Former security certificate detainee Almrei wants apology from government

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - More than nine weeks after Hassan Almrei was freed by a judge who excoriated Canada's spy agency for continuing to pursue him, he has yet to hear anything - let alone the apology he craves - from federal security officials.

Speaking publicly for the first time since an electronic tracking bracelet was sliced off his ankle, Almrei said he wants the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to tell the world he's not a terrorist.
"I'd be very happy if they acknowledged they made mistakes in my case, and they said, 'We were wrong,"' Almrei told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"It's a dream of mine to have them come and say, 'Yes, we were wrong, we were wrong."'
In mid-December, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley struck down a national security certificate against the Syrian-born man arrested eight years earlier on terror suspicions.
The ruling ended Almrei's ordeal and delivered the latest blow to an already wobbly security-certificate law.
Almrei came to Canada in January 1999 on a false United Arab Emirates passport and attained refugee status the following year.
Mosley said there were reasonable grounds to believe Almrei was a security danger when detained in October 2001, just after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, but there was no reason to cling to that belief today.
The government had argued Almrei's travel, activities and involvement with false documents were consistent with supporters of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
The judge criticized CSIS for presenting a dated view to the court without considering whether knowledge about the risk from Islamic extremists had evolved since Almrei was taken into custody in the frantic days following 9-11.
In early 2009, Almrei was released from a high-security prison near Kingston, Ont., but remained under the close supervision of authorities who tracked his movements by means of the bracelet attached to his ankle.
Almrei says he endured many sad days and sleepless nights.
He would go to bed thinking, "Why am I still here? Will the government come in the middle of the night and deport me to Syria without telling anyone? I don't know. I have no idea."
The security certificate system was revamped after the Supreme Court of Canada found elements were unconstitutional in 2007.
Mosley's ruling said CSIS and federal cabinet ministers breached their duties of "good faith and candour" to the court by not thoroughly reviewing information on file prior to reissuing the certificate against Almrei under the reworked system in February 2008.
There has been no decision on whether to sue the government for compensation, said Almrei's lawyer, Lorne Waldman.
"Certainly it's an option that we're considering. Obviously it's open to the government at any time to acknowledge that Mr. Almrei was wronged and to offer to compensate," he said.
"All we've gotten so far is silence. I don't think that's acceptable in a democracy."
Perched on a couch in Waldman's file-cluttered Toronto office, Almrei recalls key dates and milestones in his saga with encyclopedic precision. But he does not seem bitter.
In fact, he speaks of Canada in glowing terms expected from someone who has received a coveted national prize, not a man who was held without criminal charge for eight years.
At first he was struck by the country's natural charms. "Now I enjoy the decency and the beauty of its people."
Almrei is taken aback by the many people who backed him over the years out of principle without knowing whether he was innocent or guilty.
"They did what they did, lawyers because they believe in the rule of law, and activists because they believe we are all human beings, no matter where we came from."
Almrei celebrated his 36th birthday on New Year's Day by visiting Parliament Hill. In his mobile phone there's a photo of him in the Centre Block giving the thumbs-up sign in front of the portrait of Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister who pushed for creation of the Charter of Rights.
Just having a portable phone, a tool he was forbidden to use for years, is one of the many "baby steps" Almrei is taking to re-establish his life in Mississauga, a bedroom community just west of Toronto.
"It is not totally normal now, but as normal as it can be."
He's been busy getting his driver's licence renewed, seeking a work permit and looking to revive his application for permanent residence in Canada.
"This is my country," he said. "It is my country as much as it is yours. And the security of this country concerns me as much as it concerns you and your neighbour."
Mosley found that Almrei had lied to authorities upon coming to Canada, provided a forged passport and money to an Arab Afghan associate who crossed the border illegally, arranged a marriage of convenience for a failed refugee claimant and dealt in illicit drivers' licences.
Almrei openly acknowledges his errors, but adds a caveat about CSIS: "The fact I made mistakes in my life doesn't excuse their mistakes."
Mosley said in his ruling that Almrei has been changed by his legal drama, the support shown to him and the considerable reading he has done. "One constant in his life over the course of the past eight years has been his religious devotion. I do not believe that he will now proceed to violate the principles of his faith."
Almrei says when Waldman called him in December with word of the court judgment, he kneeled and gave thanks to Allah "for this great gift in my life, my freedom."
He now knows how he will thank those who have helped him.
"My reward to them is who I will become, and what I will make of myself after this experience.
"I am optimistic by nature, and I always like to make the best of the situation I'm in."

Organizations: Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canadian Press, Al-Qaida Supreme Court of Canada Charter

Geographic location: Canada, TORONTO, United Arab Emirates United States Kingston Syria Parliament Hill Mississauga

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