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Court softens grip around Charkaoui

Judge removes most of the strict conditions against him, Montrealer doesn’t pose a danger

The Federal Court has loosened its noose around Montreal French teacher Adil Charkaoui February 20, when Judge Danièle Tremblay-Lamer abolished the majority of the restrictive conditions placed on him and his family upon his release from prison four years ago.

Some of the basic freedoms restored to Charkaoui include the following: his parents need no longer accompany him whenever he leaves the house; he is now free to use the Internet, cell phones, and fax machines; he no longer has a curfew; and he is permitted to leave the Island of Montreal.

Despite these changes, Charkaoui is still required to wear a GPS tracking bracelet whenever he leaves the house.

Mary Foster, a member of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui, said the ruling has given the Charkaoui family a great sense of relief.

“They can have a much more normal life; it means they can go outside the home without always being together,” Foster said.

The ruling comes after months of public trials during which Charkaoui’s lawyers presented half a dozen witnesses and argued for the abolition of the conditions.

While Charkaoui’s lawyer, Johanne Doyon, recognized the significance of the ruling on her client’s day-to-day life, she emphasized that it did not deal with the fundamental problems in Charkaoui’s case – specifically that Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agents destroyed original evidence and operational notes in Charkaoui’s file.

“Through the cross-examination of two witnesses, we established that [CSIS] did destroy evidence,” Doyon said.

Knowing this, Doyon explained, the defence was in a position to stop the proceedings altogether, something the judge’s ruling failed to address.

In Tremblay-Lamer’s decision, however, the judge wrote that the evidence before her does not indicate that Charkaoui poses a threat or danger to others, nor that he is likely to commit criminal actions.

Throughout the public hearings leading up to the decision, the government’s lawyers failed to present a single witness and presented no evidence dated from 2000 onward. Instead, they largely relied on the same information included in a public summary of Charkaoui’s file released in February 2008.

In her report, Tremblay-Lamer also responded to CSIS Assistant Director of Intelligence Ted Flanigan’s testimony that Charkaoui was not a sleeper agent, but “fit the profile” of one.

“If (Charkaoui) had had the profile of a sleeper agent nine years ago, it is obvious that it could no longer be the same today in light of the publicity surrounding his case,” Tremblay-Lamer wrote.

Charkaoui, a PhD student and father of three, spent nearly two years in prison without charge after being named under a security certificate in 2003. Security certificates, which fall under federal immigration law, apply only to non-citizens, allowing the government to detain them indefinitely using secret trials and evidence under threat of deportation.

In February 2007, the Supreme Court ruled security certificates unconstitutional, but postponed the effect of their ruling by one year. The Conservatives tabled the new security certificate legislation, Bill C-3, in October 2007, and two months later the Canadian Bar Association stated that it considered the new legislation – which added the provision of a “special advocate” and addressed minor problems in the first law – unconstitutional.

A year after the Supreme Court’s decision in Charkaoui’s favour, C-3 became law. In November 2008, the Quebec Bar Association was permitted to intervene in the unconstitutionality of C-3, and has since released detailed arguments against C-3.

In light of these objections to security certificate legislation and the two-tiered system of justice it entails, Foster said Charkaoui’s case raises broader social questions for Canadians.

“I think it’s a question of how we want to see the rights of everyone in this country,” Foster said.

“It’s a question about racism, what it means to be a member of society, how that’s sanctioned under law, how rights are protected – formally and informally. Those are the fundamental questions behind this.”

The public hearings resume next Tuesday and Wednesday, March 10 and 11, at 9:30 a.m. at the Federal Court, 30 McGill St., in Old Montreal.