Adil Charkaoui: Six years in legal labyrinth

Posted by admin on Aug 26th, 2009

August 26, 2009, Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star

In the topsy-turvy world of security, few stories are more bizarre than that of Adil Charkaoui. Six years ago, the federal government jailed him as an alleged Al Qaeda sleeper agent. Now, it turns out, the government admits it has no credible evidence of that or indeed anything else against him that it’s willing to test in court. But the government still wants the 36-year-old Montrealer – who has applied for but not yet been granted Canadian citizenship – deported to his native Morocco. Charkaoui is one of five Muslim men, non-citizens all, caught up in the Catch-22 web of Canadian immigration law. This allows the government – under judicial oversight – to jail without charge and eventually deport any non-citizen it deems a security risk.

The judicial oversight clause is important. Even though the law is stacked against detainees (secret evidence is permitted), all five have managed to convince judges that they are not as dangerous as the government claims and need not be kept in jail.

Charkaoui, however, is the legal star of the five. He’s won two Supreme Court challenges and, as he gradually demolished Ottawa’s case against him, managed to make the government look like an idiot.

In 2003, when Charkaoui was first arrested, the government’s claim he was an Al Qaeda sleeper agent made headlines across the country. But earlier this year, CSIS senior manager Ted Flanigan admitted in court that the spy agency has no evidence of that. Rather, Flanigan said, CSIS believed that Charkaoui “meets the profile” of a sleeper agent – which is to say, he could be one.

“A (real) sleeper agent would be completely different,” Flanigan acknowledged.

At one point, the government claimed that Charkaoui once attended a Pakistani terrorist training camp. It has now quietly dropped that allegation. Ditto to government claims – again widely reported – that he once discussed how to seize a commercial airliner. That too has evaporated.

But what finally sandbagged the government’s case was Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer’s ruling this spring ordering Ottawa to reveal hitherto secret material in open court. Exactly what she ordered released is unknown. But given the traditional deference of the courts on issues of national security, it’s a good bet that Tremblay-Lamar didn’t tell the Crown to pony up the names of secret informants or reveal material from foreign spy agencies.

It’s more likely that she concluded that the government was using national security as an excuse to protect evidence too weak to withstand cross-examination.

Ottawa’s response was to withdraw most of its evidence against Charkaoui, acknowledging that whatever remains can’t sustain its claim that he’s a security threat. Tremblay-Lamer is expected to rule next month on whether to throw out the entire case.

Reached by phone this week, the subject of all this attention was more angry than triumphant. A former French teacher, Charkaoui can’t get a job because of the terror allegations hanging over his head. And he’s still waiting to hear back from Ottawa about the application for Canadian citizenship he made 10 years ago. “They tell me: `We’re still studying your case,'” he says wryly.

As for his six-year ordeal, he does not want to let the government slink quietly away. Instead, he’s hoping that Tremblay-Lamer will slam Ottawa for what he says was a blatant abuse of process.

“I want my name cleared,” he says. “I want them to say clearly that they have no evidence against me.”

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday and Saturday.

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