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October 14, 2009

The Harkats smell freedom

Reuel S. Amdur

Reuel S. AmdurMohamed Harkat and his wife Sophie Lamarche arrived for the interview at Tim Horton’s by bike.

Sophie said that her mother was getting tired of lending her car, and they don’t have the money to get their own.  Both of them were radiating happiness. 

On September 22, Judge Simon Noël removed a number of stiff bail conditions on him.  No longer does Mohamed (or Moe, as he is called) have to be accompanied at all times by Sophie.  No longer is he held under house arrest except for brief, pre-arranged outings.  The indoor video cameras are gone.  What is more, the changes to the bail conditions were proposed to the judge by the Crown itself. 

The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CISIS) has downgraded their assessment of what they consider his potential threat but that there is no evidence that he has “renounced his beliefs and support of Islamic extremism.” 

Harkat is one of five Muslim men against whom security certificates were issued, supposedly pending deportation for alleged terrorist connections. 

However, deportation has become moot in any case because of real fears that the men would face torture on return to their home countries.  All of them are fighting the terrorist charge.  In his case, he is from Algeria, from which he fled in 1990. 

He had been an activist for the Islamic Salvation Front, an opposition populist political party.  However, it changed from a broad-based movement into an extremist Islamist party in 1991, by which time he was in Saudi Arabia. 

In Saudi Arabia, he was not allowed to go to university, so he took a job in Pakistan with the Muslim World League, a Saudi charity.  However, Algeria asked Pakistan to return all Algerians who had connections with the Front, so he fled again in 1994, this time to Canada. Canada arrested him on a security certificate in December, 2002, holding him in prison for 43 months and then subjecting him to extremely onerous bail conditions.  They said that he had been in Afghanistan, that he was affiliated with the Armed Islamic Group offshoot of the Front, and that he was linked to al-Qaeda, all of which he has denied.  Much of the Crown’s case blew up when it was forced to admit that a star informant against him had failed a lie detector test.

Well, on October 6, when we met, they were beaming.  “We’re delighted!” said Sophie, whom he met and married before his arrest.  CSIS is no longer monitoring their phone and mail.  Mohamed has no curfew and can come and go where he wants in the National Capital Region without being followed.  That he is now able to go out on his own, is “life-changing,” said Sophie.  Now they want to get off welfare and work. 

I asked how it was that, virtually locked up together for all that time, he had not taken the opportunity to learn French from Sophie.  “We couldn’t do that,” said Sophie.  She is the one who did most of the talking. 

The two of them were so worn down by the house arrest ordeal (“I was his jailer,” she said) that they did not have the energy.  She is a diabetic and had real problems with high blood pressure during the ordeal. 

The Harkats are grateful for the efforts of Paul Copeland, their special advocate, who was able to see evidence in secret, communicating with the court but not with their legal team. 

Copeland had been their lawyer before being appointed as a special advocate and so knew their case inside and out.  While they share the concern frequently expressed that they were in the dark about what was going on, they feel that the special advocate system worked well for them. 

So what’s next? 

Moe still has to wear a tracking bracelet, requiring him to recharge it for two hours a day without moving.  He has to report to authorities weekly.  He is limited to travel within the National Capital Region. 

On January 19, there is another court date, when they hope to have the security certificate quashed and his ankle monitor consigned to history.  Above all, said Moe, “I want them to clear my name.” 

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