justice / law / Mohamed Harkat / security certificates

Towards the Abolition of Security Certificates, Part I of II

Mike Larsen is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at York University, and a Researcher at the York Centre for International and Security Studies . He is Co-managing Editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons . His work deals with the politics of secrecy and suspicion, with a focus on Canada’s security certificate regime and its mechanisms and institutions of detention and (information) control. His most recent article (with Justin Piché) is “Exceptional State, Pragmatic Bureaucracy, and Indefinite Detention: The Case of the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre”, published in Volume 24(2) of the Canadian Journal of Law and Society (2009). We are thrilled to be posting Mike’s first piece for Just Blog.


Justice for Moe Harkat!

On Monday, Mohamed (Moe) Harkat will head to the Federal Court of Canada for the first day of the latest public hearing regarding the reasonableness of the security certificate that he has been subject to since December 10, 2002. In that time, Moe has experienced various forms of detention, ranging from imprisonment and solitary confinement in provincial and federal institutions to conditional release under a shifting set of restrictive conditions. The Government of Canada continues to allege that he has past links to terrorism, that he presents a threat to the national security of Canada, and that he must be removed to Algeria (where there is reason to believe that he would face persecution or torture). He has not been charged with, much less convicted of, any crime. and the intelligence material that comprises the ‘case’ against him remains largely secret. Some ‘evidence’ trickles out to Moe, his legal counsel, and the public, but much of it remains subject to national security confidentiality provisions, and is seen and heard behind closed doors by a federal court judge, and argued over by government lawyers and appointed special advocates.

I have been involved in research and advocacy around security certificates for several years, and have watched Moe and his wife Sophie navigate the Kafkaesque maze of injustice that defines these proceedings. It has been a roller coaster, with victories (Moe’s release from the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, positive Supreme Court rulings that changed the structure of the security certificate regime, and a series of federal court decisions that have progressively loosened the conditions that govern the Harkats’ lives) and setbacks (the renewal of the inherently unjust certificate mechanism through Bill C-3, Moe’s brief re-arrest for an alleged breach of conditions, and last year’s ridiculous ‘raid’ on the Harkats’ home by CBSA agents on a fishing expedition). Over the years I have known Sophie and Moe, I have been impressed by their perseverance, spirit, and ability to endure constant surveillance and the micro-management of their lives in the pursuit of justice (with justice being clearly defined as the right to due process and a fair and open trial, or else freedom from state control).

The Harkats, their supporters, and opponents of ‘secret trials’ have reason to be hopeful going into Monday’s hearing. Recent decisions by the federal court in two other security certificate cases (Adil Charkaoui and Hassan Almrei) have led to the quashing of their certificates .  In Adil Charkaoui’s case, the state’s refusal to comply with a court order to release certain information led to the withdrawal of that material, which in turn left the government unable to convince the court of the ‘reasonableness’ (a low judicial threshold) of his certificate. In Moe’s case, the federal court, in response to a revised CSIS threat assessment, dramatically relaxed the conditions of his release. The court also reprimanded CSIS for being untruthful about the credibility (or lack thereof) of an informant, and for withholding important ‘evidence’. Additionally, the federal court slammed the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) for their heavy-handed surprise raid on the Harkats’ home, and ordered that the agency return confiscated solicitor-client material and personal effects. In light of this succession of foul-ups, and given the increasing incredulity of state claims regarding Moe’s supposed dangerousness, I am hopeful that the federal court will recognize the unreasonableness of his certificate. I look forward to celebrating his freedom on the steps of the Supreme Court building.

As always, the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee is calling for supporters to pack the court this Monday (Jan 18). The federal court sits in the East Courtroom of the Supreme Court of Canada (301 Wellington St, Ottawa). The hearing begins at 10 am. If you can make it, I urge you to attend and show your support for due process and the right to be presumed innocent, and your opposition to the politics of suspicion and (in)security.

If you can’t make it, I urge you to read about security certificates, and to get involved in the campaign to stop secret trials. Write to your MPs and tell them that there is no room in a just society for a mechanism that allows non-citizens to be stripped of their rights, held, and deported without charge or trial. Tell them that, as a society, we lose much more than we gain by putting our trust in secret proceedings and using immigration law as a watered-down proxy for criminal law. Tell them to support the abolition of security certificates.

Oh, and be sure to write letters to the editor when the newspapers report on Monday’s hearing. Don’t let the apologists for secret trials have the last word!

See the Justice for Mohamed Harkat website for more info.

Mike Larsen


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