Canada

Acquitted of terrorism but still considered a threat, this man's status in Canada hangs in limbo

Nothing is simple when it comes to Othman (Adam) Hamdan and his life in Canada. He spent four years imprisoned, but does not feel free now that he is out. He was acquitted, but lives under a cloud of suspicion.

Released after 4 years of imprisonment, Othman (Adam) Hamdan doesn't feel free

Othman (Adam) Hamdan spent four years behind bars: two years awaiting trial on terrorism charges for which he was acquitted, and two years in immigration detained as the CBSA worked to deport him. He's now free, but his status in Canada is very much in limbo. (Curtis Allen/CBC)

Since his release from immigration detention almost two years ago, Othman (Adam) Hamdan has been living in limbo.

The Canada Border Services Agency has been trying to deport him, calling him a risk to Canadians.

He says he has been trying to clear his name and get on with his life. 

"I'm trying to go forward; I'm trying to be the model citizen," Hamdan told The National in his first televised interview. 

"And still, the Canadian government has the audacity to say I'm dangerous." 

Hamdan, a Jordanian citizen, arrived in Canada in 2002 seeking a better life, and settled in Fort St. John, B.C. But the politically minded, outspoken man caught the attention of the RCMP in 2014 in the wake of the Parliament Hill shootings.

As part of Project Scollop, which investigated online extremism in Canada after that attack, RCMP approached Hamdan about Facebook posts he had made that seemed to support ISIS.

Hamdan said he was told the topics he was posting about were "very sensitive" and could be offensive to some. But, he says, they did not tell him to stop

Eight months later, Hamdan was arrested and charged with four terrorism-related offences.

'Troubling' posts tracked

In all, RCMP had tracked thousands of posts made by Hamdan — some that he had written, others that he had shared — and flagged 85 of them for celebrating ISIS's success, praising lone wolf attacks and the Parliament Hill shooter, as well as identifying places in Canada with weak security.

He was denied bail and spent two years in jail awaiting trial.

Hamdan shields his face from the media on his way into a bail hearing in Fort St. John, B.C., in this July 15, 2016 file photo. (Brett Hyde/CBC)

While a B.C. Supreme Court judge called the posts "repugnant," "offensive" and "troubling," he ultimately ruled that without knowing more around the context of the posts, Hamdan did not have intent to commit a crime.

In 2017, he was acquitted on all charges

Yet he wasn't released.

Instead, immigration officials arrested Hamdan on the grounds that he posed a "danger to the security of Canada '' because of the views he expressed online. His refugee status was revoked and he was deemed inadmissible to Canada.

Hamdan was moved to immigration detention, where he was held another two years, sometimes in solitary confinement, as the CBSA took steps to deport him.

'Heads I win, tails you lose'

University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach suggests Hamdan's case was a miscarriage of justice. When the government failed to get a conviction, he noted, it seemed it decided to go after Hamdan in immigration court, where the burden of proof is lower. 

"It seems to me that in the best of all worlds, the government would choose one of those instruments and not line them up sequentially, so that if they lose a criminal case, they can come back with immigration detention," said Roach, who has written about the case.

"You know, it's kind of a, 'Heads I win, tails you lose.'"

WATCH | The National's Adrienne Arsenault asks Kent Roach about Hamdan's ambiguous status:

Hamdan’s status is like ‘being under a cloud,’ says legal expert

5 months ago
0:16
Law professor Kent Roach talks about the ambiguous status Othman (Adam) Hamdan lives under in Canada due to immigration restrictions. 0:16

The RCMP, CBSA and Public Safety Canada all denied CBC's request for interviews or specific information on Hamdan's case or risk assessment. 

They noted there are 993 foreign nationals in the country who are not currently in detention, but are inadmissible to Canada for safety and security reasons.

In Hamdan's case, the CBSA wants to deport him back to his native Jordan, where Hamdan says he would be killed. Officials have also said they found ISIS insignia graffiti on his cell wall while he was being held in detention. Hamdan says it was merely an Islamic emblem.

In September 2019, Hamdan was released under 26 strict conditions that a federal court judge said would mitigate any risk he may pose to the public. He would not have access to the internet, a cell phone with internet capabilities or a driver's licence. And he was required to check in with RCMP daily. 

"For the first year of my partial freedom, the RCMP would knock on my window at two or three in the morning, approximately every night," said Hamdan.

"They would just wake me out of bed, just to come and show my face, jolt me back...."

WATCH | The National's Adrienne Arsenault asks Hamdan if he feels any remorse for the posts and the fear some people may have of him:

‘What have I done that requires remorse?’

5 months ago
0:40
Othman (Adam) Hamdan responds to concerns that he is a threat to Canadians and should apologize for posts he made on Facebook. 0:40

CBC also spoke with residents of Christina Lake, B.C., where Hamdan currently lives, who expressed concerns about him being in their community. None wished to speak on the record but said they were afraid of him and felt Canadian laws had failed. 

They also spoke of how Hamdan had never expressed remorse or any harm that may have been incited by his social media posts. 

"There's nothing to apologize about,'' said Hamdan. "What have I done that requires remorse? That I talked about the conflict in the Middle East, really, and expressed that all sides commit crimes? Including ISIS? Including al-Qaeda? Including the Canadian government?"

Hamdan lives in Christina Lake, in B.C.'s southern Interior. He says he's ready to move on with his life and is currently seeking work. (Merielle Kazakoff/CBC)

Navaid Aziz, an expert on religious extremism who served as a witness for the defence, said even though he found Hamdan's posts "deeply uncomfortable," Hamdan is not an extremist.

"He ended up finding purpose in his activism online. And had he channelled it properly and perhaps been more cautious in terms of what he was posting, his situation might be different," said Aziz, who occasionally provides guidance to Hamdan. 

"As long as he's part of a holistic system that's providing him support … a psychological and mental health perspective, [and] spiritual guidance, I believe he's on a good track to be in a better place."

Hamdan's lawyer maintained that because of the criminal charges he faced in this country, his life would be at risk in Jordan.

Deportation on hold

Three months ago, a judge suspended Hamdan's deportation order, noting in his judgment that he has no record of Hamdan committing any offences in the past six years.

So with his criminal case resolved and his deportation suspended for now, Hamdan says he wants to clear his name — and see his status in Canada resolved.

He has filed two civil lawsuits against the CBSA and Ministry of Public Safety for malicious prosecution and for his time in solitary confinement.

WATCH | Jordanian man acquitted on terrorism charges, but struggles to move forward:

Jordanian man struggles to move forward after acquittal on terrorism offences

5 months ago
7:46
A Jordanian man once charged with terrorism offences in Canada struggles to move on with his life after his acquittal. Some people, and the government, believe he remains a threat. 7:46

"They don't want to give me status. They wish I would disappear," said Hamdan. "We don't know where this is going to go." 

Roach agrees that Hamdan's status remains ambiguous. 

"It's the same status as the men that were detained under security certificates. It's the status of being under a cloud," said Roach. "For people like Mr. Hamdan, I think it's going to be a constant struggle." 

For now, Hamdan has been granted a temporary work permit, limited access to the internet and a driver's licence. He is also looking for work in the community.

With files from Adrienne Arsenault

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