison Harkat. Yet it waited 15 months before issuing the deportation order. If a person who has been in Canada for the better part of two decades poses a real threat, why wait so long to deport him?
There has been no explanation.
The whole process got underway, of course, when Stephen Harper was still prime minister. We now have a new PM.
And so, what might the new Liberal government now do?
Given that the Justin Trudeau Liberals have been the target of frequent attacks for being soft on terrorists, most recently because of their decision to withdraw from bombing missions against Islamic State targets on the Middle East, it would be reasonable to expect they might be tempted to let Harkat’s deportation order stand.
The new government could calculate that there may not be much support in Canada for an Algerian with, as the authorities and the courts have claimed, known connections to al-Qaeda operatives, and against whom CSIS has said it has had voluminous wiretap evidence.
The fact that we cannot see or hear that evidence might be a matter of little importance to those who feel an overriding fear of terrorists and the random and unpredictable acts of violence they can commit.
But Harkat does have friends.
There are the usual suspects, among them Maher Arar, who can attest to what happens when a person is returned to his home country to be tortured, former U.N. ambassador Stephen Lewis, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
But that crew, as eminent as it is, would not necessarily sway a Liberal government.
It was a previous Liberal government, after all, that, in the wake of 9/11, introduced the law that created the security certificates.
But Harkat has one supporter whom the current government might find it harder to ignore: the prime minister’s brother Alexandre Trudeau.
The younger Trudeau brother could have quietly and privately approached his PM brother and/or his cabinet colleagues, and hoped for the best.
Alexandre Trudeau, instead, chose a different course.
He decided to go public with his support for Harkat in an open letter to the prime minister.
And the younger Trudeau did not mince his words.
The PM’s younger brother even threw a now famous phrase of his older brother back at him.
He told the prime minister that lifting the deportation order on Harkat would be a great opportunity to demonstrate his much-vaunted “sunny ways.”
As Alexandre and Justin’s father once said, in a much different context: “And now the cat is among the pigeons!”
Photo: wikimedia commons