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Trudeau: don't deport Mohamed Harkat to torture

Chantal Sundaram

May 19, 2016

The Trudeau Liberal government has just made a public commitment to sign on to the UN Optional Protocol Against Torture.

This is laudable only if it is reflected in practice. The first test will be Mohamed Harkat, who faces immediate deportation to Algeria. The threat of torture is high, particularly because his name has been associated with alleged terrorism under a Canadian Security Certificate. And yet, Harkat, who has lived in Canada for 20 years, has never been charged.

Nevertheless, he would be at substantial risk of torture, both as someone who fled Algeria as a refugee and given the false security allegations leveled against him. Harkat has never had the proper opportunity to refute these allegations, because Security Certificates impose a secret hearing process that makes it impossible to challenge the evidence that forms the basis of the case.

To make any Liberal commitment against torture real, Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety, and John McCallum, Minister of Refugees, Immigration and Citizenship, must comply completely with the UN Convention Against Torture, to which Canada has long been a signatory, as well as the newly-signed UN Optional Protocol Against Torture. And that means allowing Harkat to stay in Canada.

UK decision rules against deportation to Algeria on basis of "diplomatic assurances"

In a recent Appeals Court case in the UK a panel of judges from the United Kingdom’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission refused to deport six men to Algeria despite so-called "diplomatic assurances" that they would not be tortured by the Algerian regime.

Like Canada, the UK is a signatory to the UN convention against torture, which prohibits returning people to countries where they face a substantial risk of torture or other inhuman treatment. The U.K. judges said Algeria’s volatility undermined the government’s argument that “diplomatic assurances” could be relied upon to protect the six terror suspects from torture if deported.

International human rights organizations including Amnesty International have long insisted that "diplomatic assurances" in human rights cases are not worth the paper they are written on, and this appeal vindicates that position.

The Canadian government has also sought to downplay the level of risk in the Harkat case by obtaining similar diplomatic assurances from the Algerian government that he would not be mistreated if deported. Harkat’s lawyer, Barbara Jackman, said the U.K. court ruling will now form part of her submission to the federal government arguing that the level of risk for Harkat cannot be downplayed on this basis.

Let Harkat stay

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has the statutory power to stop Harkat’s deportation if he finds that to do so is “not contrary to the national interest.” The Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee has collected hundreds of letters and testimonials affirming that Harkat poses no threat to the Canadian public and should be allowed to stay. But funds are also desperately needed for Harkat’s legal defence to stop his deportation to torture.

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