Mahjoub’s story

Mohammad Mahjoub (left) with his lawyer, Yavar Hameed, in Ottawa, May 2012

Mohammad Zeki Mahjoub came to Canada in 1995 from Egypt, where he had been detained without charge and tortured. He was accepted as a refugee in 1996, settled in Toronto, got married, and had two young sons. However, back in Egypt, a year and a half after his arrival in Canada, his three brothers were arrested and held without charge for eight years. They were all released in 2005, never having been charged or tried.

In June 2000, Mr. Mahjoub was arrested on a security certificate. He began a hungerstrike in 2002, after he was sexually assaulted by a guard. His complaints led nowhere. This was the first of several hunger-strikes.

Mahjoub in Montreal, May 2012

In 2005, after being imprisoned for five years without a trial, Mr. Mahjoub began a hungerstrike to protest prison conditions, consuming water, juice and occasional broth, lasting 76 days and losing 110lb before he was hospitalized.

In April 2006, Mr. Mahjoub, along with three other security certificate detainees, was transferred to the “Kingston Immigration Holding Centre”, a six-cell facility opened specifically to detain Muslims held on security certificates, which was soon dubbed “Guantanamo North”. The facility, which was quietly closed at the end of 2011, cost tax-payers $3.2 million to build, and two million a year to operate with one inmate (according to CBC).

Mr. Mahjoub, with two of the other detainees at Guatanamo North, went on hungerstrike again in winter of 2006 for 93 days. He was finally ordered transferred to house arrest on February 15th, 2007.

Mahjoub before his arrest, with his children

It took months for Mr Mahjoub to be transferred from prison after the federal court ruling, and when he was, it was under conditions that in practice turned his home into a prison and his family into his prison guards.

In February 2007, the Supreme Court struck down security certificate legislation as unconstitutional but gave the government a year to respond. Significantly, the court refused to accept the argument that the regime was unfair because it only applied to refugees and permanent residents, therefore affording them a far lower standard than that accorded to Canadian citizens.

In February 2008, the Canadian government passed new security certificate legislation which remained essentially the same as the old one. New certificates were immediately issued against Mr. Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui. All five men remained in prison or under house arrest and had to begin the process all over again.

On 18 March 2009, Mr. Mahjoub returned to prison at Guantanamo North in Kingston. He could no longer subject his family to the intolerable and humiliating invasions of their privacy that the conditions of his house arrest required. On 01 June 2009, Mr. Mahjoub began another hunger strike to protest prison conditions. He remained on hungerstrike for six months.

Protest organized by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada during one of Mr Mahjoub's hungerstrikes

On 30 November 2009, Mohammad Mahjoub, then the sole prisoner at “Guantanamo North”, was again ordered transferred to house arrest in Toronto, this time by himself.

In summer 2010, in a significant court victory, the Federal Court ruled that part of the “case” against Mr. Mahjoub was probably gleaned from torture, and could not be accepted by the Court. The extent of that finding, however, was then subject to closed door proceedings that Mr. Mahjoub and his lawyers were not allowed to attend.

From about 1996 to 2006, CSIS and/or CBSA listened to, recorded, analysed and used Mr. Mahjoub’s conversations with his lawyers against him. In December 2010, the Federal Court found that, despite a court order prohibiting this practice, CSIS continued to violate solicitor client privilege in this way for two more years.

In the summer of 2011, government officials entered Mr. Mahjoub’s lawyers’ room in the Federal Court, seized boxes of confidential documents belonging to Mr. Mahjoub and his lawyers, viewed and read the materials and then sorted them with (commingled) their own documents. This represents a further serious breach of attorney-client privilege.

In November and December 2011, the court reviewed Mr. Mahjoub’s bail conditions (as it is legally required to do every six months). On February 03, 2012, the Federal Court ruled that the government failed to show that it is reasonable to maintain intrusive conditions of control and surveillance on Mohammad Mahjoub.

Mahjoub on Parliament Hill, May 2012

For the first time since 2000, Mr Mahjoub was to go anywhere in Toronto without supervision or notifying the CBSA; in addition, his curfew was lifted and a camera in front of his house removed; and he was able to travel anywhere in Canada.

Many intrusive conditions nevertheless remained, including a GPS-tracking bracelet, weekly reporting to the CBSA; ban on using the subway, cell phone, or any phone outside his house or internet; all his phone calls were recorded, all his mail was opened, and more. Outside Toronto, he still had to travel with court-appointed supervisor and provide an itinerary seven days in advance to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

These conditions were imposed with sole reference to the government’s arguments; the court ruled that it could not take Mr. Mahjoub’s responses to the allegations into account.

The affair of the commingled documents resulted in the suspension of his case for one year; in the meantime, Mr. Mahjoub remained under these oppressive condition. On May 31st 2012, the court ordered 11 government lawyers and clerks off the case, but ruled that the case could continue.

In fall 2012, the presentation of witnesses and ‘evidence’ in the security certificate case was closed. Mr. Mahjoub’s lawyers then argued an important motion asking the judge to end proceedings because of the many abuses of justice in the case – including destruction of evidence, information obtained under torture, breach of solicitor client privilege – as well as the unconstitutionality of the proceedings themselves, which together preclude all possibility of a fair outcome.

As of February 2013, the ruling – which will decide whether Mr Mahjoub will be freed or will proceed to closing arguments in the security certificate case – was still pending. In the meantime, in a January 2013 ruling, the Federal Court removed many of the remaining conditions, including the GPS bracelet, the prohibition on internet and on cell phone, and the requirement of having a supervisor when travelling outside Toronto.

Updates here.

Further background: Homes Not Bombs