Michelle Shepherd, Toronto Star, 7 March 2007
Toronto terrorism suspect Mahmoud Jaballah will be released on strict bail conditions after more than five years in jail without charges, despite government protests he remains a danger to Canada.
His release comes on the heels of last month’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down an immigration law as unconstitutional and deals another blow to the government’s handling of security cases involving non-citizens.
“It’s a very happy day for my family. We’re really looking forward to getting him back home and getting on with our lives,” said Jaballah’s eldest son Ahmad yesterday outside the courthouse.
Federal Court Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson made the surprise announcement during a detention review hearing yesterday debating how the Supreme Court ruling could impact her decision on bail.
She said she would issue a written ruling in the next two weeks but wanted to start the process for his release, which can take weeks for the government to implement security measures. The conditions of his release are not yet determined but will be “restrictive and strict,” Layden-Stevenson said.
As 20-year-old Ahmad and Jaballah’s youngest son, 8-year-old Ossama sat with their mother in court, Jaballah watched through a closed circuit television from the immigration detention centre near Kingston where he has been held since it opened last year. The 44-year-old Egyptian refugee had previously spent more than four years in a Toronto jail, often in segregation.
Another terrorism suspect, Mohamed Mahjoub, was also ordered released by the federal court last month under conditions that amount to a house arrest and include an electronic monitoring bracelet and close supervision.
But Mahjoub still remains detained with Jaballah in the facility dubbed “Guantanamo North” by its critics until all the bail conditions are implemented by the Canada Border Services Agency.
Of the five non-citizens the government has accused of having links to Al Qaeda and ordered deported, only Hassan Almrei has not received bail. The Supreme Court ruling clears the way for Almrei to once again have his detention reviewed.
“I think (Jaballah’s release) places Canada on the high ground in dealing with issues of national security. Along with the other decisions that have come out over the last couple weeks we are setting an example that we should all be very proud of,” said Jaballah’s lawyer John Norris yesterday.
Government lawyers had earlier argued against Jaballah’s release, saying that even strict bail conditions would not mitigate the danger he poses to security.
Jaballah is accused by Canada’s spy service of involvement with the Egyptian Al Jihad, led by Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s reputed second-in-command whose whereabouts are unknown. He is also allegedly linked to Canadians with suspected terrorism ties.
Before his arrest Jaballah was the principal at Scarborough Salaheddin Islamic Centre and described by friends as a devoted father to his six children. He later became a co-founder of the Um Al Qura Islamic school.
In a January interview at the Kingston-area prison with the Toronto Star, Jaballah denied any connections to terrorism and said that he believes the government is punishing him for his refusal to work for Canada’s spy service.
He was first arrested in 1999 under a provision of the immigration act known as a national security certificate. But a federal court quashed the certificate as unreasonable and found that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service relied too heavily on information from Egyptian security agencies in their assessment. So after 11 months in custody he was released.
Then in August 2001 he was again detained under a second security certificate, the only time in Canada a suspect was detained twice under the legislation. A federal court upheld that certificate.
But the Supreme Court’s ruling now gives Parliament one year to enact a new law, after which the current national security certificates will be quashed. If the government still wants to deport Jaballah and the four other terrorism suspects after a year they’d be entitled to hearings under the new law.
Lawyer Donald MacIntosh told the court yesterday that while last month’s Supreme Court decision denounced the use of secret hearings to try non-citizens, the court did not rule that lengthy detention or release with strict bail conditions were themselves unconstitutional and therefore shouldn’t affect Jaballah’s chances for release.
But Norris said he believes the Supreme Court ruling impacted Layden-Stevenson’s ruling.
“I think it gave us considerable momentum. The court expressed very serious concerns about lengthy detention in cases like this. The court was of the view that detention had to be a measure of last resort,” Norris said.
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