As a Canadian, CSIS makes me feel less secure



MONTREAL (31 May 2003) -- SO CSIS, Canada's national spy agency, says that for "national security" reasons we are not allowed to know the full evidence they are alleged to have against Adil Charkaoui. We are asked to trust them because if they publicly reveal what evidence they have against Mr. Charkaoui, the security of Canadians would be compromised.

On Wednesday evening May 21, Adil Charkaoui, aged 30, a landed immigrant originally from Morocco and father of one, with another child on the way, was arrested in Montreal and is currently being held in detention under a "national security certificate" charged with "secret evidence," which alleges he is a terrorist. Neither he nor his defence know what the full charges are against him. Since no one, except CSIS, the Solicitor General, the Immigration Minister and Federal Court Justice Simon Noel knows what the evidence is against him, Mr. Charkaoui is unable to defend himself and challenge his accusers.

But yet, CSIS says, it is all about "national security."

Well, first of all, I agree with Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) Executive Director Audrey Jamal who stated recently that "It is un-Canadian to hold someone without charges or proof of guilt; this flies against the basic rules of justice."

In a recent statement CAF referred to 'Security Certificates' as "an insult to Canadians" and I couldn't agree more.

Canadians are asked to rely on the good faith of the authorities and that they will do the right thing. The problem is that this method does not provide for the proper checks and balances embedded in usual criminal proceedings here in Canada. How do we know the authorities are not acting on prejudice or making many mistakes?

In fact, we don't know under this system. The evidence against Mr. Charkaoui must be made known to him and his lawyers immediately so they can review the material and prepare a proper response to his accusers, in this case, CSIS. If the bulk of the evidence against Mr. Charkaoui is not disclosed he will be left to defend himself in the dark.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that" Everyone has the right on arrest or detention to be informed promptly of the reasons therefore" and, also in section 11, everyone has the right "to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal."

These principles are not being respected in the case of Mr. Charkaoui, and several others who find themselves under similar circumstances who are charged with "secret evidence."

If CSIS can knock on my door in the dead of night, haul me away and say they have secret evidence against me which I or my lawyer are not allowed to see, then as far as I am concerned allowing this to happen is a threat to Canada's national security. No one will be safe in this country as we make this slippery descent into barbarism.

Rocco Galati, Mr. Charkaoui's lawyer, put it this way after Charkaoui's initial court hearing yesterday: "This is the same process we saw in France before the revolution with lettres de cachet, and it's the same process we used during the Second World War against Japanese and Italian Canadians who were interned."

"It is medieval," he further stated.

I could not agree more. So called "security certificates" and the use of "secret evidence" should be scrapped immediately. Judges need to hear both sides of the story in a court of law, and defence lawyers need to retain the right to cross examine those presenting that evidence.

Like all other Canadians, I too am concerned about national security and desire for me, my family and fellow Canadians a safe environment in which to live. But at this moment in time, the practices of CSIS is not doing anything to contribute to that sense of security. With the use of "secret evidence" and "security certificates" the civil liberties and human rights of all those living in Canada are under attack, and that should be a cause of concern for all Canadians.

It is Charkaoui today, but who knows, maybe it will be you tomorrow.

* Yahya Abdul Rahman is the editor of the online Montreal Muslim News Network www.montrealmuslimnews.net. This article also appeared in The New Catholic Times


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