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Culture Shock 2008: Charkaoui condemns racist immigration laws

The growing trend in national security to inflict high consequences with low legal standards is extremely disturbing, said members of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui in a Culture Shock event Monday.

“We have very racist – and I’m using the word racist – mentality inside government, inside CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] agents, inside courts of justice…and we have horrible laws from the Middle Ages called security certificates,” said Charkaoui, a Moroccan-born French teacher who has lived in Montreal since 1995.

In 2003, Charkaoui was detained under a security certificate, which allows the government to detain non-Canadian citizens without trial under threat of deportation. He spent the next 21 months in jail, and has lived under a strict set of house arrest conditions since his release in 2005.

These conditions forbid him from leaving Montreal, using fax machines, the Internet, or any phone but his home phone, allow police 24-hour access to his home, and require one of his parents to accompany him at all times. Charkaoui must also wear a GPS-tracking ankle bracelet – which he referred to as his “bracelet of shame.”

After two weeks in jail, Charkaoui received a 400-page file qualifying his detention that contained biographies of Osama Bin Laden and news articles on 9/11. Only 14 pages pertained to his case.

“Nothing [was] against me or linked to me,” Charkaoui said, adding that the document identified him as a sleeper agent – a spy awaiting assignment – for eight reasons: he was young, Arab, Muslim, married with children, had a business, attended university, was a martial arts expert, and had travelled around the world.

Charkaoui, a father of three, has still not seen the secret evidence against him, and has never been charged under the Criminal Code.

“Tonight, after five and a half years, I cannot get justice in this country,” he said.

Charkaoui criticized the government for fully cooperating with states like Syria and Sudan, who brutally treat their detainees, while condemning them publicly.

“Behind those big and beautiful slogans, we have a lot of hypocrisy – full coopertaion, collaboration, and complicity in torture,” he said.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that security certificate laws were unconstitutional, but decided that the ruling would not come into effect for one year. In late October 2007, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-3, a new security certificate law that Charkaoui described as a carbon copy of the old law, only worse. It closes some loopholes and introduces a false notion of legitimacy with the “Special Advocate” – a lawyer privy to secret evidence in the case, but cannot relay this information to the detainee.

The Conservatives passed C-3 in February.

Charkaoui’s recent experience with Special Advocates highlights key problems with the process, which denies attorney-client confidentiality. He had to choose his Special Advocate from a list of eight lawyers – though, after little research, Charkaoui found that one candidate was friends with the judge, and that others were defending CSIS at the Supreme Court or had strong Conservative links.

Mary Foster, a spokesperson for the Coalition, detailed several recent examples similar to the high-profile case of Maher Arar, in which Canada chose to deport non-citizens despite evidence showing the detainees could face torture or death in their home countries.

“We should really rethink deportation as exile – all these people have their families and their whole lives here,” Foster said.

About 50 people attended the event, which was co-hosted by the Coalition and QPIRG-McGill. Bilingual banners used at past protests hung on the walls, as were photos of demonstrations from 2003 onward.

To hear Charkaoui’s talk, check out the October 28 edition of Off The Hour at