OTTAWA – A psychiatrist who has treated terror suspect Mohamed Harkat for the last eight years says the refugee from Algeria is unlikely to commit violent acts.
Dr. Colin Cameron told a Federal Court of Canada hearing Friday on Harkat’s release conditions that his patient supports democracy and expresses revulsion about terrorist attacks.
“I’m trained to be very skeptical of people,” Cameron told the court. “I’ve asked a lot of pointed questions to him.”
Harkat, who is closely monitored by Canadian border agency officials, wants general permission to use the internet outside his family home and to travel freely within Canada.
Authorities are asking the court to deny the requests and make only minor modifications to existing conditions, saying Harkat continues to pose a threat almost 15 years after being arrested.
As the two-day hearing wrapped up Friday, Justice Sylvie Roussel said she planned to issue a decision soon on whether to relax current restrictions.
Harkat, 49, was taken into custody in Ottawa in December 2002 on suspicion of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent but he denies any involvement in terrorism.
The federal government is trying to deport the former pizza-delivery man using a national security certificate — a legal tool for removing non-citizens suspected of ties to extremism or espionage.
He fears he will be tortured if returned to his Algerian homeland, something Cameron says Harkat has frequent nightmares about.
Federal Court Justice Simon Noel ruled in 2010 that there were grounds to believe Harkat is a security threat who maintained ties to Osama bin Laden’s terror network after coming to Canada.
Federal lawyer David Tyndale repeatedly cited Noel’s findings as justification for vigilance concerning Harkat.
Harkat was released from custody in June 2006 under stringent conditions that have since been loosened to a degree.
He now lives at home with his wife, Sophie, and has access to a computer connected to the internet at their residence. He has to report in person to the Canada Border Services Agency every two weeks.
Although Harkat can travel within Canada, he must provide the border agency with five days’ notice of his plans as well as a full itinerary when leaving the national capital region. He also has to report to the border agency by phone once a day while travelling.
Border services officers have followed the couple on trips to a cottage and to the funeral of Sophie’s grandmother.
Barb Jackman, Harkat’s lawyer, objected to the level of scrutiny and said there was nothing to indicate Harkat poses an actual danger.
“I think there’s got to be some evidence of a threat to the security of Canada,” she said during Friday’s hearing.
“Over time, we have to look at things again, in an objective way.”
Roussel asked Tyndale if there was a way to avoid intrusive surveillance of family outings, or if there were no exceptions to the monitoring routine.
Tyndale suggested that tracking Harkat to the out-of-town funeral was not beyond the scope of the border agency’s duties.
When someone is flagged by a security certificate as inadmissible to Canada, “some upsetting things are going to happen in your life,” he added.
Harkat wants permission to have a laptop computer and tablet with internet connectivity for use outside the home, including for work purposes. He wishes to report to the border agency monthly by phone, through voice verification. And he wants restrictions on his travel lifted, with the exception that he remain in Canada.
Authorities are willing to allow Harkat to travel anywhere in Ontario or Quebec for up to 24 hours without notifying the border agency, and agree to him reporting in person once a month.
But they oppose the idea of Harkat having general internet access outside the home, saying it would hinder their ability to keep tabs on his communications. They say requests to use communications technology for work purposes should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
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