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Former Gitmo North detainee Mohammad Mahjoub laments loss of family

Written by Tobi Cohen Sunday, 13 May 2012
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OTTAWA — Mohammad Mahjoub has no problem talking about the torture he faced in an Egyptian prison, the sexual assault he alleges occurred at a Toronto jail or the numerous hunger strikes he mounted to protest conditions at the now-shuttered Kingston Immigration Holding Centre otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay North.

 

Nearly 12 years after the Egyptian refugee's nightmare began when he was arrested in Toronto on a controversial security certificate on suspicion of terrorist ties, the one thing he can't bear to talk about is his family.

 

In an exclusive interview with Postmedia News Friday before embarking on a speaking tour to share his tale now that some restrictions have been lifted on his mobility, Mahjoub explained he is estranged from his wife, his 27-year-old stepson and his two teenage boys.

 

"When I was released the first time in 2007, it was very harsh on my family," he said, noting they couldn't handle the tough restrictions and constant surveillance that came with his house arrest.

 

"I saw the whole family almost collapse. That's why I preferred to take it on myself and I asked to go back to detention."

 

Five years later, he is free to travel outside Toronto for the first time, albeit with advance notice and under supervision. He laments the fact that his teenage boys, who were babies when he was arrested, had to "grow up without their dad" and while he knows they are in school and doing well, he hasn't spoken to them.

 

"I try my best to contact them and will continue doing so," said the 51-year-old former agricultural engineer who is not allowed to work or study and therefore survives on social assistance. "I wish the best for them and for their mom."

 

Despite support from activists who continue to rail against security certificates, he's made few close connections since being out on his own.

 

Security certificates ultimately allow the government to deport non-citizens deemed a threat to Canada or lock them up without charge if they refuse to leave. Many refuse for fear of persecution if sent home.

 

Although the Federal Court ruled nearly two years ago that some key evidence against him was inadmissible as it was likely derived from torture, ongoing hearings about his security certificate are on hold pending the outcome of allegations government officials violated his solicitor-client privilege by recording conversations between him and his lawyers and seizing documents and mixing them up with their own.

 

For now he finds it difficult to think about what he'd like to do next should his case eventually be resolved in his favour as it already has for two fellow Muslims caught up in the same process around the time of the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.

 

"It's difficult to put what happened to me over the last 12 years behind my back unless I see first justice in my case," he said during an interview at his Ottawa lawyer's office.

 

Clearing his name and ensuring officials are held accountable for what they've put him through will be key.

 

As for some of the allegations against him — that he worked for a company owned by Osama bin Laden and is alleged to have ties with the Vanguards of Conquest, a radical Egyptian group that merged with al-Qaida in 2001— Mahjoub maintains he volunteered the information the government is now using against him and that it's impossible to defend himself since he's been denied full disclosure.

 

It's a chief complaint amongst those held on security certificates and one recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada which ruled in 2007 that they were a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government had a year to amend the process and did so in 2008 by allowing lawyers to be appointed as "special advocates" to review evidence behind closed doors on behalf of detainees.

 

Mahjoub said he's never sympathized with bin Laden and was merely an employee working in his field of expertise. He also felt no emotion, nor was he surprised when the 9/11 mastermind was killed last year during a raid by U.S. forces.

 

While free to return to Egypt at any time, Mahjoub said he remains fearful for his safety despite last year's revolution that led to the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

 

As for the message he wants to share with Canadians during stops in Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto and London, Mahjoub said it's simple: he want's the case against him and fellow security certificate holders, Algerian refugee Mohamed Harkat and Egyptian Mahmoud Jaballah dropped.

 

"I am looking for justice," he said. "It's very clear to the public, to everybody who has a little bit of knowledge about the process in security certificate cases that it is not workable, it is not fair and CSIS already failed twice to meet the burden."

 

Security certificates against Syrian refugee Hassan Almrei and Adil Charkaoui, a Montreal man arrested in 2003 on suspicion of terrorist ties, have been quashed and both are suing the federal government.

 

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled last month that Harkat was entitled to a new hearing to determine if he is in fact a threat to national security as his rights were said to have been compromised after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service destroyed evidence.

 

Meanwhile, Jaballah's security certificate case is set to resume later this month.

 

Mahjoub's so-called "Twelve Year Tour" will culminate in a day of protest on June 26, the 12th anniversary of his 2000 arrest.

 
 
Source: VS
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