Judge frees last security certificate detainee from 'Guantanamo north'

A Federal Court judge has decided to release the last foreign national accused of links to Islamic militancy who was being held on a controversial national security certificate.

A Federal Court judge has ordered the release of the last of five foreign nationals being held on controversial national security certificates

Syrian citizen Hassan Almrei has been in custody since October 2001 without being charged with any crime.

He arrived in Canada in 1999 seeking refugee status and was detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

In a 101-page written decision issued Friday, Justice Richard Mosley wrote that Almrei's continued detention can no longer be justified.

"I am satisfied that any risk that he might pose to national security or of absconding can be neutralized by conditions," Mosley wrote.

The judgment says Almrei should be released under strict terms of house arrest until it can be determined whether the security certificate is reasonable and, if so, whether he can be deported to his native Syria or another country.

The conditions of Almrei's release include restricting his access to the internet, and allowing Canada Border Services Agency officials to enter his home at any time without notice.

Man's lawyer 'relieved'

Speaking to CBC News on Friday  after telling his client about the court decision, Almrei's lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said he was pleased with the decision.

"It's Hassan's birthday today and this is a wonderful birthday present," Waldman said.

"The responsibility of representing someone who has been held without charge for seven years has weighed very heavily on me, and I'm relieved that we were successful in this."

Waldman said it could take some weeks to make all the necessary security arrangements for Almrei's release. 

CSIS agents and federal officials have argued in court that Almrei has links to al-Qaeda and other militant groups. Almrei has denied this although admitting that he took part in weapons training in Afghanistan in the early 1990s with a Muslim militant leader who is now a supporter of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.

Security certificates allow federal officials to detain foreign nationals resident in Canada without charge if they are deemed a threat to national security.                                 

Held in 'Guantanamo north'

Human rights groups and lawyers say the certificates violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by allowing the authorities to deny habeas corpus and other fundamental rights. Four other foreign nationals that the government is trying to deport on security certificates have already been released into the care of their families with varying conditions.

Almrei was the last remaining person held on a security certificate at a high security detention facility in Kingston, Ont., known to human rights campaigners as "Guantanamo North."

In February 2007, the Supreme Court struck down the security certificate system used to hold these suspects. In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the court ruled that the some aspects of the certificates violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last year, Parliament passed a law reinstating the certificates and allowing for special advocates for detainees who could hear secret evidence with full national security clearance.

Documents obtained last year under Freedom of Information legislation showed that Almrei's continued detention was costing Canadian taxpayers about $2 million dollars a year, excluding the $3.2-million cost of building the facility in 2006.

With files from the Canadian Press