Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Terrorism suspect given hope by MPs' offer of aid

Globe and Mail
14 February 2007
Non-partisan group would guarantee bail for Egyptian jailed on security certificate


With a report from Colin Freeze

In his first public appearance since going on a hunger strike more than two months ago, a slumping, exhausted Mahmoud Jaballah watched from his jail in Kingston as a Toronto courtroom heard that four members of Parliament are ready to aid him in his now eight-year ordeal.

Mr. Jaballah, an Egyptian who was arrested in 1999 and then again in 2001, has been held on a controversial security certificate for the past six years. He is currently one of only three men in Canada jailed on security certificates, meaning he is being detained without criminal charge and the evidence against him is largely secret.

Looking about 30 pounds lighter than the hulking man he once was, the 44-year-old Mr. Jaballah appeared via video linkup yesterday from a multimillion-dollar complex built only to hold him and two other detainees. He spent much of the court proceeding with his head buried in his hands, at times leaning over and resting on a desk. He spoke slowly in Egyptian-accented Arabic through an interpreter, lethargic from the effects of consuming only liquids.

Mr. Jaballah is currently stuck in what his 20-year-old son Ahmad described as legal limbo: The Crown is looking to remove him from the country, alleging he had connections to al-Qaeda. However, Mr. Jaballah cannot legally be deported to his country of birth and citizenship, Egypt, because a judge last year ruled that he would almost certainly be tortured there. The government is appealing that decision, but in the meantime it appears there has been no attempt to pick another destination.

"Frankly it's shocking that the ministers have done nothing to pursue any other option than removal to Egypt," John Norris, one of Mr. Jaballah's lawyers, said in court yesterday.

Arguing that the current situation essentially leaves Mr. Jaballah in a state of indefinite detention, Mr. Norris asked a judge to grant the detainee bail. A decision on the matter is expected in about a month, at which point Mr. Jaballah's days without food -- now approaching 80 -- may number in the triple digits.

"It's saddening that people have to put their life at risk in these life-and-death situations to be heard," Ahmad Jaballah said outside the courthouse. Ahmad is the oldest of six children; the youngest is 8.

However, it appears Mr. Jaballah is beginning to find a voice in Ottawa. At his trial yesterday, his lawyers said four MPs have agreed to act as conditional sureties for his bail. Putting their names forward were Meili Faille, immigration critic for the Bloc Québécois; Omar Alghabra, Liberal immigration critic; Bill Siksay, NDP immigration critic, and Andrew Telegdi, Liberal MP for Kitchener-Waterloo.

Members of Parliament's standing committee on citizenship and immigration visited the men in Kingston on Monday. The committee also hopes to speak with five guards from the jail, as well as representatives from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service Canada, in an effort to find out just who has jurisdiction over the year-old facility, a committee member said.

Parliament as a whole is also viewing the cases more sympathetically. The House of Commons last night voted 165-119 that the government treat the detainees more humanely. MPs agreed with a committee's recommendation that the prisoners get better access to doctors, that they be allowed conjugal visits, and that the federal watchdog for prisoners, the Correctional Investigator, oversee their cases.

"Parliament has spoken. The Harper government must now take action," Jim Karygiannis, the MP for Scarborough-Agincourt who spearheaded the motion, said in a statement.

But the motion doesn't bind the government to act. Before the vote, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day told the House it would be wrong to treat the security-certificate detainees the same as federal inmates.

Mr. Jaballah's ordeal as one of only five people alleged to be Islamic extremists ever detained on security certificates began in 1999, the first time he was arrested. While that case was quashed by a judge, the government tried again two years later, arresting the former Islamic school principal in 2001.

Mr. Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei are all currently held on security certificates, having recently been moved from Toronto to the Kingston facility, which is essentially a portable adjacent to Millhaven prison. All three are on hunger strikes to protest against their treatment at the facility, which critics have dubbed "Guantanamo North."