Tories turfed anti-radicalization specialist, but can't prove they investigated him

More than a year after a Hamilton lawyer was unceremoniously removed as an adviser on security issues, the federal government can't — or won't — produce any evidence that a promised investigation into his supposed ties to radicalization ever took place.

Hussein Hamdani helped advise Stephen Harper government on national security issues until 2015

Hamilton-based corporate and real estate lawyer Hussein Hamdani was on the Canadian government’s Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security. He was removed from the committee in 2015. (Adam Carter/CBC)

More than a year after a Hamilton lawyer was removed as a security adviser and liaison with Muslim communities, the federal government can't — or won't — produce any evidence that a promised investigation into his alleged ties to radicalization ever took place.

Government emails obtained by CBC News show that the Conservative government's removal of Hussein Hamdani from the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security in the spring of 2015 came with a cost. 

The messages warn of a nationwide chill on Ottawa's attempts to build relationships with Muslim communities in the fight against terrorism — something community leaders lament as an ongoing reality today.

Hamdani, a local corporate and real estate lawyer, said he has never been contacted about an investigation, while the internal government emails show no evidence of any investigation ever taking place.

Steven Blaney, Canada's former public safety minister, was the one who took Hamdani off the roundtable, but he won't answer any questions about the issue.

The current Liberal government won't comment about actions undertaken by the previous Conservative government.

Hamdani has been unable to formally remove the taint of the allegations about radicalization.

He has vociferously denied the allegations and maintained all along that Stephen Harper's Conservatives "targeted and defamed him" because he openly supported Justin Trudeau and the Liberals,

"As I said from the start of this matter, there were no real concerns, and there would be no investigation," he said. "It was a malicious and vindictive act by the Harperites."

Hamdani said he wants his name to be formally cleared.

"I desire a statement from the current government confirming that no investigation was commenced and there are no security concerns with me," he said.

No evidence of investigation

Through an access to information request, CBC News obtained all of the emails sent inside Public Safety Canada that mention Hamdani in the weeks following his removal from the roundtable.

While sections of emails are redacted, there is no mention of an investigation, save for one question asking if CSIS was involved.

In 2015, Blaney's office said it was looking into allegations raised by the French TVA suggesting Hamdani had links to extremists.

The emails indicate that Hamdani had been vetted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and that Public Safety was aware of allegations — but only took action when they were raised in the media.

The feeling was, Hussein  is a leader of our community, and you  demonized  him.-  Kamran   Bhatti

CBC News made several requests to Blaney, asking for proof of the investigation he promised would take place last year. Those requests were ignored.

Requests for an interview were met with the answer that Blaney was "unavailable."

A CSIS spokesperson said the intelligence agency would not discuss whether or not any person "is or has been the subject of an investigation‎."

A spokesperson for current Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale said he "cannot speak to the actions of the previous minister's office."

Before Blaney suspended Hamdani, he was lauded by the government for his work combating radicalization among young people with sometimes dangerously violent views.

Lawyer already vetted by CSIS

The emails indicate there were concerns that Hamdani's removal would hurt relations with communities where radicalization and terror are a real fear.

MP Steven Blaney did not respond to several requests for comment for this story. He was public safety minister when Hamdani was appointed and then suspended from the committee. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

One email sent just days after Hamdani's removal says that in the wake of what happened, meetings and outreach with Muslim community leaders in southern Ontario, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa were all put on hold.

Another email from Ramona Creighton, the former manager of Public Safety Canada, said the ministry was receiving calls from community members asking about Hamdani's suspension.

"They have suggested that outreach activities will be non-existent in the Muslim communities should Hussein in fact be suspended from the CCRS and the allegations in the news article not be refuted," Creighton wrote. "No Muslim community member will want to work with the government for fear of being targeted and having their reputation slandered.

"Without his support, we will not have access to communities. They've also said that any advancements in relationships and trust building have taken 10 steps back."

'You demonized him'

Kamran Bhatti, a member of the North American Spiritual Revival Council, said Hamdani's removal has set relations  "back so far, we're almost in 9/11 time."

Bhatti has worked with Hamdani and helped Public Safety Canada organize outreach events with Muslim communities across Canada — both before and after Hamdani's suspension.

He said it was community leaders, not the federal government, who cancelled or put outreach events on hold in 2015.

"The feeling was, Hussein is a leader of our community, and you demonized him,'" Bhatti said. "These groups are saying, 'We don't want to work with Public Safety because of this.'

"Now we have to overcome a lot of hurdles because of a failed attempt to win an election."

Bhatti said what happened to Hamdani sends the message "you can't trust your government," which ISIS and al-Qaeda use to recruit young people. 

"When these young people read something like this that happened to Hussein ... that only perpetuates the rhetoric coming from these terrorist groups."

Phil Gurski, a former CSIS analyst, also lamented the government's actions in an interview with CBC News in June.

He said Hamdani's removal resulted from "baseless allegations," and was "the biggest blow to the government's relationship with the Muslim community," said Gurski.

"It had a chilling effect."

Hamdani said he's still interested in volunteering to help with outreach in Muslim communities, and doesn't need to sit on a federal committee to do so. He's been working in other countries too — officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of National Security invited him to speak at a conference on fighting violent extremism just weeks after his dismissal in Canada.

"If the government believes I can be of use or benefit to it, I am more than pleased to serve Canada in any capacity," he said. "Otherwise, I will continue to do my local work with youth."​

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.