Mohammad Mahjoub’s woes began well before he came to Canada and well before the events of 11 September that ushered in widespread revocations of human rights and civil liberties in the guise of ‘security’ . They began under the oppressive Mubarak regime in Egypt and tragically culminated in the land of ‘freedom’ and ‘refuge’ that Mahjoub had ran to in hopes of protection, only to ironically suffer the very same nightmarish treatment and Kafkaesque judiciary, alarmingly similar to those of the torture centres and brutal dictatorships he had fled.
Mohammad Zeki Mahjoub fled Egypt in 1995, immigrating to Canada to escape a traumatic past of illegal detention and torture under the notorious regime of Hosni Mubarak. Granted refugee status in 1996, the recent immigrant had happily adjusted to Canadian life, settling in Toronto, marrying, and living with his wife, stepson and two young sons.
A year and a half after his arrival in Canada, Mahjoub’s three brothers in Egypt were abruptly arrested, only to be released eight years later in 2005, without charge or trial. In 1999, Mahjoub himself was, like many ex-patriots, convicted in absentia under the corrupt Mubarak regime, for “inciting violent operations” and establishing “foreign training camps” in Egypt.
In what would begin a series of macabre manifestations of injustice, Mahjoub was arrested in Canada on June 2000 as part of a controversial security certificate issued for “suspicion of terrorist ties”.
The Problem with Security Certificates
A security certificate is a means by which the government may indefinitely detain and deport non-citizens perceived as a threat to national security without charge or trial. Those who refuse deportation on the grounds of impending torture or persecution in their home countries are still indefinitely detained, regardless of the legitimacy of their claims.
The chief complaint against security certificates is its circumvention of due process by use of secret evidence and proceedings. Security certificates have been cited in a 2004 Amnesty International report as process that undermines international norms and a violation of articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
“[We are] of the view that the security certificate process may very well result in arbitrary detention and thus violate the fundamental right to liberty. …effectively den[ying victims] their right to prepare a defense and mount a meaningful challenge to the lawfulness of their detention.”
In February of 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that security certificates were in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and allowed the government up to one year to reform its regulations regarding the practice.
The government responded in 2008 by nominally amending the regulations to allow for lawyers, appointed by the courts as “special advocates”, to review evidence behind closed doors on behalf of detainees, still not permitting full disclosure. Of note, however, is the court’s refusal to acknowledge that security certificates are discriminatory, applied on the basis of immigration statuses of refugees and permanent residents, thus unfairly targeting and victimising legitimate Canadian residents as categorised by ethnicity and nationality.
Shockingly, it was later revealed that at the same time in 2008, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned the minister of public security that it could become impossible to use security certificates to arrest and deport suspected terrorists if it was prohibited from using information from foreign regimes known to use torture.
It came to be known that many of the allegations against those detained under security certificates were indeed obtained by foreign intelligence apparati who knowingly extracted often unreliable and uncorroborated information through torture and coercion.
Ironically, information Mahjoub candidly disclosed to the government detailing his time abroad, is the very foundation of the government’s argument to assess him as a permanent threat to Canada. “I myself gave it to them. Neither CSIS nor the RCMP were aware of it until I volunteered it,” Mahjoub explained regarding the allegations against him.
In the early 1990’s, Mahjoub, a recent graduate of agricultural engineering, was hired as a manager of an agricultural development company in Sudan. He filled a position as general manager for fifteen months until he left his post. This job later served to criminalise him as the company he worked for was owned by Osama bin Laden who had, at the time, invested in virtually every business Khartoum.
“I never spoke to him again, I never saw him again, I have no connection with him whatsoever, but they use this information against me.”
Mahjoub had never expressed any views that aligned with those of bin Laden and was nothing more than an employee working in his field of expertise. Yet, it was enough that a vague association existed to warrant the use of a security certificate.
Throughout the twelve years of Mahjoub’s detainment, however, neither CSIS nor the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) have presented any evidence to substantiate allegations of terrorism. Further more, CSIS reluctantly admitted in January of 2008 that “the bulk” of its ‘suspicions’ against Mahjoub was obtained through the torture of detainees abroad.
