VANCOUVER — He might be out nearly $1 million in gold coins and a job in Canada, but a Syrian man thanked God Thursday after being released from detention as a potential threat to national security.
Khaled Nawaya said racial stereotyping and his own mistakes set the stage for his arrest in early October as he crossed the border from the United States into British Columbia.
“I’m still in shock and still trying to digest everything and thank God for everything,” said the blank-faced 34-year-old said outside an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing after learning he’d been freed.
He was taken into custody Oct. 6 after Canada Border Services agents found a ring emblazoned with the Hezbollah logo, several 9-11 conspiracy DVDs and a Palestinian scarf in his car and flagged them as potential “terrorism resources.” The Lebanon-based group has been listed by the government as a terrorist organization since 2002.
But a lawyer for the Canada Border Services Agency, who a few weeks ago successfully argued for his detention on terrorism-related grounds, agreed to Nawaya’s release Thursday, provided he reports regularly to the border agency and supplies documentation explaining the items that landed him behind bars.
After his release, Nawaya suggested he got caught up in terrorist suspicion.
“There’s always bad people out there. There are good people and when … bad things happen, the good people get involved automatically,” Nawaya said.
“I want to tell everyone who’s suspicious there is no reason to be suspicious and not everyone who comes from the Middle East is a bad person. There are lots of good people out there.”
His lawyer, Phil Rankin, said the items found in Nawaya’s car have much more innocent explanations.
He said Nawaya converted money he won in a lawsuit settlement and other earnings while living in the U.S. into Canadian gold coins, believing they’d would hold value better following the U.S. financial market failure.
Not knowing whether he could legally bring those funds into Canada and fearing a massive tax grab, he said Nawaya lied when asked how much money he was moving across the border.
“He may well lose his money, that’s not an impossible scenario,” Rankin said of his client’s current situation.
Nawaya’s brother had to send him money, as his funds remain in police custody. He hasn’t been charged with a crime but RCMP are still investigating and have recommended charges for failing to declare the funds.
“We’re hoping if we provide documentation the penalty will be reasonable,” Rankin said.
A lawyer for the Canada Border Services Agency declined to comment on the case Thursday.
Rankin said that Nawaya’s brother, who still lives in the U.S., had the ring with the Hezbollah logo custom-made in the U.S. and it’s nothing more than a sign that the brothers disagree with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
“They may have significance as far as the sentiment, but people are allowed to have controversial views in Canada,” he said.
And he pointed out that Hezbollah is a Shiite group while his client is a Sunni Muslim, making any sinister relationship unlikely.
Nawaya was born in Saudi Arabia but holds Syrian citizenship. Upon moving to the U.S. in 1993, he earned two degrees, one in professional aeronautics and another in management.
After changing out of the red correction-issue jumpsuit he wore in custody into a plaid shirt and jeans, Nawaya told reporters he hopes to put the ordeal behind him, but still faces several obstacles.
He’s uncertain whether he’ll still be accepted into a Vancouver-area job as a flight instructor and doesn’t know if Canada will approve his status as a landed immigrant.
Rankin said his client has already undergone extensive checks as part of the process to get his visa to come to Canada, but he’s not in the clear yet.
“They’re continuing to look at this, this has not gone away.”