News  Charkaoui trial exposes feds’ smoke and mirrors

After four days of public hearings in the federal case of Montrealer Adil Charkaoui last week, supporters of the Moroccan-born French teacher were confident that the lack of evidence against him could release the government’s control over him and his family.

Following the hearings Wednesday, Charkaoui was frustrated with the government’s failure to present a single witness throughout the hearings.

“They don’t do anything, [they] just sit back while we present all the evidence. But in the end they can present secret evidence to convince the judge I’m not innocent,” Charkaoui said.

Charkaoui’s lawyers brought Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Assistant Director of Intelligence Ted Flanigan to the stand Monday. He stated that Charkaoui fit the “profile of a sleeper agent,” despite being unable to define the term, and also acknowledged that a report describing Charkaoui as a sleeper agent was incorrect, according to a Federal Court Watch report of the day’s proceedings.

At an October 27 presentation at McGill Culture Shock, Charkaoui explained that in the first public summary of evidence against him in 2003, he had such a profile because he was a young, Arab, Muslim, married, internationally-travelled, university student and business owner, with a black belt in karate.

“These are the eight characteristics of ‘sleeper agents,’” he told the audience.

Last week, Charkaoui was also vexed with the inclusion of Moroccan prisoner Nourredine Nafiaa and Guantanamo inmate Abu Zubaydah in public summaries of evidence against him.

Nafiaa wrote to Radio-Canada in 2005, explaining that he had never met Charkaoui, but was forced to sign a confession while blindfolded and under torture in Morocco. In December 2007, retired CIA agent John Kiriakou admitted Zubaydah had been tortured at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“What’s really disturbing [is that we] recognized part of the evidence was obtained from Guantanamo,” Charkaoui said, “On the same day that Obama announced [Guantanamo] will be closing, it’s a shame for Canada to be using evidence obtained under torture.”

Despite having signed off on the February 2008 public summary of evidence against Charkaoui – in which Nafiaa was referenced – Flanigan said he didn’t remember Nafiaa’s name being included in the report.

In 2003, the Ministry of Immigration found that Charkaoui would likely face torture if deported to Morocco, but Flanigan said he was unaware of these risks.

Following the court proceedings Wednesday, Charkaoui’s father echoed his sentiments regarding the vagueness of evidence.

“All this…it has to stop. They have nothing. Nothing,” he said.

Flanigan, who claimed to have conducted a thorough review of Charkaoui’s file last February before naming Charkaoui under a new security certificate, deflected many questions while on the stand.

“It was a lot of, ‘I don’t recall,’ ‘I wasn’t in a position to know,’ or ‘[because of] National Security,’” said Mary Foster, a member of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui, which has worked on clearing Charkaoui’s name since he was first detained under a security certificate in 2003.

Foster added that Flanigan’s testimony confirmed many of the suspicions the Coalition has had regarding the secret evidence in the case.

“The government’s position seems to be that without a trial, under a law that’s been declared unconstitutional, without any information of substance being shown publicly, it’s normal for someone to be [under those conditions],” she said.

Security certificates introduce a two-tier system of justice whereby the government uses secret evidence to detain and deport non-citizens. In February 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Charkaoui’s favour, agreeing that security certificate law is unconstitutional, but delayed its decision by one year.

The Harper government pushed through new security certificate legislation, Bill C-3, in February 2008, which patched some loopholes and added the provision of a special advocate. Legal critics have maintained that this addition does not satisfy the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Quebec Bar Association has released detailed arguments outlining C-3’s unconstitutionality.

That same year, the Supreme Court ruled that CSIS can no longer destroy evidence, and that they must provide the Ministers who sign the security certificate and the Judge who reviews it with original evidence, not just their interpretations and opinions.

After being detained under a security certificate in 2003, Charkaoui spent nearly two years in prison, and has since lived under strict conditions of house arrest. He cannot use the Internet, fax machines, or any phone but his home phone, must respect a curfew, and cannot leave the island of Montreal. He must also wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times, and one of his parents must accompany him whenever he leaves his home.

During the testimony, Charkaoui’s mother, Latifa, explained that after four years, these conditions have financially crippled her family. She added that her husband can no longer hold employment in his field as a machinist because of the time-consuming supervision requirements.

