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October 7, 2009

Charkaoui rightly demands apology

The Canadian Charger

Adil Charkaoui wants an apology for what the Canadian government has put him through. 

That was the key demand he made during a press conference on Parliament Hill September 29. 

On September 24, Judge Danièlle Tremblay-Lamer removed the various conditions that had been imposed on him since he was released from prison in 2005. 

When the conditions were cancelled, he happily cut off the monitoring bracelet from his ankle.  With the conditions removed, he was also able to appear in Ottawa on the Hill.

At the press conference, Charkaoui also demanded that the government stop harassing him and his family. 

He expressed the hope that the Harper’s Conservatives would respect the decision of the court, but this hope is clearly misplaced. 

The government has made it clear that it wants to appeal a court order to reveal evidence and will attempt to obtain a new security certificate once this one is cancelled, as it is expected it will be. 

It was the refusal of CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service to release evidence that led the judge to lift the restrictions on him.  CSIS continues to maintain that they have valid evidence that Charkaoui “meets the profile” of a sleeper agent.

Charkaoui is not satisfied with the current state of things. 

He wants those responsible for his plight to be held to account and he wants answers as to why such things happened to him. 

He also wants constraints to be lifted on four other Muslim men under security certificates. 

Charkaoui hints at the possibility of seeking monetary compensation for his ordeal, though he acknowledges that no money could compensate for what he has gone through.

Charkaoui was originally arrested in May, 2003, under a security certificate signed by Wayne Easter, then Solicitor General, and Denis Coderre, who was Immigration Minister at the time and who was until very recently Quebec federal Liberal Party lieutenant. 

Release on strict bail conditions came in 2005; only now have the conditions been removed.

Charkaoui has consistently denied all allegations against him.

He fought actively against the restrictions, with a major victory in the Supreme Court in April, 2007, which threw out the certificates and gave the government a year to replace the law with one offering greater protection for the rights of those against whom the government would place a certificate. 

In particular, the Court hinted that the inclusion in the new law of provision for special advocates might be seen favourably by the Court in any future challenge. 

Special advocates can see information which may not be available to the defence lawyers for reasons of security.

The special advocates now involved in the certificate cases were not viewed favourably by Charkaoui, who pointed out that they are not even allowed to see all the evidence. 

In his case, 3,500 pages of evidence were off limits for the special advocates, he said.

Another limitation on the special advocates is that they may not share information with defence lawyers. 

Born in Morocco, Charkaoui came to Canada and became a landed immigrant but has not been able to obtain citizenship. 

Moving to Montreal in 1995, he completed a master’s degree at the Université de Montréal.  Because of difficulty finding work in his chosen field as a French teacher due to the security charges hanging over his head, he is working on a doctorate.

In 1998, he went to Pakistan, to study religion, he says, but CSIS suspects that he entered Afghanistan to train as a terrorist.  Ahmed Ressam, the so-called millennium bomber, claimed that Charkaoui is an al-Qaida agent, but he later withdrew the allegation. 

The bigger picture in which the Charkaoui case fits is the one setting rights against security or, more accurately, rights against fear of loss of security. 

Chief Justice Beverly MacLachlin waded into this issue during a speech to a women’s group in Ottawa on September 23.  She cautioned that fear and anger “may lead governments to curtail civil liberties and seek recourse in tactics they might otherwise deplore.”  She further warned against seeing “a terrorist around every corner.”

By way of contrast, lawyers for the Crown went before Judge Tremblay-Lamer to argue for better protection for state secrecy. 

Their chances do not look good.  For all practical purposes, it seems highly unlikely that security certificates will be issued for any other persons. 

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M. Elmasry

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