Egyptian-born Toronto man suing federal government after 17-year deportation fight

An Egyptian-born Toronto man and his family are suing the federal government following a 17-year legal battle during which Ottawa repeatedly tried to deport him for unproven ties to terrorism.

Ottawa used three controversial national security certificates to detain Mahmoud Jaballah

Mahmoud Jaballah, seen here in 2009, came to Canada in 1996. He was first arrested and detained in 1999. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

An Egyptian-born Toronto man and his family are suing the federal government following a 17-year legal battle during which Ottawa repeatedly tried to deport him for unproven ties to terrorism. 

Mahmoud Jaballah, his wife Husnah Al-Mashtouli and their six children filed a statement of claim in the case in an Ontario Superior Court at the end of November.

They are seeking more than $34 million in damages, saying that the federal government violated Jaballah's charter rights; kept him imprisoned for unnecessarily long periods of time; carried out abusive and negligent investigations into his activities; and deeply harmed his reputation and the wellbeing of the family, among other allegations. 

The suit comes little more than two years after a federal Court of Appeal ruled the government's attempts to label Jaballah as a national security threat and deport him were not "reasonable."

Canadian authorities arrested and held Jaballah on multiple occasions from 1999 to 2008 using controversial national security certificates, a mechanism that allows the government to keep the evidence against a subject secret. All three certificates ultimately proved untenable in court. 

Jaballah and his wife came to Canada in 1996 using fake passports after having left Egypt some five years earlier. Jaballah spent time in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Azerbaijan before travelling to Toronto.

He and wife said they had faced persecution from a repressive Egyptian regime, and risked imprisonment and torture if they returned. For their part, Egyptian authorities accused Jaballah of having ties to a terrorist organization that is closely linked with Al-Qaeda. 

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service began monitoring Jaballah, including intercepting his personal communications, as soon as he arrived in Toronto.

He was questioned about implied links to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and alleged communications with prominent terrorists, though the substance of the alleged communications have never been disclosed by Canadian authorities. 

Jaballah has always denied any connections to terrorism or terrorist groups. 

During one nearly six-year period of detention on the second of three national security certificates, Jaballah spent considerable time in solitary confinement, the suit says. He went on two different hunger strikes to protest his imprisonment, acts that the suit claims had long-term health consequences. 

Between 2008 and 2016, Jaballah and his family lived under house arrest, though the conditions changed over the years. 

In May 2016, a federal judge ruled the third and final national security certificate intended to detain and ultimately deport Jaballah was unjustified. The federal government's appeal in the case failed. 

Jaballah's legal counsel in the matter declined to provide comment to CBC Toronto.