Charkaoui agreed with his mother after her testimony.

“The conditions have a huge impact on my life and my family – they have to stop,” he said.

Four other Arab Muslim men named under security certificates – none of whom, including Charkaoui, have ever been charged with a crime under the Criminal Code – live under similar conditions in Ontario.

Foster said she was surprised that the government asked witnesses how the conditions, including the GPS tracking bracelet, infringed on Charkaoui’s liberty.

“It was really shocking the way they asked that question – [the government’s lawyer] was just stunned by a request to have the conditions abolished,” Foster said. “That mentality is really anti-democratic – frighteningly so.”

Charkaoui’s mother testified that her son had never broken the conditions, since doing so would break the trust of his family and his community. She became hysterical when asked what the consequences would be if her son were to deported.

“I know [my son] better than anyone; he’s not dangerous,” she said. “He’s against any form of violence – he’s a humourist, the kind who makes you laugh, tells us jokes. I’m don’t understand why he has the ‘profile of a sleeper agent’ – it’s another person.”

These sentiments appeared in court earlier that day with the testimony of a family friend and supervisor of Charkaoui.

The last witness to appear on Wednesday, the principal of the school where Charkaoui taught from 2006 to November 2008, explained that she had to reluctantly let Charkaoui go after the Ministry of Education denied his teaching permit, citing his ongoing case with the federal government.

The principal said Charkaoui is an excellent teacher, and that students were sad to see him go. She added that her decision was influenced by the risk of losing a government subsidy if Charkaoui remained employed at the school.

Foster was hopeful that the Judge will abolish the strict conditions imposed upon him after the legal arguments are made next week.

“I’m very optimistic…because the government didn’t present anything, in a non-biased court you’d hope that would be something that the judge would [recognize].”

Foster also encouraged McGill students, especially those in Law, to attend the hearings themselves.

“People who came down to court would observe the requirement of being innocent until proven guilty not being represented,” Foster said.

The hearings will resume on Wednesday, February 4, at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Court, 30 McGill St.


Charkaoui timeline

The Charkaoui family arrives in Montreal as Permanent Residents.

Adil Charkaoui and his wife apply for citizenship.

RCMP officers surround and search Charkaoui, his mother, and wife at the Trudeau airport en route to Morocco for a family visit.

FBI agents remove Charkaoui from a plane returning from Morocco to New York. Following an eight-hour interrogation, an agent states that the FBI has nothing against him, they are acting on the request of CSIS.

In May, Charkaoui is detained under a security certificate and sent to prison. The public summary of Charkaoui’s file points to, among other things, his religion, marriage, and black belt in Karate as reasons for having a “profile of a sleeper agent.” Realizing the impossibility of mounting a defense against secret evidence, Charkaoui and his lawyers choose to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

Charkaoui and his lawyers learn of a Pre-Risk Assessment completed the previous year by the Ministry of Immigration which found that Charkaoui would likely face torture, cruel and unusual punishment, or death if deported to Morocco.

Still without any charges laid, Charkaoui is released from prison under strict conditions of house arrest. Among many other restrictions, these require him to wear a GPS tracking bracelet and for one of his parents to accompany him at all times outside his home.

Charkaoui completes his Master’s degree in French despite not
having access to the Internet.

In February, the Supreme Court rules security certificate law unconstitutional, but postpones the effect of their decision for one year. In October, the Harper government introduces the “new” security certificate legislation, Bill C-3.

C-3 passes, despite constitutional objections from many MPs, community members, and the Canadian Bar Association. New certificates are issued for Charkaoui and the others under the new law, but they remain under conditions imposed under the old law. Charkaoui has a second victory in the Supreme Court, and CSIS asks the judge for six months to put together some evidence. Charkaoui loses his job as a French teacher after the Ministry of Education refuses to grant him a teaching permit, citing his ongoing issues with the federal government.

Public proceedings of Charkaoui’s case continue, with he and his lawyers arguing for the abolition of the conditions imposed on him for the past four years. CSIS agent Ted Flanigan testifies that Charkaoui has the “profile of a sleeper agent” – which he distinguishes from “being a sleeper agent” – but cannot define the term.

Source: Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui. For a more comprehensive timeline, see

Compiled by Max Halparin with the permission of the original author.