What was expected to be the end of a long nightmare and a great end to 2010 turned out to be a disaster. We can’t really put 2010 behind us because our battle continues. On Dec. 9th, 2010, the day before International Human Rights Day and the 8th-year anniversary of my husband Mohamed Harkat’s arrest under a security certificate, the Harkat family, his legal team, and his supporters across the country got a big punch in the guts.
It is one, Mohamed and I never expected. One, which many never expected! Our family, supporters, groups, unions and legal experts were all shocked at the recent ruling made by Justice Simon Noel from the Federal Court of Canada to uphold the security certificate against Mohamed.
The judge found the certificate ”reasonable” even though the lowest standard of proof was adopted through out the process. This decision was based on secret evidence neither Mohamed nor his public counsels could see or test for national security reasons. All that because CSIS believes, thinks, or assumes that Mohamed was involved, or may be involved, with terrorism. That position could cover any one of us at any time.
To this day, he still does not know the evidence against him. We have all been kept in the dark for eight years.
Mohamed Harkat was arrested and thrown in jail on Dec. 10th, 2002. He is the only inmate in Canadian history to ever be detained for 43 long months at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre without ever knowing why. He was never charged with any crime. That day will be engraved in my mind for the rest of my life.
My mom says she’ll always remember the sound and fear in my voice when I called her on her cell phone. I was hysterical; terrorism was such a taboo subject after 9/11, and still is. Who on earth wants to be associated with the word terrorism or allegations related to terrorism?
We did not know at the time what was going to happen to Mohamed, was he going to be deported? We did not know what a security certificate was. A few days later, I received an e-mail from the Stop Secret Trials Campaign from Toronto saying, “you are not alone, there are three other families,” so I decided to take a stand and fight for justice.
What I was really after was for the truth to come out. I was never afraid of the truth. I had one look into my husband’s eyes on our first visit in jail, I knew then I had to fight. I knew even before looking into his eyes that he had nothing to do with these absurd allegations. Mohamed has always denied all the allegations.
For three-and-a-half years, I visited him in an icy cold or burning hot room behind a dirty thick glass window, with rotten food on the floor or big bugs on the walls. We were allowed to communicate through a broken closed-circuit telephone, surrounded by guards who watched us from every angle for every minute of the visit. Of course the conversation was always recorded. And let’s not forget the bad treatment and killer looks before even going in. We were only entitled to two visits per week for 20 minutes each, and that’s only if we were lucky to get a ”good” guard who would bring him in on time and then start the phone.
We stared and mimed through glass many times without having a working phone. After waiting for hours to see him, he would be brought with shackles around his ankles to his waist and to his wrists. His orange suit was so bright he could probably be seen from space. It seems like he was treated worse than the worst criminal in this country.
They put him in solitary confinement for the first year, and only took him out for one or two showers per week, if he was lucky. He did not have access to fresh air or outdoors for the first six months and was kept in isolation from all other inmates, without anything to read or to do. At times, I would not hear from him for days because they did not give him access to the phone.
I did not sleep well for years. I was always worried for his safety and waiting by the phone for his collect call that often never came. He was the one inmate everyone in prison knew and talked about, but that no one had seen. Everyone there saw him in the newspapers and on TV but he did not. He was kept away from the general population with no access to TV or newspapers.
Despite this, right from the start, the prisoners supported us; they knew that a guy who was never charged did not belong in jail.
After a very long time in a short-term facility, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay North — a separate portable unit at Kingston Penitentiary. This new unit was specifically built to house security certificate detainees. Before the transfer, the promises seemed nice. The government had promised us all kinds of things. Better treatment, healthcare, education, and conjugal visits like the other inmates at the Kingston Penitentiary, only to find out we were all fooled.
We got nothing! The security certificate detainees including my husband were suddenly ”kidnapped” from their jail cells in day light and were transferred in total secrecy. An inmate from OCDC called me collect to say Moe had never returned to his section – this is how I found out about it. The fear was within me once more.
After three-and-a-half frustrating years in detention, Moe was finally released on bail — but the government appealed his bail, of course! I had him back but both he and I became full-time prisoners in our home for the following four years.
I was a jail guard to my own husband and I was pretty much cut from the outside world. Moe was released under the toughest bail conditions ever heard of in Canadian history. He could never be left alone in the house or in our yard. We were together every minute of the day, unless another court-appointed surety could ”release” me of my duties for a few minutes or hours.
There were surveillance cameras in our home, our phone was tapped, every conversation was open for CSIS and CBSA to listen to and all our mail was intercepted. We only had three outings per week of four hours each. To this day Moe still wears a GPS electronic tag around his ankle at all times, my computer room is under lock and key, and no cell phones or similar communications devices are allowed in our home.
While out on pre-approved outings, we were followed by six CBSA officers wearing bulletproof vests and carrying guns. Every location and person we were in contact with had to be pre-approved at least 48 hours in advance. This included our newborn nephew and my 80-year-old grandmother.
