Adil Charkaoui says life in Canada started as a dream but suddenly turned into a nightmare.
Charkaoui, one of five men held on security certificates in Canada, spoke at Renaissance College in Fredericton on June 2. The talk, hosted by the Fredericton Peace Coalition (FPC), was part of Charkaoui’s cross-country tour to tell his story and ask for support for the abolishment of security certificates in Canada.
Charkaoui and his mother, father and sister moved from Morocco to Canada in 1995. Charkaoui finished his Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature in 1997 and started to teach in a private school in Montreal. In 1998, he sponsored his wife to come to Canada. In 1999, he applied to become a Canadian citizen and he says this is when his problems began. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency, CSIS, began calling and arranging meetings with him. Charkaoui, at the time 24 years old, says he was naïve and trusted the system. He felt that Canada was a country of law, justice and human rights. That would soon change.
On May 21, 2003, Charkaoui was arrested at gunpoint after a security certificate was issued against him by the Canadian government. He was accused of being a threat to national security but not told why. He was told that he would be deported back to Morocco in three days.
Charkaoui describes the threat of being deported as psychological torture: “Can you imagine? I lived under the fear that I would be taken away from my roots, my parents and sister live in Montreal, and my fruits, my children.” Today, his wife is expecting their fourth child.
Charkaoui and his lawyer were not allowed to see any of the evidence against him. They were only told that he fit a profile and that “he could have been, could be or could in the future be a member of al Qaeda.” The pieces of his background that were used against him included that he was a young and educated Arab, and a Muslim. Charkaoui was the first of the so-called “Secret Trial 5” to be released, in 2005, after spending almost two years in jail. However, he was not released as a free man. He like the other four Muslim Arab men held on security certificates have all been released, butmust live under very strict conditions.
Security certificates were denounced as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in February 2007. The Supreme Court said security certificates violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court gave the government a year to come up with a new system. The federal government introduced Bill C-3 in September 2007. Bill C-3 introduced a system of special advocates appointed by the government who are able to see the evidence against those held on security certificates.However, the Bill did nothing to guarantee a fair trial or ensure minimum international standards for human rights.
In January 2008, members of FPC met with then Fredericton MP Andy Scott to urge him to vote against Bill C-3. Like most Liberal MPs, Scott did not vote against Bill C-3 and it was passed in February 2008. FPC has organized film screenings, information pickets and vigils to raise awareness about the security certificates.
Last June, CSIS was denounced by a federal court judge for destroying files in the case against Charkaoui. Today, CSIS is being denounced by a federal court judge for withholding evidence in the case against Hassan Almrei, the last man to be released from the special prison built to hold the security certificate detainees in Kingston, Ontario – the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, also known as Guantanamo North. Almrei was detained the longest, for seven years, without charges or trial and under the constant threat of deportation to torture. Almrei staged a number of hunger strikes to protest his detention. When Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day visited the detention centre in early 2007, he flippantly responded to concerns over the detention and health of security certificate prisoners, by remarking that the men had chocolate sauce in their fridge.
Earlier this year, the federal court lifted almost all of the conditions that had been imposed on Charkaoui since his release from prison. This meant, among other things, that he could travel freely outside Montreal for the first time in four years. However, he must wear a GPS tracking device on his ankle at all times and he must alert the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) 48 hours before leaving his home city of Montreal. When asked if he would like to check email upon arriving in Fredericton, Charkaoui declined saying he is not allowed to use the Internet outside of his home.
Charkaoui told his incredible story to a crowd of approximately 30 people in Fredericton on a warm June evening. He explained that his father should have received a Masters degree because he had to accompany him to his university classes while he completed his Masters degree. His mother had to sit in the back of the class while he taught high school.
“After six years of the misuse of public money to harass me,” said Charkaoui, “I demand a public apology.” Besides calling for the abolishment of security certificates, he is also asking that the federal government close the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre.
The audience was clearly moved by Adil’s story and took postcards calling for an end to security certificates to send to their MPs. T-shirts were sold and materials about security certificates were taken from an information table.
The day after his public talk, Charkaoui spoke in two university classes at St. Thomas University and attended a brown bag luncheon with a dozen professors from the university. Charkaoui headed to the airport mid-afternoon.
Charkaoui’s Air Canada flight was turned around en route to Montreal. The purported reason for the turnaround was because the flight was over U.S. airspace. However, he has had no problems flying over U.S. airspace on the way to Halifax and Vancouver. He is currently calling for an inquiry into why his flight was turned around. Upon debarking from the plane in Fredericton, he was told that his GPS unit was not working and he would have to be accompanied by two CBSA agents until the unit was working again. Charkaoui rented a car and drove back to Montreal with a member of FPC on the following day. They were followed by the CBSA agents from Fredericton to Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, where they were told the GPS unit was working again. He got home one day after originally planned to a worried family and missed appointments.
While the FPC has been unable to get a meeting with the new Fredericton area MP, Keith Ashfield (Conservative), to discuss security certificates, the calls to abolish security certificates are increasing. At their annual convention in early June, the New Brunswick Federation Labour, the province’s leading labour voice, representing over 35,000 workers, passed a resolution condemning security certificates. The resolution put forward by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers states that the federation will “support the fight to abolish the security certificate system and will continue to work, through the CLC (Canadian Labour Congress) and human rights groups and civil liberties organizations opposing the violations of human rights and civil liberties involved in so-called ‘national security’ initiatives.”
Charkaoui is demanding an end to this six-year tribulation and a public apology.