OTTAWA – Terror suspect Mohamed Harkat planned an outing with his 10-year-old niece to mark the return of simple freedoms he hasn’t enjoyed since his arrest almost seven years ago.
A Federal Court judge and lawyers for all parties approved lighter release conditions for Harkat on Monday, but some bail-related issues remained in the case. A new federal risk assessment has concluded that Harkat’s high public profile makes the alleged al-Qaida collaborator less dangerous.
Supporters applauded, and Harkat and wife Sophie wept, as Justice Simon Noel read the news in court on Monday.
“I’m feeling good,” Harkat said following the brief hearing. “It’s a step to clear my name.”
He said living under virtual house arrest for years has made him feel like “you’re not from this planet at all.”
“It’s very hard for us.”
The list of bail conditions on the former pizza delivery man and gas station attendant has been reduced to three pages from 10, but defence lawyers are seeking more freedoms for their client.
Noel said there will be no more surveillance cameras in Harkat’s Ottawa home, no need to approve visitors and no further interception of mail and phone calls.
However, Harkat must still wear a monitoring bracelet on his ankle, report to authorities weekly, refrain from associating with terrorists or other criminals, and use only the telephone land lines in his home. He can travel unsupervised solely in the Ottawa area and his passport remains in trust with federal agents.
Norm Boxall, a lawyer for Harkat, said the defence still takes issue with conditions including the travel restrictions and ban on cell phone use.
“Our position is there is no risk, never was a risk,” Boxall said.
“Ideally I’d like to see the elimination of all the conditions.”
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service alleges Harkat is a member of the al-Qaida terror network – a claim he denies.
The government has been trying to deport the Algerian-born Harkat using a national security certificate, a rarely employed immigration provision, since his December 2002 arrest.
He and four other men – Adil Charkaoui, Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub and Hassan Almrei – face removal from Canada under certificates. All are fighting to remain in the country.
In June, a federal judge ruled that Canadian border agents violated Harkat’s rights by carrying out an “excessively intrusive” search of his home.
The Canada Border Services Agency was ordered to return everything it took in the May 12 raid and to destroy any copies it made of the seized information.
Sophie Harkat welcomed the new bail conditions as “a huge change” for the couple.
“The surveillance has been unbearable,” she said Monday. “Since the raid at our house, I haven’t been the same person. It’s been totally life-changing.
“My husband wears a bracelet around his ankle, but I felt like I’ve been wearing a bracelet around my neck the whole time.”
The new conditions were expected to kick in almost immediately.
Boxall said the looser restrictions suggest the federal case “is getting weaker,” but added he didn’t know for certain.
Hearings on the substance of the Harkat certificate have been delayed over revelations CSIS failed to disclose key information in the file. The court plans closed-door hearings in November to resume scrutiny of the evidence, with public sessions planned for January.
The spy agency similarly neglected to come forward with evidence in the Almrei proceedings.
And last month it became clear the case against Charkoui could be on the verge of collapse because of a dispute over secrecy.
The government has withdrawn evidence against the Moroccan-born Charkaoui because disclosing related information to him would endanger national security – a move that might sink the entire proceeding.