OTTAWA – The Federal Court of Canada has ruled the search of a suspected terrorist’s home violated his constitutional rights and ordered the Canada Border Services Agency to return everything it seized.
In a 24-page decision released Tuesday, Justice Simon Noel says the May 12 raid violated the Charter rights of Mohamed Harkat. He also ordered the agency to destroy any copies it made of the seized information.
“The breach of Mr. Harkat’s Charter rights was significant,” Noel wrote.
“While the CBSA may not have acted in bad faith, they acted with disregard for the terms of the former order and the requirements of Section 8 of the Charter.
“This court cannot condone the type of intrusive search undertaken by the CBSA. Mr. Harkat may have a diminished expectation of privacy, but that does not give the state a ‘carte blanche’ to unreasonably intrude on what privacy is left to him.”
Sixteen border service and police officers, accompanied by three sniffer dogs, spent six hours searching Harkat’s house from top to bottom in a surprise raid they said was permitted under the terms of his bail.
They carted away legal papers, family photo albums, a personal computer, hundreds of diskettes, and daytimers belonging to Harkat’s wife Sophie.
Harkat’s lawyers called the raid an illegal and abusive fishing expedition.
Noel agreed, but also said some evidence the officers seized raises concerns that the conditions of Harkat’s release are not being fully complied with.
He noted that, according to one report, Sophie Harkat failed to arm the alarm system while her husband was alone at home.
He said border services should seek authorization from the Federal Court “to execute an authorized and minimally intrusive search” if it has a valid concern about Harkat’s compliance with the terms and conditions of his release.
Noel reminded the couple of “the seriousness of their situation” and told them the conditions of Mohamed Harkat’s release must be respected at all times.
“We are all human,” the judge wrote, “but when one has undertaken to abide by the terms of a court order, one must remain ever vigilant that inattention does not lead to a breach.”
Harkat, a former pizza delivery man and gas station attendant, denies any involvement with terrorism. He wears an ankle bracelet that allows officials to track his movements electronically, and is subject to strict bail conditions amounting to house arrest.
The government is trying to deport Harkat under a national security certificate, a rarely used immigration provision.