For two hours each day, Hassan Almrei sits tethered to an electrical outlet as he charges the clunky GPS bracelet permanently affixed to his right ankle. He can't let it run out of juice, or the security agents responsible for tracking him will come running.
Almrei also logs the time and name of his pre-screened visitors with Pavlovian efficiency as soon as he hears a knock on the door. Three ceiling cameras watch his every move, windows have alarms, his phone is tapped and one room is occupied by a black box the size of a small fridge, which emits a high-pitched hum and is described only as a "component (that) is required to monitor Mr. Almrei in his home," by a Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson.
This is life inside a three-storey Mississauga townhouse where the 35-year-old Syrian refugee moved following his release Friday after seven years in jail.
It will cost about $575,000 a year to pay for the agents' salaries and the "operations and management" of the electronic equipment, agency spokesperson Tracie LeBlanc says. But, notes Mike Larsen, a researcher at York University's Centre for International Security Studies, there may be other costs, such as wiretap analysis done by Canada's spy service. Then there are the surveillance notes, videos and pictures that need to be analyzed by separate agency agents.
"This remains indefinite detention ... it is still the imposition of control and the deprivation of liberty without charge or trial," says Larsen, who has filed dozens of Access to Information requests to the federal government about the immigration law, and who is a friend of Mohamed Harkat, an Ottawa man who likewise was imprisoned under a national security certificate.
"The real costs are less tangible, and they are measured not in dollars spent but in the indignities inflicted on Mr. Almrei."
The costs – to taxpayers and Almrei – are likely to continue for some time.
Almrei was the last of the security certificate cases released from a specially built detention centre near Kingston, dubbed "Guantanamo North" by critics, after a judge agreed that seven years without trial was too long to detain someone.
Based on the public record of the case, the allegations against Almrei do not appear as serious as those against some of the others, which Justice Richard Mosley highlighted in his January decision. He is not alleged to have been an Al Qaeda operative or engaged in violence.
The government contends he does support an extremist ideology, which began when he was a teenager fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Public allegations also state that he was part of "an international forgery ring," although he is not accused of forging documents himself. Almrei has admitted he procured a false passport for a Syrian friend who was later associated with illicit money transfers and deported by the United States.
"I'm not an angel; I did a stupid thing in my life. But to label someone a terrorist without trial, there is nothing worse," Almrei said in an interview from his home Monday.
Over coffee and plates of baklava, Almrei said the transition to his own place has been strange. Sometimes he still peers outside or around doors, expecting to see guards. On an escorted outing over the weekend (he's allowed three four-hour trips out per week) he had to return early, exhausted by the unaccustomed walking.
Almrei's new home, rented and furnished by friends and supporters, is in a good neighbourhood. Court-ordered conditions prohibit the Toronto Star from revealing its location.
The security restrictions, the strictest Canadian courts have imposed, seem appropriate, albeit costly – if Almrei is what the government contends.
Or, he's a victim of an overzealous government during a time of panic – detained a month after the 9/11 attacks and forced into an epic legal battle to avoid deportation to Syria.
This uncertainty explains the intense focus on Almrei's case and that of four other Arab men facing expulsion under national security certificates, a provision in immigration law invoked after 9/11. The law has been tested at the Supreme Court twice and is likely to head there again.
In 2007, the Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional. But the law was rewritten to introduce the role of special advocates, so that security-cleared lawyers could challenge the government's classified evidence in closed-door hearings. Almrei's case is set for April and will be the first to test the new legislation.
The larger legal question, however, will be whether the courts allow Canada to deport someone to a country with a record of human rights abuses. Canada is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the removal of someone likely to face torture or death in the other country, and since Almrei was accepted in Canada as a refugee a year before his arrest that risk has already been acknowledged.
Canadian courts may also look to a House of Lords decision two weeks ago that cleared the way for the U.K. to deport a dozen terrorism suspects who challenged their removal based on similar fears. The ruling upheld the government's position that those concerns are alleviated by written assurances from Jordan and Algeria pledging fair treatment.