Palestinian man Canada deported is welcomed as Belgian citizen

BRUSSELS, Belgium — A Palestinian man turfed from Canada as a national security risk has become a citizen of Belgium — one of Ottawa’s steadfast European allies, The Canadian Press has learned.

BRUSSELS, Belgium — A Palestinian man turfed from Canada as a national security risk has become a citizen of Belgium — one of Ottawa’s steadfast European allies, The Canadian Press has learned.

It’s the latest twist in the strange, often painful saga of Wahid Baroud. He was shipped off to Sudan 14 years ago this month under a national security certificate.

Along the way he lost a job, a son and his respect for Canada before gaining a country to call home after decades as a stateless wanderer.

“Canada is the reason for destroying my family, really,” Baroud, 59, said during an interview in Brussels, the first time he has publicly told his story since being deported.

The security certificate, an immigration law process for removing suspected terrorists and spies, is buckling under the weight of successful court challenges and human-rights criticism.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan says the government is reviewing the certificate system after conceding it needs an overhaul.

“I’ve been trying to manage it as best we can, and wrestle with the best steps forward,” Van Loan said in an interview.

“What do we have in the existing law, what kind of gaps do we need to fill?”

One security certificate case recently collapsed, a judge dismissed another on Monday and three others are mired in court.

The fresh revelations about Baroud’s case and other almost-forgotten certificate files beg questions about the controversial anti-terrorist tool.

Born in Gaza, Baroud became involved with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah, a PLO faction led by Yasser Arafat, “for what I believe is right.”

However, he split with the organization over a request from Arafat to assist Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — which invaded neighbouring Kuwait in 1990 — by undertaking a mission to the newly occupied country’s border with Saudi Arabia.

“He asked some people to go,” said Baroud. “I refused.”

Baroud came to Canada in May 1991 from Greece, where he lived for eight years, joining wife Amal and their children, who had arrived the previous December.

He claimed refugee status and acknowledged his work with the PLO, but denied ever planning or participating in terrorist attacks.

The family lived for the next three years in suburban Mississauga, Ont. But Baroud was suddenly arrested under a certificate in June 1994.

Daughter Rana, 28, remembers the commotion of her father being whisked away.

“I’ve never really felt safe just because, you know, they can barge into your home and rip your family apart.”

She recalls visiting Toronto’s decrepit Don Jail on Sundays with the family. Amal would take the kids swimming, then they’d visit their dad from behind security glass. Afterwards they would go to a nearby donut shop and play in the park.

A federal judge found no grounds to believe Baroud himself committed terrorist acts. But the certificate, based largely on secret evidence from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, stood on the basis Baroud once belonged to Fatah and allegedly Force 17, a wing that provided personal protection for Arafat.

Baroud says he worked for the PLO’s intelligence service, never as Arafat’s bodyguard.

“Who knows where they got that evidence from?” says a still incredulous Barbara Jackman, Baroud’s former lawyer.

“I don’t see that there’s any reason why he couldn’t have stayed in Canada and lived with his family.”

Jackman, who has handled several certificate files over the years, says Canadian authorities must look deeper when deciding who can stay.

“There should be an analysis, are they truly a risk to Canada?” she said.

“Does the fact that you were in Fatah mean that you’re likely to do anything in Canada? No it doesn’t. Fatah was like the Liberal party for the Palestinian community.”

While Baroud’s past spooked Canada in the 1990s, Belgium made him a citizen last year.

“It says to me that he wasn’t a threat,” said Jackman.

“This isn’t about whether people are threats. This is about sending messages to communities that we don’t like your politics.

“It’s that Canada’s making a judgment — a value judgment — on political struggles in other parts of the world, and labelling oppressed people as terrorists because they’ve taken up arms against a repressive state.”

Amal worked frantically in 1995 to find a country for her husband. She managed to get him a visa to Algeria. But he was denied entry upon arrival that July.

According to Baroud, the Algerians refused Canada’s demand to agree in writing they were accepting a terrorist.

He and his escorts waited out the talks in neighbouring Morocco.

An airport mixup meant Baroud ended up flying back to Montreal from Casablanca, via New York — on his own. Authorities then drove him to the Toronto West Detention Centre.

“I remember Baroud called us … and said he’s in New York and he’s on his way back and there were no officials with him,” Jackman said. “He was coming back by himself.”

But Canada still wanted him gone.

In December 1995, Baroud was escorted with little notice from Toronto to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where he had a friend who might help out.

For years, it was assumed Baroud’s incredible voyage ended there. But it had only just begun.

Baroud says he was rejected because the Sudanese had enough problems at the time without someone arriving from Canada under a cloud.

As Jackman puts it, Baroud began orbiting Europe trying to find a place to land.

Using a fake Tunisian passport he bought in Khartoum, Baroud travelled to Romania, spending more than 11 weeks in the airport, where he says he had a heart attack.

Unable to stay, he spent time in Yugoslavia, Italy and Switzerland before finally arriving in Brussels by train.

Amal, meanwhile, was left in Canada to raise five children, including young twins.

The family straddled two continents for years so the oldest three children, born abroad, could become Canadian citizens.

Riad, just 10 when his father was jailed, became increasingly angry and aggressive. He would scream and lash out. He set fires in the house.

“He started to completely change,” his mother said. “He broke my heart.”

Rana believes the absence of a father figure hurt her brother. “Things just really spiralled, kind of out of control.”

At age 13, Riad went to live with his father in Belgium for a couple of years. But he then returned to his mother in Windsor, Ont., so he could obtain citizenship.

Things only got worse. Riad began working in a Windsor pizza parlour owned by an alleged drug trafficker. Riad was beaten to death at the age of 18, his body discovered in a ditch. His former boss vanished.

“And now I still suffer, I blame myself,” says Amal. “I blame Canadians for what they did to us. For what they did to my children. I lost my son.”

The couple is now reunited, living in Forchies-la-Marche, a village in the south of Belgium.

Baroud, who has a handyman’s calluses, fixed cars for a while. Now unemployed, he putters around the family home.

When reminded of the past, Baroud struggles to find words.

He wants permission to return to Canada to visit his son’s grave in Brampton, Ont.

Though he is building a new life in Europe, Baroud harbours bitterness about being ordered out of Canada, the place he originally hoped to start anew.

“I’m ashamed for the Canadian government to do that,” he said. “I accuse them for killing my kid.”

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