Adil Charkaoui nears the four-year mark of living under virtual house arrest without being charged with any crime

Posted by admin on Jan 17th, 2009

By Sue Montgomery, The Gazette. January 17, 2009

At 7 on a minus-30C morning, Adil Charkaoui descends the steps of his Anjou duplex with his 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter in tow. He has three things in his hands: a coffee, La Presse and a GPS tracking system allowing Canadian authorities to monitor every move he makes throughout his day. But before he’s allowed to back out of his driveway, Charkaoui, 35, must have two more things: a green light on the walkie-talkie-like GPS – signaling that Canada Border Services Agency is awake and watching – and his dad.

Seventy-one-year-old Mohammed appears from the lower duplex and trudges down the steps, his breath coming in puffs into the crisp air. The door of the Volkswagen is frozen shut, so he climbs in on the driver’s side and squeezes his heavy frame over the gearshift and into the passenger seat.

With his two children in the back seat, Charkaoui sets off for their school – a 45-minute drive across the island – before heading to Canada Border Services Agency on St. Antoine St. W. to make his weekly, mandatory appearance.

Pulling his dad along the icy sidewalk, he enters the front door of the building, bringing with him a gust of bone-chilling wind. Security guards recognize him and ask how the children are, and if he’s still fighting his case. Charkaoui flashes a smile and gives an update on the family and his legal saga that began six years ago when he was picked up under a security certificate, a tool under immigration law that allows non-citizens to be detained without charge and face deportation.

Ottawa says Charkaoui has ties to terrorists, a charge he has vehemently denied since the beginning but finds difficult to prove. Under a security certificate, unlike a charge under the Criminal Code, neither Charkaoui nor his lawyers have the right to see the intelligence gathered against him, making it nearly impossible to launch a defence.

Up on the second floor, he walks past the myriad of would-be immigrants dozing in their chairs to a free wicket. The man behind the glass greets Charkaoui by name, shrugs as he once again initials the paper Charkaoui hands him, and says apologetically, “I’m sorry, but I’m not the one who’s imposed these conditions.” sss Next month marks the fourth year Charkaoui has had to live under virtual house arrest. He’s the only person in Quebec wearing a permanent tracking ankle bracelet (four other Muslim men in Ontario are in the same boat), he must obey a 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. curfew and be accompanied at all times outside his home by either his mother or father – a condition that at times creates tension in the tight-knit family.

He can’t use a cellphone, or any phone, other than the one in his home, he has no access to the Internet, other than for research for his studies – and even then, his parents must do the typing. A small group of supporters, including filmmaker Denys Arcand and former solicitor general Warren Allmand, helped scrape together $50,000 bail.

Although Charkaoui, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, has worked almost continually since his release, his conditions make looking for work more difficult. He’s not allowed to leave the island of Montreal, so positions in Laval, for example, are off limits. He must rely on his father or sister to fax or email his CVs, and if and when he does get an interview, he must drag along one of his parents, casting doubt in interviewers’ minds about his maturity.

“It is an absolutely crazy life,” says his lawyer, Johanne Doyon. “After a while, enough is enough.” On Monday, Doyon and Dominique Larochelle, Charkaoui’s longtime legal team, will ask the Federal Court to amend his strict conditions to those similar to someone charged under the Criminal Code: Keep the peace and be of good behaviour, alert the court of a change in address and respect a curfew.

sss Back in the car, Charkaoui heads for Université de Montréal, where he’s working on his Ph.D. thesis in education. As he weaves in and out of traffic, he jokes that friends have told him the only time he poses a threat to public security is when he’s behind the wheel of a car.

On the back seat lies a card, decorated with a water painting from Africa. Inside is a handwritten note from a group in Durham, Ont., that has, without fail, sent Charkaoui one card a month since his arrest in 2003. Some have included photos of the demonstrations they’ve staged against security certificates. This one says, “We continue to think of you and, as International Human Rights Day approaches, we will be sending letters to our MP, urging him to act on your behalf. You and your family are in our thoughts and in our hearts.” “It’s incredible,” Charkaoui says, clearly touched by such acts. “I don’t even know these people, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been in touch with them, yet they keep supporting me.” At U de M, Charkaoui makes a quick stop at the library to renew some books, since he’s not allowed to do so via the Internet. Then it’s off to a meeting with his thesis adviser. His topic is the perception of Quebec secondary school teachers toward Islam and Muslims in Quebec.

His father sits outside the door, leafing through the paper, reading news about the attacks on Gaza.

“It’s very stressful,” he says of having to accompany his son everywhere. “But we have no choice since they forced this on us.

“Even when he goes to the bathroom, I have to wait outside the door.” sss It’s not what Mohammed expected of Canada when the machinist and amateur boxing coach dreamed of coming here in the 1970s from his native Morocco. His father discouraged him from leaving, so when he died in 1994, Mohammed sold his house, the family vacation home, as well as his business and packed up his wife, Latifa, daughter Hind and son Adil, and emigrated to Canada in 1995. All got their citizenship in 1998 except Adil, who is a permanent resident. His application was rejected because of a mention of a trip to Pakistan.

