Prisoners in their own home

OTTAWA (CUP) — Everyone has a daily routine that they follow more or less unconsciously. Wake up, shower, eat breakfast and go to work. For Mohamed Harkat and his wife Sophie, the concept of a daily routine has taken on a whole new meaning. Most of their daily activities must be pre-approved by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA), allowing no room for spontaneity.

OTTAWA (CUP) — Everyone has a daily routine that they follow more or less unconsciously. Wake up, shower, eat breakfast and go to work.
For Mohamed Harkat and his wife Sophie, the concept of a daily routine has taken on a whole new meaning.
Most of their daily activities must be pre-approved by the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA), allowing no room for spontaneity.
They are constantly monitored by video cameras placed outside their home.
During the three four-hour outings they are permitted per week, they are accompanied everywhere by walkie-talkie-toting, bulletproof vest-wearing, CBSA agents.
In short, Harkat and his wife are prisoners in their own home.
“I thought I was going to be free, go anytime outside with [my] family [and go] shopping anyplace,” said Mohamed. “Everything is very strict.”
In 2002, Mohamed was alleged to have ties to terrorism. He was not charged with any offence, but was detained for three and a half years under a security certificate.
Mohamed was released under house arrest June 21, 2006. But the strict conditions of his bail package cause frustration for him and his wife.
Harkat cannot use cellphones, the Internet or a BlackBerry.
Any visitors to his house must be pre-approved by a security check, which can take up to 48 hours. This includes family members.
They only have one hour a day for exercise and are followed by CBSA agents during this time.
“[We] always have two people on our ass, following our every move which really pisses us off,” said Sophie.
“[The agents] are really loud and annoying. You always know they are there. The walkie-talkies are so loud. You just don’t have personal space.”
Mohamed has three sureties: his wife, his mother-in-law and her partner.
Sophie said she sees herself as her husband’s jailer.
“[I] don’t see the role of a surety. [We are] trusted within our residence and yard, but not while on outings,” she said.

A surety is someone pre-approved by CBSA to accompany the prisoner. Mohamed must be watched 24 hours a day by at least one of his three sureties.
If other sureties are not around, Sophie cannot even go out to do something as simple as deliver a letter or pick up food.
“It’s pretty insulting, I feel my rights are violated,” she said.
But response from the community has been encouraging.
On their first or second outing, Mohamed and Sophie went to renew his driver’s license.
“An older lady approached us. She was around 75 years old,” said Sophie.
“She came up to [Mohamed] and put her arms around him and gave him a big hug, and said ‘I am so happy you’re out.'”
Another time, when they were in a Sears store, someone approached them and called them superstars.
“It’s encouraging,” said Sophie.
When they are not on one of their outings or using their hour of daily exercise, Mohamed and Sophie keep busy with projects around the house.
“[Mohamed] is a big consumer of tomatoes and cucumbers. He works in the yard, reads his Quran, exercises two hours a day on top of biking […] and prepares for supper,” said Sophie.
“He cooks well and likes to barbecue and work around the house. He’s a fixer upper.”
Mohamed said that it is obviously much better to be home with his family rather than in prison, but all the precautions and conditions make it so he can never forget his situation.
He wears an ankle bracelet when he is in the house.
He and his wife cannot work.
He is never alone.
When outside the house, he wears a two-pound GPS tracking device that clips to his belt.
Mohamed says he feels as if he is not human. He has few rights in Canada under the restrictions of his house arrest.
“Your life is controlled by CBSA, by [the Canadian Security Intelligence Service],” said Mohamed.
“My life is in the hands of somebody else.”

— with files from Katherine Ellis

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