OTTAWA — A judge says there are grounds to believe Algerian-born Mohamed Harkat is a security threat who maintained ties to Osama bin Laden’s terror network after coming to Canada.
The Federal Court decision Thursday could pave the way for Harkat’s deportation to his native country.
In a separate ruling, Judge Simon Noel upheld the constitutionality of the national security certificate system the government is using to remove Harkat from Canada, which denies the person named full access to the evidence.
Harkat, a 42-year-old former gas bar attendant and pizza delivery man, was arrested eight years ago on suspicion he was an al-Qaida sleeper agent. He is free on bail under strict conditions, and must wear an ankle bracelet that allows authorities to track him.
Harkat did not offer credible testimony to the court, Noel said in his ruling on the certificate.
“He has surrounded himself in layers of clouds in which he does not let any light come through,” Noel wrote.
“At times, his testimony was simply incoherent, implausible if not contradictory.”
Harkat broke down in tears when told of the ruling and instructed his counsel to appeal, said Matt Webber, one of his lawyers.
“Mr. Harkat is, to say the least, devastated by the judgment,” Webber told a news conference. “He is just in shock and wondered aloud how his credibility could be so ravaged on the basis of secret evidence.”
The federal government had painted Harkat as a calculating terrorist who consistently covered his tracks with lies.
Noel said the government established grounds to believe that, after arriving in Canada, Harkat “continued to be an active member of the (Bin Laden network) and provided support to the network.”
“I find that although the danger associated to Mr. Harkat has diminished over time, he still poses a danger to Canada.”
Harkat, who lives in Ottawa with wife Sophie, denies any involvement with terrorism.
He says he’s merely a refugee who fled strife-ridden Algeria and worked with an aid agency in Pakistan before he arrived in Canada in 1995 using a false Saudi passport.
The case hit numerous snags and delays, including an earlier, successful constitutional challenge that forced the government to revamp the security certificate system — a seldom-used means of removing non-citizens suspected of being terrorists or spies.
The government reissued a certificate against Harkat in 2008. He says he will be tortured if returned to his homeland.
Noel weighed evidence heard behind closed doors and in open court before issuing his decision on the certificate’s validity.
He has invited Harkat’s lawyers to submit questions to the court that might form the basis of a challenge in the Federal Court of Appeal.
“We’ll undoubtedly have numerous questions that we wish to pursue on appeal,” Webber said.
The government reworked the certificate process after the Supreme Court of Canada declared it unconstitutional in 2007. Among the changes was the addition of special advocates — lawyers who serve as watchdogs and test federal evidence against the person facing deportation.
However, the special advocates do their work almost entirely behind closed doors due to the sensitive nature of the classified evidence.
Harkat’s legal team had argued the proceedings violated Harkat’s guarantees of fundamental justice under the Charter of Rights.
In upholding the security certificate system, Noel said participation of the special advocates adequately protects the rights of the person facing deportation.
If someone might be sent abroad to possible torture, the case against them must be made in public, said Norm Boxall, Harkat’s co-counsel. Yet, “time and time again” Noel made conclusions about Harkat on the basis of secret evidence.
“There’ll be a constitutional challenge of this for sure,” Boxall said.
“Procedures have to be fair.”