OTTAWA — A federal judge has struck down a national security certificate against a Syrian-born man arrested eight years ago on terror suspicions.
The ruling today by Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley effectively frees Hassan Almrei.
The government had been trying to deport Almrei on a security certificate — a seldom-used provision of the immigration law for removing suspected terrorists and spies.
Almrei’s lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said from Toronto his client was “very excited” over the ruling.
Waldman said Justice Mosley delivered a complete vindication:
“He goes through all the different allegations that the government has made against Mr. Almrei and rejects all of them one by one. It’s quite incredible.”
There remains a final step, Waldman said. If the judge allows the government to appeal the ruling, by formally certifying a question of law in the case, then the matter goes to the Federal Court of Appeal. Without a formal certification, “it’s final, it’s over.”
The government argued the Syrian native’s travel, activities and involvement in a false-document ring were consistent with supporters of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
The ruling says there were reasonable grounds to believe Almrei was a security danger when detained in October 2001, but there are no longer reasonable grounds to believe that today.
“Mr. Almrei clearly did some silly things . . . many years ago, but from the point of view of considering him a threat to the security of Canada, (the judge has) rejected all of that,” Waldman said.
The ruling also says federal cabinet ministers breached their duties of “good faith and candour” to the court by not thoroughly reviewing the information on file prior to re-issuing the certificate against Almrei in February of last year.
The case is another in a series of blows to the security certificate law. The federal government has launched a sweeping review after acknowledging the system needs fixing.
The review could scrap or revamp the law used to arrest and deport non-Canadians considered a threat to national security.
Certificates have existed for three decades, and more than two dozen have been issued since 1991, when they became part of federal immigration law.
But recent cases have slowed to a crawl — or collapsed altogether — amid legal challenges and upbraidings from judges over miscues by Canada’s spy agency.
The government has initiated just six certificate cases — four terror suspects, a hatemonger and an alleged Russian spy — since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Among critics, the deportation tool has come to symbolize the worst excesses of the fight against Islamic extremism.
Opponents say the process is fundamentally unfair because detainees are not given full details of the allegations against them.
A case involving Montrealer Adil Charkaoui, a native of Morocco, fell apart recently when the government withdrew supporting evidence, saying its disclosure would reveal sensitive intelligence sources and methods of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Waldman said that’s the key difference between Charkaoui and Almrei; in Almrei, all the evidence was heard.
“In this case all of the government’s case went in . . . the court still rejected their case.”
Charkaoui, a French teacher and father of three, wants compensation for his six-year ordeal.
Four active cases range from seven to 10 years old, illustrating the legal limbo that certificates can create for detainees.
Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, both Egyptian, were arrested in 1999 and 2000 respectively, while Almrei was detained one month after Sept. 11, 2001, and Mohamed Harkat of Algeria seven years ago this month.
All four men were granted release from prison under strict conditions that have controlled virtually their every move while the cases play out in the Federal Court of Canada.
Waldman said these cases could be troublesome for the security service, which was the driving force behind them.
“People are going to have to ask very serious questions about CSIS,” he said.