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Toronto Man Detained for 12 Years Without Charges Regains Some of His Freedom

Egyptian refugee Mohammad Mahjoub's case still not fully resolved.

Mohammad Mahjoub (left) with his lawyer, Yavar Hameed, in Ottawa, May 2012. Photo courtesy of the Justice for Mahjoub Network.

Mohammad Mahjoub, a Toronto man who has been detained for the past 12 years under a rare federal security certificate, is officially one step closer to freedom. In a judgment released on Monday, the Federal Court removed most of the conditions imposed on Mahjoub: he will no longer have to wear a GPS tracking device, and will have access to a cell phone and the internet. Surveillance equipment inside Mahjoub’s home will also be removed.

Mahjoub, who was granted refugee status after immigrating to Canada from Egypt in the mid-1990s, was arrested in 2000 on his way to work and detained—he wasn’t told for how long. Security certificates allow the federal government to detain and ultimately remove foreign nationals and permanent residents it believes represent a threat to public safety. Although he has never been formally charged with any crimes in Canada, Mahjoub is subject to a security certificate because of his refugee status.

In his ruling, Justice Edmond Blanchard concluded that some of the information the federal government provided to qualify Mahjoub as a threat “is not based on significant and valid evidence or was prepared without diligence and proper consideration of relevant facts.” Blanchard also wrote that, “[g]iven the excessive delays in the present proceedings caused by the [Department of Justice]‘s negligence including by the seizure, comingling and reviewing of his confidential materials, the applicant’s release from all conditions is moreover justified.”

The ruling by Justice Blanchard gives Mahjoub’s legal counsel and supporters hope that the courts may soon issue a final ruling on the merits of the case against him; the very security certificate which claims Mahjoub poses a risk to the public has not yet been upheld in court. It’s a situation that Justice for Mahjoub Network advocate Mary Foster equates with “12-and-a-half years of pre-trial detention, to compare it with the criminal law context.”

The security certificate process differs from most normal criminal proceedings: in it the government can deem foreign nationals or permanent residents of Canada inadmissible for reasons of “security, violating human or international rights, serious criminality or organized criminality.” All information used to justify a security certificate is presented to a judge during closed proceedings, which the detainee’s lawyers cannot attend.

Federal courts determine whether or not the use of a security certificate is reasonable. If it is, the accused is ordered to leave Canada; if not, the certificate is cancelled. After more than a dozen years, the courts have yet to determine the validity of Mahjoub’s certificate. The federal government contends that Mahjoub belongs to a terrorist group with links to Osama bin Laden. Mahjoub was detained in Canada a year after being convicted in abstentia by an Egyptian military tribunal of “disturbing national security and general order.” Last month, Egyptian courts overturned that ruling after a law which former Egyptian leader Mubarak used to refer civil cases to military tribunals was repealed.

The government’s claims against Mahjoub are fraught with controversy. Last September, former public safety minister Stockwell Day told a federal court that information used to detain Mahjoub could have been obtained using torture. Earlier in 2012, Mahjoub’s lawyers asked the federal court to dismiss the case after justice department officials claimed they had mistakenly taken documents belonging to Mahjoub’s counsel from a special room at the court building in Toronto. His lawyers also claim government officials compromised Mahjoub’s solicitor-client privilege by recording conversations between him and his lawyers.

For now, authorities can still monitor Mahjoub’s phone and internet records and intercept his mail. He is also prohibited from communicating with “any individual whom he knows, or ought to know, who supports terrorism and violent Jihad.”

Visit us tomorrow for a feature interview with Mohammad Mahjoub.

CORRECTION: Wednesday, January 9 4:00PM Mahjoub’s first name was previously spelled “Mohamed” and has been corrected to “Mohammad.”

Mohamed Mahjoub

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