Calgary

Calgary man in Algerian prison on terrorism charge a 'whipping boy' of CSIS: lawyer

The federal government isn't doing enough to help a Calgary man who has been held for more than a year in a prison in Algeria on charges of belonging to a terrorism group, says one of his lawyers.

Adberrahmane Ghanem associated with men who fought in Syria but didn't belong to terrorist group, family says

Abderrahmane Ghanem of Calgary has been held in the El-Harrach prison in Algeria for more than a year. He is charged with being a member of a terrorist group outside Algeria. (Ghanem family)

The federal government isn't doing enough to help a Calgary man who has been held for more than a year in a prison in Algeria on charges of belonging to a terrorism group, says one of his lawyers.

Gary Caroline, a Vancouver-based lawyer, sent a letter to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland calling on the ministry to "act quickly and decisively to secure" the release of Adberrahmane Ghanem, who will soon go on trial.

  • Read the letter at the bottom of this story

"A forceful and public demand from your ministry to its Algerian counterpart is clearly needed," writes Caroline.

Ghanem, a 30-year-old Canadian who also holds Algerian citizenship, is charged with being a member of a terrorist group outside Algeria.

His family acknowledges that Ghanem associated with several men from Calgary who eventually left to fight in Syria — but say he never belonged to a terrorist organization and never committed a crime.

He has been held in the El-Harrach prison in Algeria, notorious for abhorrent conditions. 

"He has become sort of … whipping boy for all the ones who got away," Caroline said. "He is being punished for being the guy who didn't go to Syria."

Ghanem's trial begins on June 13. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in jail.

"Assuming your ministry has in fact been quietly seeking Abderrahmane's release, it is by now apparent that such minimalist efforts are proving unsuccessful," Caroline said in his letter.

A government spokesperson on Tuesday said, "Consular services are being provided to a Canadian citizen detained in Algeria. Consular officials are monitoring the case and maintain regular contact with local authorities. To protect the privacy of the individual, we are unable to release further details."

But Caroline believes the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) shared critical information with Algeria that resulted in Ghanem's detention. Ghanem's Algerian lawyer is accusing the Canadian government of "subcontracting" his client's prosecution to Algeria because it couldn't get away with prosecuting him in Canada, said Caroline.

"It is now time for Canada to acknowledge its role in Abderrahmane's harrowing ordeal and to fulfil its moral and legal obligation to do everything in its power to remember the serious harm it has visited upon Abderrahmane and his family," Caroline said.

He also said Ghanem is being held with 75 men in a unit that has only 36 beds and one shower that doubles as a toilet.

Caroline said since December 2016 when he first contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Ministry of Public Safety, there have been no denials or corrections in his allegation of Canada sharing information with Algeria resulting in Ghanem's detention.

CSIS won't deny or confirm details

"​It would appear that Canada has deliberately breached a number of moral and legal duties owed to Abderrahmane and indeed to all Canadians," Caroline said.

Asked whether CSIS was involved in the case, Tahera Mufti, the agency's chief of public affairs, told CBC News, "For reasons of security and privacy, CSIS does not divulge details of the information it exchanges or the identity of the foreign agencies with which it partners.

"CSIS's information sharing with foreign partners is conducted in strict accordance with the CSIS Act, ministerial direction and a robust system of internal policies and procedures."

CSIS has "a duty and a responsibility to share threat-related information with its foreign partners in order to mitigate risks to public safety here and abroad," Mufti said.

"If we do so, it is after careful consideration of all legal obligations and associated risks, and includes strict controls on the use and dissemination of information.

"As a general rule, information which CSIS shares with foreign partners may not be used in judicial proceedings without the service's express consent. Foreign governments may of course take legal action on the basis of their own information."

Calgary connection

Mohamed Ghanem said his son, whom he calls Abdu, is prepared to return to Canada.

"If he has to go to trial in Canada, it's fine," Mohamed told CBC News and the Toronto Star at his home in Muscat, Oman.

Mohamed acknowledges that between 2010 and 2012, his son associated with several men from Calgary who eventually left to fight in Syria.

"The ones that he is hanging out with the most are Damian Clairmont, Wassem Alhaj Youcef, and they used to hang out with Badi Hammadieh," said Ghanem's father.

Mohamed said that during one of his first meetings with Canadian authorities in Calgary he was informed that Badi Hammadieh, an associate of his son, was "pushing young Calgarians to go to Syria" and he was told that "this guy was brought out of jail in Syria by the Canadian government."

Secret meetings at a mosque

CBC News has reported that before many of the men began leaving in late 2012 for Syria and Iraq, nearly a dozen of them met secretly in a room above the 8th and 8th mosque in downtown Calgary. Members of the study group also met frequently in one of the apartments they rented in the highrise building connected to the 8th and 8th mosque.

Mohamed said that while he was concerned about his son's association with these men he "hadn't noticed anything abnormal with him."

"I know my son, he wasn't a violent person," said Mohamed. "He is not the type of person that will get involved in violence. He never fought with anyone in his life. Never.

"As a family, we think we are being punished for something we have never done," he said.

  • You can read the letter below sent by lawyer Gary Caroline to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. On mobile?​ Click here.

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