‘I’m dying inside,’ Harkat says

Posted by admin on Dec 12th, 2010

By Don Butler, Ottawa Citizen, December 12, 2010

OTTAWA – Mohamed Harkat’s family and supporters vowed Friday to fight on despite this week’s Federal Court finding that the Ottawa man is a member of the Osama bin Laden terrorist network. “This fight is just beginning,” Harkat’s wife, Sophie, said at an emotionally charged news conference. “I will stand by my husband to the end. My husband will never admit to things he did not do, or to knowing people he did not know. Norm Boxall, one of Harkat’s lawyers, said almost all of Noël’s findings were based on information that was kept secret, even from Harkat’s own lawyers, on national security grounds. “We will be doing everything we can to challenge this judgment,” he vowed.

Harkat, 42, who repeatedly dabbed his eyes with tissue throughout the hour-long event, again denied that he’d ever been part of bin Laden’s network. He said his life is now in danger because Noël put a terrorist “stamp” on his face.

Since learning of Thursday’s decision, Harkat said, “I can’t sleep, I can’t think straight. I have a pain in my side. I’m really devastated.”

When he heard the decision, his wife said, he told her, “I am dying inside.”

Thursday’s 186-page decision means Harkat, who has lived in Ottawa since September 1995, faces the prospect of being deported to his native Algeria where, he contends, he will be tortured or killed.

A federal immigration officer must now assess whether he faces a significant risk of torture if deported, and whether that is outweighed by the danger he poses to Canada.

Harkat worked as a gas station attendant and pizza delivery man until his arrest eight years ago on a security certificate. He was in detention until 2006, and has been under strict house arrest ever since.

The government contends that he is a “sleeper agent” for bin Laden’s network, a claim Boxall mocked. “He’s the Rip Van Winkle of sleepers,” he said, “because it’s been 15 years.”

In his judgment, Noël concluded that the government position “on almost all of the allegations made against Mr. Harkat must be accepted.”

He dismissed Harkat’s sworn testimony as simplistic, dishonest and misleading.

Sophie Harkat said the decision must have been politically motivated. “It was a punch in the guts that will leave marks for a very long time. Never in a million years did we ever expect a judgment like this.

“This judgment has ruined our lives. Our plans for the future have been destroyed in an instant. We will never, ever accept this judgment.”

She angrily denied the judge’s suggestion that her union with Harkat was a marriage of convenience, designed to ease his admission to Canada.

“We married for all the right reasons,” she said. “I love my husband more today than I ever did. I’m going to stick by his side until we see victory.”

At a vigil held Friday evening at the Human Rights Monument at Elgin and Lisgar streets to protest Judge Simon Noël’s judgment, Sophie Harkat’s sister Marie-Josée Lamarche said the idea theirs was a marriage of convenience was preposterous.

Lamarche said her sister moved in with her mother and suffered financial hardship because of the ordeal. “I would like to ask, where is the convenience in this marriage?”

About 75 people held candles and signs reading “Justice for Mohamed Harkat.” They were dressed in toques and parkas to ward off the snow and freezing temperatures. Most of Sophie Harkat’s extended family was there, along with members of advocacy groups including Amnesty International.

Matthew Behrens, of the Campaign to End Secret Trials in Canada, called Noël’s judgment “a decision based on fear.”

He noted that Noël is the same judge who upheld the constitutionality of the security certificate law under which Harkat was first arrested eight years ago today.

That law was later unanimously struck down by the Supreme Court, which ruled it violated Harkat’s rights because it prevented him from seeking the case against him. “Today, Mr. Harkat is no closer to knowing what that case is,” Behrens said.

Parliament replaced the old law with a new amended one. But, Behrens said, it’s “essentially the old legislation with some cosmetic changes. We are still stuck with a process that is fundamentally abusive and flawed.”

Behrens said nobody in Canada should feel threatened by the Harkats. “But we should all feel threatened by (Thursday’s) decisions, because those decisions support secret trials and judicially sanctioned rendition to torture.”

Kevin Skerrett, chair of the Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, said Harkat was a victim of guilt by association.

If there were any allegations against Harkat of violent activities, Skerrett said, he would have been charged. “Those charges have not been laid, which suggests that there is, in fact, no evidence of such criminal activity.”

If any Canadian was in her husband’s shoes, “more Canadians would be yelling foul,” Sophie Harkat said. “Why is it acceptable for him?

“This government is ruining lives,” she said. “It just keeps targeting people. And I’m telling you, we’re not the right target.”

With files from Claire Brownell
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