Ban Trudeau from Harkat deportation over brother's letter, says democracy group

A watchdog group says Justin Trudeau should be barred from any role in deciding the fate of terror suspect Mohamed Harkat because the prime minister's brother is lobbying the government on the issue.

Justin Trudeau says his brother Alexandre has same rights as any Canadian to lobby government on Harkat

The federal government has been trying to deport Algerian citizen Mohamed Harkat (pictured) on a national security certificate. Justin Trudeau's brother Alexandre opposes the use of security certificates and has written to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asking the minister to allow Harkat to stay in Canada. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

A watchdog group says Justin Trudeau should be barred from any role in deciding the fate of terror suspect Mohamed Harkat because the prime minister's brother is lobbying the government on the issue.

Duff Conacher, a founder of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch, says Trudeau should publicly recuse himself from involvement in the file.

Conacher, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa, pointed to the guidance the prime minister issued to cabinet in November: ministers should avoid situations that have even the potential to involve conflicts of interest.

And he called on ethics commissioner Mary Dawson to demand to see records of the prime minister's communications with his brother Alexandre, a filmmaker with a fervent interest in global politics.

"It's a situation that should be monitored," Conacher said Wednesday.

Harkat, a former gas-station attendant, was taken into custody more than 13 years ago on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent — an accusation he denies.

The federal government has been trying to deport the Algerian refugee on a national security certificate, a seldom-used tool for removing non-citizens suspected of extremism or espionage.

Harkat, 47, fears he will be tortured if sent back to his homeland.

Alexandre Trudeau has the same rights to lobby the federal government as any other Canadian says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press))

Alexandre Trudeau, a longtime opponent of security certificates, recently wrote to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, urging him to use his discretion under immigration law to allow Harkat to stay.

"Moe considers himself Canadian: he loves this country, he came here to escape persecution and for a better life, and he does not belong anywhere else," says the Feb. 27 letter.

"I am absolutely convinced that at this moment, he poses no danger whatsoever to the public or to public safety in Canada, but rather offers a positive commitment to the life he has created here."

Erin O'Toole, the Conservative public safety critic, expressed concern about Alexandre Trudeau's "highly inappropriate role" and said the prime minister and his cabinet should rely on the expertise of Canada's public safety agencies.

Conflict of interest?

In Vancouver, the prime minister said his brother has the same rights as any Canadian to advocate on the issues and causes that he believes in.

"We have a rigorous process on the government side, and we will be following that process with the kind of rigour and seriousness that Canadians expect us to," he said.

Robert Shepherd, an associate professor with the School of Public Policy and Administration at Ottawa's Carleton University, played down any notion of controversy, saying there is no evidence of special attention being given, or favours being asked.

"Alexandre Trudeau went public and was transparent about his concerns. He didn't have to do that if special attention was sought on his part," Shepherd said.

"In my view, there is no evidence of ethical breaches. We want people of influence to be transparent about their activities. If that is what citizens expect, then we cannot at the same time punish them when they do what is expected of them."

Deportation procedures

In a statement, Goodale's office did not address any possible conflict, but noted there are established procedures to ensure those who need protection are not whisked from Canada.

For refugees inadmissible for serious grounds, such as national security, the Canada Border Services Agency and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship assess the danger they pose to Canada and the risks to their life if they are removed, as well as humanitarian and compassionate considerations, the statement said.

"Those subject to removal can provide input into this process and can seek judicial and administrative review prior to removal. Only once individuals have exhausted all legal avenues of recourse and due process are they expected to leave Canada."

Harkat's wife Sophie expressed her gratitude Wednesday to everyone who has supported her husband. Alexandre Trudeau is "one of many thousands of Canadian who cares about what happens to Moe," she said.