David and Goliath - a national minority versus the State

(11 September 2003) -- DOCUMENTS of the Canadian Security Information Service (CSIS) released by the federal court on May 23, at the onset of the hearing to determine whether Adil Charkaoui will be deported to Morocco or not, included information on interrogations it carried out with Charkaoui before and after the September 11 tragedy and a CSIS summary.

Charkaoui was interrogated by CSIS on three occasions: 14 September 2001, 27 February 2001 and 26 July 2002.

In their documents, CSIS states that Charkaoui confirmed that agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) held him for four hours on 30 January 2001 at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on his return from Morocco to Montreal. "The FBI told Mr. Charkaoui that he had been placed on a list of international terrorists sought for having carried out activities in support of terrorism." CSIS says that he denied any involvement in a terrorist organization, but that he refused to swear that he had never heard a conversation about blowing up an airplane (interrogation 27 February 2001).

CSIS claims that Charkaoui denied having received training in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, which the Canadian government is alleging (interrogation of 26 July 2002). It also states that he remained evasive when asked if he was ready to take a lie detector test and that he told them that Al-Qaeda did not have the resources to carry out attacks such as September 11. They allege he said that US right-wing extremists or unhappy US army officers could have been responsible for September 11.

The CSIS tried to coerce him into becoming an informant, Charkaoui says. In this case the burden of the proof is on Charkaoui, who is considered guilty until proven innocent. Under the cover of presenting a threat to national security, through a process contained in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, his rights and freedoms have been quashed. Neither he nor his defence are given access to secret evidence and to the arguments of the Crown prosecutors, rendering it impossible for him to prepare his case.

The right to a fair trial is a fundamental human right against arbitrariness, revenge and the danger of error. However, the Governor in Council, that is the government of the day, can pass any law they want as long as they have the majority in the House.

Victor Regalado, a Salvadoran refugee, was granted refugee status in Canada in 1982, which was later taken away from him by the government because he supposedly constituted a threat to the national security of Canada. Here is what former Bloc MP for Bourassa Osvaldo Nuñez told the House of Commons in September of 1996:

"The processing of his case is a typical example of the negligence and lack of compassion shown by the successive immigration ministers and officials who dealt with it since 1982. How can we explain that an individual can live in this country for 14 years, study, work, start a family and raise children without having any kind of status? If that is not negligence and lack of compassion, I do not know what is.

"Finally, thanks to numerous interventions on my part, especially in this House, and to those of many organizations and public figures, Victor Regalado, who had been deported, was allowed to come back to Canada to submit an application for permanent residence after the Government of Quebec issued him a selection certificate. I ask the minister to act as quickly as possible on this case. Mr. Regalado has suffered enough as it is.

"I also hope that CSIS will apologize to Mr. Regalado and explain in what way he poses a threat to Canada. Holding secret files on individuals as peace-loving and law-abiding as Mr. Regalado is not the proper way to do things in a democratic country.

"I would like to salute the courage, determination and perseverance shown by Mr. Regalado during the 14 years he spent in Canada. I take this opportunity to congratulate him for the great battles he fought for social justice, freedom and democracy in his country of origin, El Salvador. I wish him well in all his future endeavours and I hope he will at last be able to live a normal life with his family."

Mr. Stan Keyes (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport at the time) provided the following response on behalf of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration:

"The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration was very forthright in her initial response to his inquiries. Her position and the position of her department is clear.

"The actions taken are in accordance with the law and regulations laid out in the Canadian Immigration Act. It is just that simple. There is nothing draconian or mean-spirited about the government's actions in this case. It is simply carrying out its duties by the rules. We have a good immigration system. It has served this country well over the years and it continues to do so.

"We have a duty to defend the integrity of this system. This means respecting the laws and regulations that govern it. I do not see why in this specific case we would ignore the acts and regulations relating to immigration. It is not up to the government to pick and choose which laws it enforces and which it disregards.

"I know that the hon. member for Bourassa would like me to get into more details of this case but I cannot do that. The Privacy Act simply does not permit me to do it.

"As the hon. member is aware from his own meetings with Mr. Regalado and from reading the newspapers, I can say that Mr. Regalado complied with the legal requirement to leave Canada and has now re-entered Canada on the basis of a minister's permit to allow him time to apply for permanent residence. Like anyone else who applies for permanent residence in Canada, Mr. Regalado will have to meet all immigration requirements if he wants to be landed.

"The government has acted with compassion, understanding and fairness in this instance. It has fully respected both the spirit and the letter of the Canada-Quebec accord."

In the case of Victor Regalado, it took 14 years, Quebec government involvement and public outcry to clear his name. In the case of Adil Charkaoui, what will it take? Compassion, understanding and fairness, as far as the vast majority of the people are concerned, is an entirely different matter. As is justice, in the true sense of the word.

Today, it is Charkaoui who is being tried. Who will it be tomorrow?

*Diane Johnston writes on security and citizenship issues for TML Daily
Source: TML Daily, September 11, 2003 - No. 165. Second Anniversary of 9/11

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