Mahmoud Jaballah sits in the prisoner's box in courtroom 2-8, stroking his beard and rubbing his bald head from time to time. It's shortly after 2 pm on Friday afternoon and the clutch of supporters here earlier have left for the afternoon prayers that begin the Muslim sabbath.
Also gone are the half-dozen or so lefty activists who've taken up Jaballah's cause. Now only his wife, dressed in black from head to toe, three of his six children and a handful of other women in head coverings remain, along with the dozen plainclothes cops trying not to look obvious.
About three dozen of us were lined up outside earlier this morning to view these proceedings, only to be told that the courtroom would be closed to the public and the media.
We discover later that the judge had made no such ruling, and that someone else -- we suspect someone among the plainclothes police -- had given the order to keep us out. The turn of events has supporters stuffing complaint boxes in the hall.
All of which adds to suspicions that there's a cover-up, something the powers that be don't want us to see. Conspiracy theories have been swirling around Jaballah's case from the get-go.
Canada's spy agency claims the seemingly mild-mannered former schoolteacher staring pensively from behind broad rims in prison orange is a security risk. They're linking him to Al-Jihad, the Egyptian-based Islamic group whose spiritual leader, Ayman Al Zawaheri, is closely tied to Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the World Trade Center attacks.
But there are also enough curiosities about the case against Jaballah -- a judge has even ruled that he be released -- to make the most cynical observer wonder if, as his supporters say, he is a victim of a vengeful CSIS intent on rounding up anyone who happens to have brown skin and be a Muslim.
Jaballah has filed a $15-million law suit against the federal government. His lawyer, the sharp-tongued Rocco Galati, uses words like "sham" and "retarded" to describe the government's case against his client.
Galati walked out of a courtroom earlier this year to protest the secrecy shrouding CSIS "evidence" against his client. To his mind, they're making an example of Jaballah.
If only it were so simple.***
Those who sympathize with Mahmoud Jaballah have some reason to be suspicious of the government allegations against him. CSIS, it can be fairly said, has arrested suspected "terrorists" on flimsy evidence before. The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), the group charged with monitoring the spy agency's activities, has pointed out as recently as its 1999-2000 report that CSIS has sometimes "overdrawn" and "exaggerated" perceived threats to national security.
Indeed, since 9/11 CSIS has registered more misses than hits, at least in the cases that have made it into the public spotlight.
Terrorist links alleged against a former Toronto copy store clerk, the owner of an Ottawa import-export company and an employee at a nuclear facility near Blind River have all gone poof.
Canadian authorities, though, were hot on Jaballah's tail years before hijacked jets blew up the WTC and bin Laden became a household name.***
Mahmoud Jaballah entered Canada in May 1996. A circuitous route took him from his native Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, stopping in Yemen, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Turkey and Germany. He filed for refugee status, claiming that he had been subjected to persecution by Egyptian authorities.
Jaballah told the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) that he was involved in anti-government activities while studying at Zagazig University in the 1980s. According to court documents, he was arrested and released seven times over a 10-year period, including after the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
Jaballah also indicated in his refugee claim that he worked as a teacher and principal in Pakistan between 1991 and 1994 at a school for orphans run by the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a group described by the government as suspected of links to bin Laden and "involved in fraudulent activities."
The IIRO is also suspected by law- enforcement authorities of having links to Al Zawaheri, head of Al-Jihad, a group that court documents allege "employs terrorism as part of a wider campaign to root out Western secular influences and create an Islamic state in Egypt by overthrowing the current government."
Al-Jihad, which means "fighting in the way of God," has also been linked to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 200 people and injured another 5,000.
Jaballah testified that he never heard of Al Zawaheri except in news reports, and never tried to hide the fact that he worked at the IIRO from Canadian authorities. But his claim for refugee status was denied, not so coincidentally, supporters say, at the precise time CSIS became involved in his case in March of 98.
