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Judge loosens leash on Mahjoub Add to ...

A Federal Court judge has granted a terrorism suspect a much longer leash than he's had in the past decade, ordering him out of jail and into a "home alone" form of house arrest that will permit him some unescorted excursions around Toronto.

Mohamad Zeki Mahjoub, a suspected member of Egyptian al-Jihad who has been mostly jailed since he came to Canada in 1995, will be monitored in his apartment by video cameras, a GPS ankle bracelet, a tapped phone and possibly motion detectors and voice-recognition software.

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Despite the extreme federal electronic surveillance in his household, Mr. Mahjoub's release plan gives him the right to run errands and pray at a nearby mosque without having federal agents shadowing him at all times. Earlier this year, Mr. Mahjoub elected to return to jail, reasoning that being locked behind bars was better than the strict house arrest and bail conditions imposed upon his release.

Monday's ruling ordering Mr. Mahjoub's renewed release is the latest in a string of recent rulings that have served to rein in Canada's security-certificate program and attack the logic of Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials who have argued that terrorism suspects need to be detained indefinitely.

"The [federal]Ministers rely on CSIS' position that once a terrorist always a terrorist," Mr. Justice Edmond Blanchard wrote in decision released today.

But the Federal Court judge ruled instead that terrorism suspects can change over time and that lengthy incarcerations do minimize the threat they pose.

Judge Blanchard also said a new multimillion-dollar jail built for such cases was ill-suited for its stated purpose of detaining terrorism suspects, given how it punishes and isolates detainees.

Never charged with a crime, Mr. Majoub was arrested in 2000 under the provisions of a federal "security certificate" that designated him to be a high-level terrorist threat who ought to be banished from Canada to his homeland, Egypt. Mr. Mahjoub had been previously jailed as a terrorism suspect in Egypt and had once headed a Sudanese farming operation for Osama bin Laden in neighbouring Sudan.

Security certificates were designed as a Cold War tool to expeditiously remove dangerous non-citizens, but appear to have become obsolete in an era of growing Charter rights.

No new cases have been launched in years, and while officials still hope to deport Mr. Mahjoub after a decade of failing to do so, judges have stymied federal attempts to remove him amid fears he will be tortured in his homeland.

As in four other ongoing security certificate cases that are legacies of 1990's investigations, federal officials and judges are struggling to figure out what to do with a potentially dangerous man whom Ottawa considers an inadmissible immigrant, and yet who can't be sent away.

Complicating this legal stalemate is the punishing nature of indefinite detention.

Held for seven years, Mr. Mahjoub was released from jail in 2007 into an extremely strict form of house arrest that saw his Toronto family serve as his in-house minders while federal agents shadowed him when he left his home.

Early this year, Mr. Mahjoub asked a judge to return him to prison, saying he could not keep subjecting his young children to the constant scrutiny. Soon after his return to the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre - a specially-built security-certificate jail whose current population consists only of Mr. Mahjoub - he began a hunger strike against his detention conditions.

Though some of Mr. Mahjoub's complaints seemed minor - late food delivery, spilled soy milk, searches of his beard and Koran - they inspired a protest that caused him to lose nearly a quarter of his body weight, according to Judge Blanchard.

"I am satisfied that Mr. Mahjoub's lengthy detention has served to disrupt his contact and communication with extremist individuals or groups," Judge Blanchard ruled. "I am also satisfied that the threat Mr. Mahjoub poses has been mitigated by his public exposure and by his constant supervision and control by the Canadian authorities for a period of almost a decade."

CSIS and Crown witnesses, the judge added, "have adduced no independent evidence to support their position that a person with Mr. Mahjoub's background cannot change."

Subjected to a curfew and intense electronic surveillance inside his home, Mr. Mahjoub will now be allowed to leave to run errands and attend prayers at a mosque within a small geographic area. Unlike his previous release conditions he will not have to be accompanied by his family members or federal agents during those times.

The neighbourhood Mr. Mahjoub will be released into is not being made public by the court. He will live away from his family but be allowed visitors. No release date has been set.

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