Security certificate regime suffers another blow

But the battle against 'big brother' is far from over ...

Four years after Adil Charkaoui was placed under draconian "preventive conditions", he will finally be able to walk out of his front door without his mother and father. A decision by the Federal Court released on Friday, 20 February 2009 did away with the bulk of the conditions which have suffocated the Charkaoui family since Adil was released from prison on 18 February 2005. (Read decision here.)

In an impromptu press conference, Adil told journalists how much he was looking forward to things that would seem completely banal to most people, such as going out to a restaurant with his wife and children or taking the kids to the park by himself. For the first time since he left prison four years ago, he was able to make a phone call from a telephone outside his home. His tentative plans for the evening included a late-night drive around the city with his family.

Adil is no longer barred from using the internet and there are no longer any restrictions on his use of telephone, cell phone or fax. He will not have to present himself at the Canadian Border Services Agency every week; he no longer has to live in the same building as his mother or father. He has no curfew. He will be able to leave the island of Montreal. His father will no longer be required to write regular reports about his behaviour. Most importantly, he is able to leave his home alone, unaccompanied by his mother and father. Basic liberties that were stolen from him for four years have, for the most part, been restored. His parents are freed from the burden of playing prison guard and spy to their son.

Significantly for the future of his case, Federal Court Judge Tremblay Lamer wrote that, "if (Charkaoui) had had the profile of a sleeper agent nine years ago, it is obvious that it could no longer be the same today in light of the publicity surrounding his case." (40) Giving even stronger grounds for optimism, the judge also stated that the evidence before her did not indicate that Adil poses any danger to others. (42)

Asked by a reporter "what more he wanted" Adil said "Justice!". He went on to explain that he wanted, above all, to clear his name.

As significant as yesterday's decision was, the Charkaouis' struggle is far from over. The conditions, just like the 21 months Adil spent in prison, were imposed without any court decision on the validity of the security certificate itself. This decision has never been made in Adil's case (neither for the original certificate issued in May 2003 nor for the certificate that was issued in February 2008 under the revised law). Adil thus faces a continuing court process under an unconstitutional and unjust law and still lives under the threat of having the conditions re-imposed and of being deported to Morocco.

Furthermore, he is still forced to undergo the humiliation of wearing a GPS-tracking bracelet and a series of other invasive restrictions, including: the obligation to notify the government of any change of address; surrendering his passport and other travel papers to the Canadian Border Services Agency; notifying authorities 48-hours in advance before leaving Montreal; allowing the Canadian Border Services Agency access to his computer at any time without prior notice; and non-association with any person who is deemed to represent a threat to 'national security' or who has a criminal record. (44)

The judgement is silent about why any conditions - let alone these particular conditions - are necessary or justified. It refers in passing to the need to, "assure that the danger remains neutralized until the Court determination of the reasonability of the certificate" (37), but fails to establish that there was any danger in the first place. On the contrary, the only part of the judgement which assesses the weight of the evidence concludes, as noted above, that there is no risk of a crime being committed and that Adil does not pose a danger to others (42). More place is given to explaining why the former conditions should no longer be imposed (36 to 41) than to justifying those which are retained. There is a clear echo of "guilty until proven innocent", with the unproven opinion of the spy agency CSIS still being taken so seriously that it is considered sufficient grounds to restrict the freedom of an individual, without so much as an explanation.

There is far to go in the fight against the dangerous ideology that gained so much ground after 11 September 2001. In the press conference, Adil highlighted two symbols of this ongoing struggle: Guantanamo North, the detention centre in Kingston built especially for security certificate detainees, has not yet been closed; and Omar Khadr is still in Guantanamo Bay.

Moreover, three other security certificate detainees - Mohamed Harkat, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Mohammad Mahjoub - and their families remain under the most extreme form of house arrest in Ontario. Hassan Almrei remains in Guantanamo North, despite having been ordered released over a month ago. Decisions on whether to continue their conditions are expected in the coming weeks.

Friday's victory - the work of literally hundreds of people over the past years - is clearly only a tiny step towards justice and democracy. Continued community support and activism on these issues remains as important as ever.

Mainstream media coverage of the decision:
- Montreal Gazette
- La Presse canadienne