By then, agents from the spy agency were already putting out the word to the head of one mosque Jaballah attended that he was a person to "watch out" for.
CSIS conducted three interviews with Jaballah, on two occasions with an interpreter, and during which he denied any connection to a whole list of names put to him and allegedly tied to the funding of terrorist activities, among other things.
According to the testimony of his then 13-year-old son Ahmed, Jaballah was threatened with jail at one point during his third interview with CSIS "if you don't call us with information in three days."
CSIS would make good on the threat, obtaining a certificate from the Citizenship Minister and Solicitor General that declared Jaballah a security risk and put him behind bars.
A federal court judge would quash that order in December of 99, describing the certificate the federal government filed against him as "not reasonable."
The judge in that hearing was "particularly impressed" with the testimony of Dr. Ali Hindy, head of the Salahedin Islamic Centre, who testified that he kept an eye on Jaballah after he was told by CSIS he might be a problem, but "didn't notice anything wrong."
Hindy also described how members in the community took up a petition "because we care about Mr. Jaballah. We know he is innocent, and this could happen to anybody in our community."
Jaballah was released from jail only to be rearrested on a second security certificate in August 2001 and ordered deported. This, even though the government has acknowledged in written correspondence, Galati says, that Jaballah would likely be killed if returned to Egypt.
The 21-page CSIS document giving rise to the second security certificate paints an entirely different portrait of Jaballah than the one offered by his supporters and lawyer Galati.
The document, using information provided by Interpol, suggests Jaballah was using the alias Mahmoud Said while in Egypt and that CSIS has fingerprint evidence to prove it.
It continues, "According to Interpol, Jaballah is the subject of outstanding charges in Egypt in relation to his membership in a terrorist organization involved in attacks carried out in Egypt."
The CSIS document goes on to describe a contact between Jaballah and Adil Abd Al Bari, an London, England-based alleged member of Al-Jihad currently in jail for his alleged part in a conspiracy to blow up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Jaballah testified during federal court proceedings that he only sought the legal advice of Al Bari at the London-based International Office for the Defence of Egyptian Peoples in preparation for his IRB case.
The CSIS document says Jaballah also had contact with one Thirwat Salah Sheheta, an alleged Al-Jihad leader. Here, too, Jaballah testified that it was for legal advice while in Egypt.
Jaballah told CSIS agents when they interviewed him back in 1998 that the Brits and U.S. have been duped by the Egyptian government into rounding up those opposed to the regime. Jaballah also stated then that he believed the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania were the work of Egyptian intelligence -- or so CSIS says. ***Back outside courtroom 2-8, Rocco Galati is doing a slow burn. He's just been told that we were kept out of the morning's proceedings for no good reason.
He informs us that he had to get the judge to order handcuffs removed from Jaballah's wrists. To him, the whole affair has unravelled into a bit of a bad joke.
He says there's no real new evidence against his client, and the government is essentially seeking to retry the 99 decision quashing the original security certificate against Jaballah. "There are 300 cases I've lost that I'd like the judge to take a fresh look at," he scoffs.
It doesn't take much to get Galati going. At one point he compares Jaballah's continued incarceration and surveillance of the Muslim community to the internment of Italians and Japanese in Canada during the second world war.
"It's part of that colonial thinking," Galati says.
Is he suggesting some kind of conspiracy? "No. Just old-fashioned fascism and stupidity.
"There's an old Chinese proverb," he adds as he makes his way to the escalator. "If you want to scare a monkey, kill a chicken."
It's difficult not to get swept up by Galati's thinking.
I'm reminded of the remarks I overhear one of Jaballah's supporters make earlier about having to quit her job at Bell after her boss began giving her grief for wearing a head covering. No doubt there are many more like her.
But what are we to make of Jaballah and his associations, loose though they may be, with figures alleged to be involved in terrorism? Perhaps only that much has changed since 9/11, and that these are complex times we live in. firstname.lastname@example.org