Saturday, February 24, 2007

Charkaoui hails high court ruling

Catherine Solyom
CanWest News Service; Montreal Gazette

Saturday, February 24, 2007

MONTREAL -Terrorism suspect/high school teacher Adil Charkaoui breathed a long sigh of relief Friday, built up over four years since he was first narrested on the way back from a doctor's appointment and told he was one of Canada's biggest threats to national security.

After two years in a two-metre-by-three-metre cell, followed by two years under virtual house arrest, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Charkaoui's treatment, with no charges ever laid or evidence revealed, was unlawful.

In a unanimous decision handed down Friday, nine Supreme Court Justices quashed the security certificates which have allowed the government to detain Charkaoui and four other Muslim men indefinitely, saying they run counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Today the Supreme Court of Canada said no to Guantanamo North, no to arbitrary detention, no to indefinite detention and no to deportation to torture," said Charkaoui, to applause by friends, family and supporters. "The message is clear. Nine to zero."

Charkaoui and the other so-called "secret trial five" may still have to wait for any real change in their situations, however - the Supreme Court gave the government one year to rewrite the relevant clauses of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act before the decision takes effect.

Until further notice, Charkaoui will still wear his GPS tracking anklet to bed - his "bracelet of shame" as he calls it - and his mother will still have to accompany him to work and back.

Mohamed Harkat, a co-litigant before the Supreme Court who was arrested in 2002 but released into house arrest in 2006, was denied permission even to attend his own celebratory press conference in Ottawa Friday, leaving it to his wife to cry and cheer before the nation's cameras.

And the third co-litigant, Hassan Almrei, is still on a hunger strike in a Kingston, Ont., detention centre built specifically for security detainees last year, and with no closing date in sight.

Charkaoui's lawyer, Dominique Larochelle, said she would examine the decision more closely in the days to come to see what motions she could present to have those bail conditions at least loosened in the interim.

No one would speculate, however, on what the government would come up with to replace the security certificate process.

"I think they should come up with nothing," said former solicitor-general Warren Allmand, now representing the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

"The government will have a difficult time to conceive a law that meets the requirements of the charter... The charter says you're innocent until proven guilty and that's what the Supreme Court said today."

For Charkaoui, the new law has to include the right to a fair trial.

"I still want my name cleared," said the 33 year-old father of three. "I am not a terrorist and I've been saying it for four years... My greatest worry now is that the Conservative Harper government does not respect the court's decision."

Some were disappointed in what the justices didn't say.

For example, the court didn't deal with the issue of deporting terror suspects to countries where they risk being tortured - the end goal of the security certificate process, said Philippe Robert de Massy, of the Quebec Ligue des droits et libertes.

Charkaoui hinted Friday at a possible future lawsuit against the security intelligence service for compensation and a public inquiry to clear his name.

"If the government has something to reproach me of, they should charge me under the criminal code," said Charkaoui, who immigrated from Morocco in 1995. "Instead they locked me up for 21 months. Can you believe they took me to court with chains around my feet and with snipers positioned on the roofs surrounding the federal building? They know I'm innocent and they made me out to be a monster."