OTTAWA — The Federal Court dealt another critical blow to the federal government's effort to deport foreign terror suspects in a ruling that quashed the case against a Toronto man who a judge concluded no longer poses a threat to national security.
The ruling, released Monday, prompted Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan to assert that a string of court losses are forcing him to review the government's tattered program to detain non-Canadian terror suspects indefinitely with a goal to deport them.
"An increasingly complex legal environment, and the significant costs associated with outstanding certificates, are factors in the current review we are undertaking of this system," Van Loan said in a statement.
Justice Richard Mosley said it was reasonable to believe that Syrian-born Hassan Almrei was a national security threat when he was arrested in 2001, but that he is now a changed man whose public profile and years out of circulation would make him a "foolhardy" choice as an accomplice in terrorist pursuits.
"I believe there are no reasonable grounds to believe that Hassan Almrei is today, a danger to the security of Canada," Mosley wrote in his 183-page ruling.
Mosley said he took into account that Almrei was involved in an illegal document forging ring before and after entering Canada in 1999, that he did not divulge the countries he had visited, that he used a false passport to get into the country, and that he was associated with suspected Islamic extremists.
But none of those things justifies branding him a terror suspect, concluded Mosley, who said that CSIS based its assumption on stale evidence and faulty human sources who have turned out to be less than credible.
The federal government has issued five security certificates against Muslim men since 2000 and the Hassan certificate was the second one this fall to collapse amid growing judicial scrutiny of the regime.
Security certificates, which empower the government to detain non-Canadian suspects without charge or without knowing all of the case against them, are one of the key federal tools in fighting terrorism.
On the approval of two cabinet ministers, the government can issue certificates, which permit the incarceration of a suspect in "administrative detention" until a Federal Court judge determines whether he or she should be returned to his or her home country.
The program has been losing steam amid revelations of Canadian Security Intelligence Service gaffes, court orders for the government to disclose more information, and government admissions that it poses too much of a threat to state secrets to continue the pursuit.
Almrei came to Canada in 1999 as a refugee claimant. He was arrested in Toronto in October 2001 after CSIS alleged he was part of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
Mosley revealed last June that CSIS had admitted one its informants against Almrei was deceptive and another source never took a lie-detector test, despite earlier claims from the spy agency that he had passed.
"There is no evidence that Almrei is a member of any of the affiliated groups," wrote Mosley.
He found the government cast "too broad a net" with its claim that Almrei was a member of a terrorist network based on his jihad ideology.
"They can't establish that Almrei is a member of al-Qaida or an affiliated organization and have attempted to bring him within the scope of this amorphous concept of a network based on his belief and participation in jihad," wrote Mosley.
The federal government's ability to challenge the ruling in the Federal Court of Appeal will hinge on Mosley's pending decision on whether he believes there are issues for the court to consider.
The ruling is a "victory of real evidence over unclear intelligence," Almrei, 35, said in a statement issued by his lawyer, Lorne Waldman.
"With Justice Mosley's decision, I am close to being a free man again," Almrei said. "It is a victory of law over politics, and of carefully considered decisions over hasty mistakes."
Waldman said he will ask the court this week to relax the strict bail conditions imposed on Almrei when he was released last January from detention at the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, a facility for terror suspects that now sits empty.
Waldman said the case highlights how CSIS has made serious errors and that it is dangerous to rely almost exclusively on informants, many of whom have dubious motives.
There are outstanding security certificates against three other Muslim men, who have been released on bail: Mohamed Harkat, Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Mahjoub.
Earlier this fall, a judge quashed a certificate against Adil Charkaoui of Montreal, after federal lawyers withdrew much of the evidence against him.