TORONTO — A fellow prisoner gave Matt DeHart a haircut, his first since his April arrest, in preparation for his refugee hearing scheduled to start Tuesday, during which the former U.S. airman was to officially chronicle his claims — of helping Anonymous hacktivists, his aborted attempt to defect to Russia and his subsequent torture at the hands of U.S. jailers — in his unusual bid for asylum in Canada.
But the buoyancy of his mood snapped.
Instead of appearing before a Toronto refugee tribunal Tuesday he was confined in a suicide watch cell after returning to jail from hospital, where he was treated after another suicide attempt.
“Makes me think something happened to him at the jail,” Mr. DeHart’s father, Paul, told the National Post. “A suicide attempt at this point makes no sense since we were all ready to appear and finally make our refugee appeal.”
He said his son was removed Thursday without notice from an immigration holding wing at Central East Correctional Centre, near Peterborough, Ont., and taken to Toronto East Detention Centre, where he was placed in general population.
“He thought they were hauling him off to the U.S. before he even had his hearing. It was a huge anxiety,” said Paul DeHart.
“He was stuck in a small cell with three to a cell and locked down for three days in a row. It was very loud and stressful and they know he has PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].”
Mr. DeHart asked to see a prison doctor on Sunday but was told none were available, his father said.
On Monday, Mr. DeHart, 30, used a T-shirt as a ligature to strangle himself, the Posthas learned. In April, he also tried to strangle himself with a T-shirt while in prison, where he was sent pending his refugee hearing.
Neither officials with Canada Border Services Agency, which is objecting to Mr. DeHart’s refugee claim and in favour of his imprisonment and deportation, nor the jail would tell the family his condition, said Larry Butkowsky, the DeHarts’ lawyer.
“We didn’t even know whether he was alive or not,” Mr. Butkowsky said. “We spent the whole day trying to find out what was going on. For my clients, the parents, it was awful.”
Tuesday’s refugee hearing was postponed and, instead, lawyers and officials discussed preliminary matters and a new schedule with the Immigration and Refugee Board tribunal.
Refugee hearings are normally closed to the media but were opened to the National Post in this case after a formal motion was argued that it raises important issues deserving close public scrutiny.
Mr. DeHart and his parents claimed refugee asylum last year after fleeing to Canada before his trial in Tennessee on charges of production and transportation of child pornography.
The family claim the charges are a ruse used by U.S. authorities as leverage in a national security probe into a possible Russian spy ring, Mr. DeHart’s past activities as part of the Anonymous hacktivist group and his link to a classified U.S. government document likely destined for WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing organization.
While his story seems incredible, a five-part National Post investigation published in May revealed there is some truth behind some of the claims and many puzzling questions about what took place.
Mr. DeHart has been diagnosed with PTSD, a condition he said developed because of his treatment while incarcerated in the United States while being interrogated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Official FBI documents confirm Mr. DeHart was arrested in 2010 on a national security alert after he crossed back into the United States from Canada, where he had enrolled in a Prince Edward Island college to become welding.
Mr. DeHart was interrogated over several days about his visit to the Russian embassy in Washington, FBI documents confirmed. Two other summaries of his interrogations remain classified.
Mr. DeHart said he was also grilled about Anonymous and WikiLeaks, two organizations targeted by the U.S. government.
He told the Post he was an early member of Anonymous, helping the hacktivists’ nascent anti-Scientology campaign in 2008. He said he also ran a computer server on the Tor network, the so-called hidden Internet, used for anonymous posting of documents. A classified FBI report about the CIA was posted on his server, he said, which he believes was being forwarded to WikiLeaks.
Shortly after that discovery, police raided his Indiana home and seized his computers. The search warrant said the raid was part of a child pornography investigation.
A U.S. judge, who was allowed to read classified documents about Mr. DeHart as well as hear evidence on the child porn charges, ordered he be released on bail, pending trial.
A judge confirmed the existence of a national security probe into Mr. DeHart’s visit to the Russian embassy and Anonymous, but said of the porn charge, “the weight of the evidence is not as firm as I thought.” No pornography was found on Mr. DeHart’s computers, either those seized in the United States or in Canada.
Before his trial could start, he fled to Canada with his father, Paul, and mother, Leann, and claimed refugee protection claiming fear of political persecution and as a victim of torture.
The family’s claims are now scheduled to be heard in August.