Friday, January 18, 2008

Journalists must answer questions about leaked report in Charkaoui case

The rights of a Montreal man accused of being a terrorist override journalists' privilege to protect their sources, according to a Federal Court ruling issued Friday.

Joël-Denis Bellavance and Gilles Toupin will have to answer questions about how they obtained leaked documents from a retired Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent that formed the basis for an article they wrote in June alleging Charkaoui once had conversations about a plan to hijack a plane and fly it into a building in Europe.

The journalists, both reporters for Montreal newspaper La Presse, must answer questions from Charkaoui's lawyers, who want to know more about the source who leaked the CSIS documents.
Noël ruled in favour of Charkaoui, stating that "the administration of justice and Mr. Charkaoui's fundamental rights have primacy over journalistic privilege and protecting sources."

Charkaoui, a Moroccan-born father of three, has been accused of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, and is subject to a ministerial security certificate issued in May 2003 that severely restricts his movement and activities.The CSIS documents obtained by Bellavance and Toupin were the main source of information for an article published on June 22, 2007 that alleged Charkaoui attended two al-Qaeda training camps and discussed a bomb plot with Hashim Tahir in June 2000.

The article alleged the leaked document was the basis for the 2003 security certificate against Charkaoui, based on information provided by the source.

In his ruling, Noël wrote that the document — Former Terrorist Training Camps in Afghanistan: Major Sites and Assessment — does exist, but is not part of the body of secret evidence used by the federal government to issue the security certificate.

Charkaoui's lawyers wanted to see the document because they have been denied full access to evidence the government used to justify the certificate.

Charkaoui has acknowledged he had hired Tahir to work in a pizzeria, played soccer with him and saw him regularly at a mosque, but has denied he was involved in a plot to fly a plane into a building.

Bellavance has already appeared at one of Charkaoui's trials to answer questions about the document. During his testimony, he refused to reveal the identity of his CSIS sources, citing journalistic privilege.

Charkaoui is involved in several court cases fighting his security certificate, which could lead to his eventual deportation to Morocco.

Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear his appeal contesting security certificate proceedings launched against him, in which he argues CSIS used tainted evidence to detain him.
The top court struck down ministerial certificates in February 2007, ruling they violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But the ruling was suspended until next month to allow the federal government sufficient time to recast its security laws.