Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


Were ministers duped in Harkat security case?

Posted by jsallot under All

Jeff Sallot

A string of  Liberal and Conservative politicians should feel quesy today about their part  in the troubling case of Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian man Canadian intelligence agencies  want deported as an alleged security risk.

Two former Liberal ministers – Wayne Easter and Denis Coderre – and two ministers in the current Conservative government – Diane Finley and Stockwell Day – signed deportation warrants alleging Harkat is a threat to Canadian security.

Harkat’s supporters say that these would in effect become death warrants if the man is ever forced to return to Algeria. The Algerian regime deals harshly with suspected security threats.
But it now seems that the case against Harkat may have been cooked up, and the politicians fell for it.
A Federal Court judge said Wednesday that some of the secret evidence against Harkat may be unreliable.
Moreover, Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers lied under oath about the veracity of the informant who provided the information against Harkat, Judge Simon Noel said in a written decision.

Much is still shrouded in secrecy, but there is strong suspicion the case against Harkat was based on statements obtained by torturing a man named Abu Zubaydah.

Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda operative being held at the American prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, was the victim of waterboard torture by U.S. interrogators 83 times.

The Canadian ministerial deportation warrants, known euphemistically as security certificates, are a blunt instrument.

The person named as a security threat is never actually charged with a crime. There is no open trial to test the evidence.

The ministers rely on secret intelligence to inform their decisions to deport.

There once was a time when a U.S. president might launch a war in Iraq on the basis of shoddy intelligence. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed execution warrants without much question.

But Canadians expect better. They want their politicians to carry out due diligence before signing warrants that can destroy lives.

Just how rigorous in their questioning of CSIS officials were these four ministers before they signed off on Harkat’s deportation?

There is a sordid history of police and intelligence agencies deceiving cabinet ministers in security cases, dating back at least to the Trudeau years.

Wayne Easter and Denis Coderre would have known this history at they time they were solicitor-general and immigration minister in the Chretien Liberal government.

And so would Stockwell Day and Diane Finley when the Harper Conservatives took over.

Did any one of them pause to ask the spooks: “Where’s this information coming from? How reliable is it?”
And if they did, and they were duped, now might be a good time for them to come forward and say so.

Jeff Sallot, former Ottawa bureau chief for The Globe and Mail, teaches journalism at Carleton University.