Mohammad Mahjoub’s fight against his unjustifiable detention was complicated by oppressive and inhumane conditions that he and other detainees struggled to survive in.
In 2002, he began his first hungerstrike after being sexually assaulted by a prison guard. There was no redress to his complaints, but he went on to stage at least four more hungerstrikes, one of them lasting 193 days.
Following five years of imprisonment without trial, Mahjoub again began a hungerstrike in 2005 to protest prison conditions affter not receiving medical treament for for hepatitis C and a knee injury. For 76 days he refused food and only drank water, juice and occasional broth, until he was hospitalized after 50kg of weight loss.
Mahjoub, along with three other security certificate detainees, were transferred in April of 2006 to the newly built Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. Also referred to as Canada’s own “Guantánamo North”, the 3.2 million dollar facility contained only six cells and exclusively housed Muslim men detained on security certificates until it was surreptitiously shut down in 2011.
Mahjoub, along with two remaining detainees at Guantánamo North, renewed their hungerstrike in the winter of 2006. On February 15th, 2007, following 93 days of refusing food, he was finally ordered transferred to house arrest.
Unbearable House Arrest
Months after his court ordered house arrest, Mohamed Mahjoub was transferred to his house and placed under severe bail conditions:
“My family couldn’t handle the conditions. All of them were jailed with me in my house and at the same time they were my jailers. They were supposed to be with me 24 hours a day. The CBSA’s physical surveillance was 24/7. Whenever we went anywhere with my kids and with my wife, they were like our shadows, always with weapons. And it was very disturbing to my family … They controlled the whole family from A to Z.”
Fearing that the family would become further unhinged by extensive invasions of privacy mandated by the bail conditions, Mahjoub requested to be returned to prison custody.
When the court refused to accept the request on the grounds that he had not violated bail conditions, his wife, Mona, withdrew her status as a surety. Explaining the situation:
“He’s feeling his children are getting punished, [and he said] ‘they are not putting me only in jail, they are putting all of you in jail. …He’s going to surrender himself, not because he breached any of the conditions, just because of the oppressive way [authorities] are interpreting the conditions and using it against the family, they keep oppressing the family and we can’t take it anymore. There are children involved, and they’re in a way violating the rights of every member of the family.”
On 18 March 2009, Mr. Mahjoub returned to prison at Guantanamo North in Kingston, initiating another hungerstrike two months later in an effort to demand humane prison conditions. He remained on hungerstrike for the next six months, until 30 November 2009, when he, the last remaining inmate at KHC, was ordered to live by himself under house arrest.
Battle in the Courts
A surprising court victory in the summer of 2010 provided Mahjoub and his team with an unprecedented breakthrough. The Federal Court ruled that since portions of the allegations against Mahjoub were extracted through torture, they were clearly unacceptable grounds for applying a security certificate.
However, neither Mahjoub nor his lawyers were allowed to attend the hearing that determined this inadmissibility because such hearings are still held in secret.
The effort to challenge security certificates from both a personal and judicial aspect has been continually confounded by the CSIS and CBSA’s illegal interference with legal processes.
It was revealed that since 1996 to 2006, CSIS and/or CBSA monitored and used Mahjoub’s conversations with his lawyers against him. Further, in December of 2010, the Federal Court found that, despite a court order prohibiting this practice, CSIS continued the violation of solicitor client privilege for two more years.
In a bizarre turn of events, in the summer of 2011, government officials illegally seized boxes of confidential documents from Mahjoub’s lawyers, which the governemnt then amalgated into its own library of case material.
Ongoing hearings concerning Mahjoub’s security certificate are still pending the outcome of allegations that government officials violated his solicitor-client privilege through recording conversations and seizing solicitor documents.
Some Freedoms Granted
For the first time since his arrest twelve years ago, Mahjoub will be able travel unsupervised and curfew-free anywhere in Toronto without prior approval from the CSBA. Additionally, the surveillance camera monitoring his front door will be removed, and he will be allowed to travel throughout Canada.
