Almrei: After eight years, government case declared bogus

Posted by admin on Dec 15th, 2009

Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, 15 December 2009

Another of Ottawa’s national security claims has proved bogus. For more than seven years ((CJFA: actually more than eight)), the federal government and its security bureaucrats insisted that alleged terrorist Hassan Almrei so threatened Canada that he had to be imprisoned without trial. Even when Almrei was released earlier this year, he had to submit to an Orwellian form of house arrest. Now, we find out that he was never a terrorist at all. More to the point, in quashing the security certificate that has kept the 35-year-old refugee in legal limbo for eight years, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley ruled that the government’s evidence against him was largely a confection, backed up by dubious newspaper clippings, sloppy history and unreliable evidence from informants who “had motive to concoct stories that cast Almrei in a negative light.”

Mosley’s 183-page ruling should be required reading. It lays out in painstaking detail how easy it is for national security bureaucrats and their political masters to misuse the extraordinary powers given to them.

In this case, Mosley writes, the government’s original suspicions of Almrei were justified. A self-admitted fraudster who dealt in false passports and who had spent time in the mujahideen camps of Afghanistan, he was an obvious target of suspicion after 9/11.

In that situation, writes Mosley, Almrei’s original detention in October 2001 was reasonable.

What was not reasonable, however, was the government’s insistence on skewing the evidence to keep him in jail.

In a normal court case, where the accused and his lawyer can question the Crown’s evidence, this might not have mattered.

But in security certificate cases, the government holds all the cards – presenting evidence in secret that the accused cannot see to refute.

Indeed, Almrei would probably still be in custody today had it not been for two Supreme Court decisions.

The first, in 2007, led to the appointment of so-called special advocates, security-cleared lawyers entitled to see secret evidence and challenge the government’s claims.

The second, a year later, required agencies like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to give the court all relevant information – not just material that bolstered their case.

In Almrei’s case, the judge says, this new information demonstrated major inconsistencies in the Crown’s argument.

Mosley refers to one unnamed informant who he says was “highly motivated to curry favour” with CSIS and who in 2001 provided “implausible” evidence of Almrei’s alleged links to terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

It seems that much of this surfaced only when special advocates Paul Copeland and Gordon Cameron cross-examined CSIS witnesses during closed hearings.

Exactly what went on in those secret sessions is unclear. But in the end, Mosley agreed that the government and its agencies engaged in a blatant abuse of process.

This is not the first time a security certificate has been dismissed as groundless.

In September, a Quebec judge did the same thing in the case of Adil Charkaoui, another alleged terror sleeper now known to be innocent.

One lesson from all of this is that the security certificate mechanism originally invented to detain and deport undesirable aliens no longer works.

But the more profound lesson, which has implications far beyond Almrei, is that when governments are given untrammelled powers in the name of national security, they will always abuse them.

Thomas Walkom’s column normally appears Wednesday and Saturday.

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