Many friends and outings were denied, including his own 40th birthday party and our wedding anniversary outing. I took Moe with me when I went to pre-approved pap tests, into changing rooms, and we were forced to use shared family washrooms in public buildings since he could never be left alone.
That was our life for almost four years until, suddenly, the government ordered almost all restrictions lifted in Sept. 2009. Apparently, Moe was no longer a threat. For four years, we were humiliated, degraded and dehumanized in everyway possible. Needless to say, when the conditions changed, it was about time, because I was very close to exploding! Many conditions still remain, including the GPS tag and the ban on use of a computer and cell phone. That’s the price of freedom in Canada!
Life has been a real soap opera for us the past eight years. Many would not believe some of my many stories. Some could not care less. But I always ask them “if you were in my husband’s shoes and you were detained without charge or access to the evidence… would you accept the process???”
No honest Canadian has ever agreed to that. Why should refugees or immigrants be treated differently? They are human beings and have the right to life, dignity, freedom, security and justice under our laws.
In Sept. 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found the Security Certificate process unconstitutional. One for us, zero for CSIS! They had one year to draft a new law that ended up being just as bad the second time around.
The main difference was a cosmetic changed created by adding the position of special advocates who can see some secret evidence, but can never talk with public counsels unless they are permitted by the court.
Same old thing, nothing new. The new process is very frustrating and remains as secretive. When the second security certificate was re-issued to Moe in Feb. 2008, the cover letter was addressed to Hassan Almrei, another security certificate detainee. Mistake number one! Wrong guy? Wrong allegations? Imagine what goes on in the back. Imagine what kind of evidence is presented in secret?
For the record, we know the special advocates do not have access to all material, only what CSIS chooses to release. They also don’t have access for cross-examination of some human sources and informants, only their files. You call that fair? Not only did we lose the reasonableness in Dec. 2010, but also on legal arguments on the constitutionality and abuse of process. Both applications for stay of proceedings were denied. Zero for us, one for CSIS!!!
Before I end this article, let me talk about the abuse of process that was carried out by CSIS.
It is now well documented that CSIS used evidence that was derived from torture, that their main informant failed a lie detector test, that CSIS failed to tell the court about this, that they listened to solicitor/clients calls for months until they were caught, and that they destroyed every piece of original material in our case (notes, tapes, intercepts, interviews… everything). If it were a criminal case, it would not stand a chance.
They raided our home in May 2008, two weeks before our hearing, in order to find the so-called evidence. They sent 16 CBSA officers, three sniffer dogs (normally used for locating currency, drugs and explosives), two OPP and two RCMP officers to guide the dogs. The search lasted over six humiliating hours and they took out over 20 boxes of material including my computer, which was in a locked basement and which contained all my communications with public counsels.
They searched every inch of our house for evidence, when they already knew or approved everything we did (GPS, surveillance cameras, tapped phone, intercepted mail and followed during outings). Our house was probably safer than the Prime Minister’s residence on that day.
If that’s not abuse of power… then what is??? If you are still doubtful, may I remind you that the evidence is kept secret for national security reasons and that on numerous counts, CSIS was found guilty of deporting people to torture based on baseless evidence.
Will we learn from the past? What is my husband to do? If he does not testify, he will be considered to be the one hiding something. When he does testify, he is called a liar, a terrorist. It’s his word versus the secret evidence, secret files. His word against a machine, a secret informant, our own Canadian government and CSIS. It’s a loss, total loss.
What happens next for us? The appeal process is just as unfair and biased as the hearing itself since the very same judge who found the certificate ”reasonable” has to certify a question to allow for an appeal to his decision.
We hope to appeal all the way back to the Supreme Court of Canada so that the whole process is found unconstitutional once again. How many more years of this nightmare? Our plans for the future (kids, work, and a home) have been put on hold again — for how long? An entire family is devastated.
In the meantime, Moe and I live with a huge cloud over our heads. This cloud constantly reminds us of the possibility of deportation to face imprisonment, torture or death. Moe faces serious risks if returned to Algeria because of the label. Canada wants to return him to Algeria. If they do, they will have his blood on their hands.
We are not giving up. The justice system may have left us down, but not our supporters and the average Canadian who believes in justice and due process. We continue to fight because of their support.
If you want to know more or help with the case, please check out our website www.justiceforharkat.com and, better yet, if you oppose Secret Trials in Canada and support due process please sign our new petition and statement at www.harkatstatement.com and endorse it. Please tell others as well; hundreds have signed so far. Time is crucial, we need your support and your voice !
Contact your MP and demand that the security certificate get a fair and open trial by allowing the evidence to be made public for all to see and for the truth to finally come out. We are not afraid of the truth. May justice prevail !
Sophie Harkat is a Human Rights Activist and the wife of Mohamed Harkat