A former federal cabinet minister told an Ontario court Thursday he had been warned there was no way of knowing whether information in a national security certificate used to detain accused terrorist Mohamed Mahjoub was obtained through torture.
Former public safety minister Stockwell Day said he signed the security certificate in February 2008 following “numerous” discussions and inquiry with intelligence and border officials.
Testifying by videolink from Vancouver, Day said the former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service gave him a memo stating that it was “difficult, if not impossible” to determine if the information used as evidence was torture-derived because some of it had come from countries with a reputation of employing those practices.
The federal government is trying to deport the Egyptian-born man using a national security certificate — a rarely used immigration tool for deporting non-Canadians considered a risk to the country — claiming he was a high-ranking member of an Islamic terrorist organization with links to Osama Bin Laden.
Mahjoub, 52, was arrested in June 2000 based on secret evidence.
But CSIS had to start over after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the certificate process unconstitutional in 2007 and the government subsequently revamped the law.
He was interviewed by CSIS on six occasions between August 1997 and March 1999, each time denying any involvement in Islamic extremism.
During cross-examination by one of Mahjoub’s lawyers, Yaver Hameed, Day frequently replied “I can’t recall.”
However, he told the court he was confident of the accuracy of the information given to him by CSIS officials on Mahjoub.
“My approach was to do all I could, alongside with what was I was being presented to ascertain whether there was a sufficient level of confidence to come up with a decision to reflect the accuracy of the material and protection of Canadians,” said Day.
The former minister said that during his time with the public safety portfolio, he always tried to ask numerous questions and saw himself as a “hands-on” minister.
“My position was that I wanted full disclosure,” he testified.
“I wanted total transparency. I wanted no surprises.”
Day told the court he was aware that CSIS and the Canada Border Services Agency had for years been intercepting all of Mahjoub’s phone calls, including communications between him and his lawyer which were under solicitor-client privilege.
The majority — if not all — of the information gleaned from those recorded phone calls have since been destroyed by CSIS.
Thursday’s proceeding was anticipated to shed some light on how the federal government decides when they deem someone a terrorist risk.
Outside the courthouse, Mahjoub’s lawyer, Paul Slansky, said they are trying to show that Day did not practice due diligence when he renewed the security certificate because he did not rely on the physical evidence, only summaries provided to him.
Mahjoub, on release from prison under strict conditions, attended the Toronto hearing.
He sat in the front row and could be seen shaking his head and scoffing a number of times at Day’s testimony.
Flanked by supporters, Mahjoub accused the former minister of lying to the court when he said he didn’t remember many particulars about the case.
“Most of the time I have to laugh because if he can’t recall, if he can’t answer the question, it means to me he hides the truth,” he said.