The federal government is making a last-minute plea to delay the Federal Court hearing of a long-simmering lawsuit from a Montreal man over Canada’s role in his detention in Sudan.
The case was set to begin Monday, nine years after Abousfian Abdelrazik filed the suit against the federal government to win an apology and compensation for his ordeal.
Last week, the Justice Department advised Abdelrazik’s lawyer that the government would seek an adjournment of the civil trial to review the thousands of pages of evidence disclosed to date.
Federal lawyer Sandy Graham told the court Monday that the passage of time means the documents must be given a second look to ensure the most complete record possible is available for trial.
The documentation needs to be “defined and refined” to ensure there are no inconsistencies, which means putting the trial on hold, he said.
Graham could not tell Justice Martine St-Louis how long it would take to complete the review under provisions of the Canada Evidence Act.
Abdelrazik’s lawyer, Paul Champ, said postponing the trial would be “an unconscionable waste of court resources,” given that out-of-town witnesses have made arrangements to testify.
St-Louis is expected to rule soon on whether to grant the delay.
Abdelrazik, 56, was arrested during a 2003 visit to Sudan to see family. He was interrogated in custody by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service about suspected extremist links.
Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen who denies any involvement in terrorism, also says he was tortured by Sudanese intelligence officials. Federal officials maintain they knew nothing of the alleged abuse.
In 2009, a Federal Court judge concluded CSIS was “complicit” in Abdelrazik’s detention. The judge also found that, by mid-2004, Canadian authorities had determined they would not take any active steps to assist Abdelrazik’s return to Canada, and would consider refusing him a passport in order to thwart his homecoming.
The federal government has provided apologies and compensation to other Canadians — including Toronto-born Omar Khadr — for the government’s role in their detention abroad, but earlier this year, officials abruptly cancelled mediation talks with Abdelrazik.
Champ played down government suggestions that he had objected to the federal effort to review the many memos, emails and other documents that will come up at trial.
Champ said while he had raised some questions about the process, he wasn’t pushing the government to release more information or taking issue with portions that have been blacked out.
Abdelrazik has been waiting long enough and simply wants to get on with the case, Champ said.
In addition, one key witness, Sen. Mobina Jaffer — who visited Abdelrazik in Sudan — is slated to undergo cancer treatment later this month, complicating scheduling efforts.
Champ fears the review process, if allowed to proceed, could drag on for years.
“They’ve had nine years to do it,” Champ told the judge Monday.
“This is about the administration of justice. This is about the integrity of court proceedings.”
The Canadian Press