“I believed Canada was paradise, especially for children,” the senior Charkaoui says. “The Canadian ambassador warned us about the cold, about the work situation, but not about the security people.” May 21, 2003 was the beginning of their long education into that aspect of Canada. The family received a phone call in their Montreal North apartment that, after dropping his wife off at a gynecologist’s office in Côte des Neiges, Charkaoui was pulled over by a swarm of RCMP, Montreal and Sûreté du Quebec police officers, plus immigration and CSIS officials, and taken into detention.

Charkaoui is deemed to be a threat to national security, but can see only a short summary of the information gathered against him. Only the judge and government lawyers see the full file. If the certificate is deemed reasonable by the judge, Charkaoui will be deported to Morocco.

At his first court appearance a week later, Charkaoui’s lawyer at the time, Rocco Galati, railed against the process, calling it medieval. Since then, Charkaoui, his family and a small dedicated group calling itself the Coalition for Justice for Adil Charkaoui, have been fighting for a fair and open hearing.

In February 2005, after almost two years in detention, Charkaoui was released on strict conditions. He has fought the court every step of the way, and in 2007, the Supreme Court declared the security certificate process unconstitutional and a new law was passed. His parents are at every court hearing, sitting in the front row.

“I’d never even seen the inside of a courtroom in my life until I came here,” Mohammed Charkaoui says. “Now I spend my life in one.” The new law allows for special advocates, acting on behalf of the suspect, to view protected information in order to poke holes in the government’s assertion that the person is a terrorist. But once the advocates have seen the sensitive information, they can no longer speak with the suspect or his lawyers.

McGill University law professor François Crépeau said the advocates should be trusted to ask questions of the suspect that won’t jeopardize the source, as in criminal cases.

“Why can’t we adopt for these very sensitive cases the same criteria as we do for mafia goons who are killing a lot more people than terrorists?” Crépeau asks. “I think it’s because they aren’t Canadians.

“There is absolutely no reason to treat foreigners totally differently in terms of essential rules of justice.” He said in criminal law, the appearance of justice is important, so often an accused, who is presumed innocent until found guilty, will be released pending his trial.

“But because (security certificates) are under administrative law, the government decided they’ll do whatever they want, and we won’t know anything.” sss From U de M, Charkaoui stops at a Canadian Tire to pay a bill, then pops into a Maxi store to pick up cereal, juice and bananas, all the while dragging his father alongside him. He races home in time to look after his youngest, 3-year-old Asma, so his wife can go to her part-time teaching job.

His mother, Latifa, has prepared a traditional Moroccan meal – a huge platter of couscous smothered with vegetables, lamb and veal. In the background, a small television is tuned to Al Jazeera, broadcasting images of bleeding children and women in Gaza. Charkaoui and his father lay prayer mats on the floor and perform one of five daily prayers before inviting visitors to the table and encouraging them to eat.

In the years since they’ve been battling the courts, the family has witnessed the birth of two children and the marriage of Charkaoui’s younger sister, Hind. But the celebrations have been muted, the cloud of possible deportation forever hanging over their heads.

“Even though he’s an adult, with three children, it’s like he’s still a child, a child that is sick,” Latifa, 57, says. “At least with a normal child, you can send them to the corner store for some milk, but Adil is not even allowed to do that.

“We have our lives to live, too,” she says. “But we are like prisoners in our home, arranging our schedules around his, not able just to go out and enjoy ourselves, to live in peace.” As he eats his meal, Charkaoui glances at his watch and announces he’s going to be late for his appointment with his lawyer. Why not just call and let her know? “I can’t use this phone in my parents’ house, so I’d have to go outside, then upstairs to use my phone,” he says. “It’s faster just to eat and go.” Then it’s off to St. Denis St., with lawyer Johanne Doyon, the only person besides his other lawyer that Adil is allowed to be with without the presence of one parent. So his father, mother and youngest daughter pile into the van and head for the office. Latifa and Asma, now asleep in her car seat, stay in the van, while Adil is escorted by his father into the office and handed over to the lawyer. Mohammed leaves to take his wife to a doctor’s appointment, because Latifa doesn’t have a driver’s licence.

“It’s way more stressful than working,” Mohammed laments. “And what’s more, when I work, at least I get paid.” After the lawyer’s meeting, it’s back home to pray, then off to the gym to relieve the stress built up after clocking 200 kilometres in a single day. Mohammed, as usual, grabs his running shoes and accompanies his son.

“I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been,” he jokes.

After six years of prison, courts, demonstrations, speeches, appearances before parliamentary committees, Charkaoui is philosophical about his fight to clear his name.

“I’ve become an activist without really wanting to, but being pushed into it,” he says. “What I’ve learned through all of this, is our security is not really protected.

“They’ve been spying on me since 1999 – imagine the money they’ve spent and all it’s done is cause a lot of damage to me and my family.” smontgomery@

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