If you want to interview Mohamed Harkat you have to reach him at home on his land-line. As part of the federal security certificate against him, Harkat is not allowed to use a computer or the Internet, or even a cell phone. He’s not allowed to leave Ottawa area without permission---he was recently denied permission to travel to Montreal for a dinner in his honour---and must wear a GPS tracking unit on his ankle.
The restrictions against him are lighter than they used to be. Until the government mysteriously lifted the more severe stipulations in September 2009, Harkat could not be left alone at home without the supervision of one of his three court-appointed sureties. Canadian Border Security officers used to watch the house where Harkat lives with his wife Sophie. Two surveillance cameras were installed in the living room and front entrance, and all visitors had to be pre-approved by security officials. Their phone was tapped and mail was intercepted. Family Christmas cards were finally delivered in January, if at all.
With conditions like that, you’d think Mohamed Harkat stands accused of the most terrible crimes imaginable. Not so. CSIS alleges that he’s a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda but Harkat hasn’t been charged with anything. The evidence against him is secret. There is no due process accorded to Harkat under the security certificate against him. Instead, the federal government and CSIS can label him---and anyone else, presumably---a threat to national security, and conduct secret trials in which the accused has no right to hear, let alone challenge, the evidence against them.
X-Ray talked to Mohamed Harkat about his case, what it means for democracy in Canada, and what average Canadians can do to stop the use of secret trials and security certificates.
What do you think is the main motivation for the government to use secret trials and security certificates?
“They do that because they don’t have a case against the accused. They don’t have solid evidence. Like with me, just allegation, and they don’t want to bring the informant to testify. They don’t have credible information from overseas, from places were there is torture of people to gather information. That’s why they use the security certificate. Basically they use the lowest standard to put in front of the judge to decide. The judge has to weigh the evidence from the government side and use that to deport people like me to torture.”
What does this mean for “democracy” in Canada?
“A trial like that is normally used in places controlled by the military, like Algeria, Egypt, places like that. With democracy, basically, you have the whole truth in front of you and people judge you. And there’s nothing to hide in democracy. Truth is truth.”
How does it feel to be tried in secret, without knowing exactly what the evidence is against you?
“Frustrated. When you know Canada is a democratic country and you find yourself fighting. When I came to Canada the first time I got protected and I had a beautiful life and I’m going to build my future in this country. And now I find the judge behind the doors with the special advocate or government to decide in my fate and my family’s future and I don’t have a full picture to defend myself. Basically they tie your hands behind your back and put you in the ring to fight. You don’t have the whole case to defend yourself. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
Most Canadians are not aware of the situation in Algeria. What do you fear most about being deported back to that country?
“Algeria is still a military state, a police state. The government of Algeria and the media doesn’t want to expose themselves to the West. All they show of the government is that it’s a democratic country but it’s not. That’s why all the protests are going on around the world. Algeria is part of that. We have people in prison. We have people disappeared since 1992. And we had the army before that, with people tortured and disappeared, kidnapped and killed without trial.
And they want to send me back with this allegation against me? The government of Canada is accusing me of being a part of a terror network, and the United States is going all around the world to arrest people. I’m going to get disappeared, killed or jailed. Nobody knows what’s going to happen to me if I’m sent back to Algeria. That’s why I’m fearing for my life. I’m worried all the time. Basically I’m living day by day these days. It’s a nightmare for me.”
If you were given a chance to address Canadians at large, about your experience of secret trials and security certificates, what would you say?
“I would like to say that if Canadian people really want to protect their democracy and open trials they should not let these kinds of injustice go on. Today it’s me. The government says they’re deporting a national security threat. But the reality is it’s not a fair trial for me. Today it’s me. Another day it’s somebody else. You never know the case against you and you’re labeled for life and sent to a place for torture.
I would like to say for people: don’t let this injustice go on. I still have lots of supporters and I have faith ultimately that they won’t deport me to a place where I’m going to be tortured or killed. If I have evidence against me just try me in an open trial and let me defend myself. Give me the whole evidence and let me question the informant, or let me question the evidence or where they collected it from and the reliability of the evidence or allegation against me.
I have lots of supporters and people calling for justice from coast to coast, people who are unhappy with this kind of trial in Canada. And people are connected to each other. The case goes from one person to another and they support me. I go sometimes to the mall and people come up to me, I’ve never seen them before, and all they want is justice, all they want is a fair and open trial. That’s why I have faith in Canadians. Any place I go people come to me and that’s what I get. I never, ever get negative comments. That’s what keeps me going forward.” (X)
What next? Sign the Statement Against Security Certificates
We, the undersigned, have grave concerns regarding the continued use of sections 9, 76-87 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which allow for the imprisonment in Canada of refugees and permanent residents under the authority of a “Security Certificate”
... Sign the statement here
, and read more about Mohamed Harkat's case