Although the ruling is an improvement, he is still significantly restricted by the new bail conditions. If he wishes to travel outside of theToronto area, he must do so with a court-appointed supervisor and provide an itinerary seven days in advance to the CBSA. He still must wear a GPS-tracking bracelet at all times and report once a week to the CBSA. Among other things, he is denied access to the subway, is prohibited from using any phone which is not the land line connected in his house, is barred from using the internet, and all of his mail and phone conversations are recorded.
Mohammad Mahjoub is still unable to defend himself against any allegations as proceedings concerning the legality of his security certificate are suspended until hearings regarding government misconduct are resolved. When the proceedings resume, it will be determined whether he will be deported or finally cleared to live as a normal Canadian.
The Family the CSIS Murdered
“My sons will live with [the stigma] forever. As long as my kids have my name this will hang over their heads forever, whether I live with them or not… When I was released the first time in 2007, it was very harsh on my family, I saw the whole family almost collapse. That’s why I preferred to take it on myself and I asked to go back to detention.”
His sons, mere babies at the time of his arrest, are now teenagers, having grown up and now entering the foray of adulthood without a father.
As the result of the Canadian government’s draconian policies Mahjoub is now estranged from his wife, his 27-year-old stepson and his two teenage boys, and although he has been told they are enrolled in school and managing well, he has not yet spoken to them.
“I try my best to contact them and will continue doing so,” said Mahjoub, who, prohibited from engaging in employment or study, is forced to rely on social assistance. “I wish the best for them and for their mom.“
Mahjoub and other detainees enjoy some amount of loyalty and solidarity from activists who continue to fight against security certificates, yet he has still struggled to make key social connections and rebuild normal relationships since his 2009 bail was set.
A Man on a Mission
After twelve torturous years, Mohammad Mahjoub’s new, yet limited freedoms do not mean much without a true resolution. “It’s difficult to put what happened to me over the last twelve years behind my back unless I see first justice in my case” he said.
He continues his efforts to absolve himself of any accusations and hopes to hold the system accountable for the abusive mishandling regarding the issue of security certificates.
Although he is allowed to return to Egypt if he wishes, Mahjoub has reasonable fears about that country’s stability and risks certain imprisonment while the same ‘security’ force that served under the Mubarak regime is now in control of the government.
For now, Mohammad Mahjoub will continue to speak out about the torture he faced in an Egyptian prison, the sexual assault that occurred at a Toronto jail, the inhumane prison conditions at KHC, the unconstitutionality of secret evidence, and the numerous hungerstrikes he mounted to bring attention to these abuses.
Starting in May, Mahjoub will be touring the country with a strong message for fellow Canadians, that they must unite to end the attitude of guilty until proven innocent. According to Mahjoub, the way to start is simple: drop the cases against victims of security certificates.
“I am looking for justice, it’s very clear to the public, to everybody who has a little bit of knowledge about the process in security certificate cases that it is not workable, it is not fair and CSIS already failed twice to meet the burden.”
For more than a decade, a total of five Muslim men have been held in Canada on security certificates including Mohammad Mahjoub; Hassan Almrei, Adil Charkaoui, Mohamed Harkat, and Mahmoud Jaballah. Having spent a combined total of 26 years in prison without charge nor access to ‘evidence’ against them, they would not begin to see the light at the end of their detainment tunnel until June 2010, when security certificates against Adil Charkaoui and Hassan Almrei were dropped.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled last month that Harkat was entitled to a new hearing to determine if he is in fact a threat to national security as his rights were said to have been compromised after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service destroyed evidence. Meanwhile, Jaballah’s security certificate case is set to resume later this month. Thus, Mahjoub, Harkat, and Jaballah and their respective families continue to live under indefinite house arrest.
Mahjoub’s Twelve Year Tour will span six cities, from Montreal to Toronto to London and will culminate in a day of protest on 26 June, the 12th anniversary of his 2000 arrest.