Charkaoui freed, Ottawa’s terror law shattered

posted on September 25, 2009 | in Category Security Certificates | PermaLink

by Les Perreaux and Colin Freeze Source: The Globe and Mail URL: [link] Date: September 24, 2009 Al-Qaeda suspect freed, Ottawa’s terror law shattered

The final electronic shackle binding a man accused of terrorism to federal supervision was cut Thursday, leaving in tatters the government's security-certificate system for detaining foreigners believed to be a threat. “It's official,” Adil Charkaoui said as he clutched an order issued abruptly by Federal Court Judge Danièle Tremblay-Lamer that lifted all remaining bail conditions on him. “I've been waiting on this for six years.” Held under a security certificate as an al-Qaeda suspect since 2003, the Montreal schoolteacher from Morocco was given back his liberty after the Crown withdrew much of its evidence in a bid to keep it secret. The federal lawyers pleaded with the judge to leave some bail conditions in place while they seek to appeal orders to disclose the information. Judge Tremblay-Lamer freed Mr. Charkaoui even as she postponed making an official ruling on the viability of the case until a final closed-door hearing next week. “The certificate will fall,” she said. “How, is the question.” As Mr. Charkaoui fought the system that allowed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to use secret evidence to brand him a threat, the Supreme Court of Canada twice ordered the spy agency to reveal more of its information.Crown lawyers argued in court in July and August that Judge Tremblay-Lamer, the judge hearing the deportation case, was forcing CSIS to disclose to Mr. Charkaoui more than the Supreme Court had envisioned.

Insisting that its intelligence remains solid, the Crown said it would rather drop the case than reveal how CSIS gets its wiretaps and runs its informers.

“CSIS cannot protect the safety and security of Canadians effectively if the subjects of its investigations are aware of its methods of operation,” CSIS spokesman Manon Berube said in e-mail to The Globe. “It is imperative that a security intelligence service protect its methodologies and investigative techniques.”

The Crown withdrew most of the evidence, and asked Judge Tremblay-Lamer to request that appellate courts to sort out questions about CSIS disclosure issues.

All of that set the stage for Thursday's hearing into the “reasonableness” of the security certificate. And, as almost no evidence was in play any more, the question was not whether Mr. Charkaoui would walk, but how soon.

Lead defence lawyer Johanne Doyon blasted the government in court for “legal acrobatics.”

“As soon as we get to the point where we can question the reliability and credibility of their evidence,” she said. “They flee like thieves into the night.”

None of this mattered a whit to Mr. Charkaoui as his remaining fetters were removed. Immediately after the hearing, one of his lawyers poked her head out of a meeting room.

“Does anybody have a screwdriver?” asked Lucie Joncas.

A few minutes later, her client was on the courthouse steps, using scissors to cut the small black electronic transmitter from his ankle. Mr. Charkaoui had worn the GPS beacon for four years as a bail condition, and so that federal agents would know his whereabouts at all times. “It's just a small piece of metal and plastic,” he said. “But it symbolizes a lot more for me psychologically.”

His mother ululated and yelled “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for “God is great!” – as the plastic bracelet was removed.

Crown lawyers were almost apologetic Thursday as they angled for an appeal. Until Thursday, Canada's government and courts had held Mr. Charkaoui – jailed between 2003 and 2005 – as a high-level threat.

Now he wants an apology, and says he will decide whether to launch a lawsuit later.

CSIS initiates security-certificate cases – essentially expedited deportation bids – by presenting its information to judges and ministers in secret hearings. However, several high court judges have ordered greater transparency – often as a result of legal challenges from Mr. Charkaoui.

Courts have generally agreed it would be inhumane to send men branded as terrorists to police states. For these and other reasons, the five active security-certificate cases are proving irresolvable.

They are all legacies of mid-1990s intelligence investigations, all involving immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa suspected of ties to al-Qaeda.

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