Project Fly Home denounces in the strongest of terms the leak of false secret information about Abousfian Abdelrazik which led to the La Presse article of 4 August 2011 entitled “Une conversation compromettante entre Charkaoui et Abdelrazik” by Pierre-André Normandin. Project Fly Home also denounces Jason Kenney’s assertion that people are misguided if they support people whom the Canadian government has designated as “harmful” to Canada. This assertion attacks all who stand up for the marginalized and the excluded in society and carries overtones of a dangerous state authoritarianism.
We call for an investigation into this leak and demand that those responsible be held accountable. We furthermore call on other organizations and individuals in Canada to join us in denouncing Jason Kenney and demanding his resignation.
Mr. Abdelrazik categorically denies the many vicious allegations that were made against him in Mr. Normadin’s article and subsequent coverage and challenges his accusers to come out into the public and present their evidence in the light of day.
This leak took place in the context of Mr. Abdelrazik’s attempt to get himself off the UN sanctions blacklist (established by Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1989 – not a “no fly“ list, but a regime that prohibits cross-border travel and imposes an asset freeze); his attempt – through a lawsuit – to hold the government accountable for the role they played in his imprisonment, torture and six-year exile in Sudan; and his court challenge to Canadian legislation implementing the UN blacklist here.
Below, we respond to some of the confusion generated by the media coverage of the orchestrated leak. This leak and Mr. Kenney’s rapid response were an attempt to manipulate the public, to intimidate and silence those who stand up for justice, and to stir up attitudes of Islamophobia and racism in our society. Project Fly Home calls on others in Montreal, across Quebec and Canada, as well as our allies around the world, to reject this attack on our freedom, to redouble efforts to free Mr. Abdelrazik from the unjust UN blacklist, and to continue fighting such measures as blacklists and security certificates in support of freedom, justice and equality.
Allegations dismissed by the Federal Court, CSIS, RCMP and Transport Canada
These are not new allegations. The airplane plot is not a new story. A different report, referring to the same alleged conversation, was leaked to La Presse in June 2007, at a critical point in Adil Charkaoui’s case. (At the time, the RCMP announced that it was launching a criminal investigation into the leak of the secret report. CSIS said it was conducting an internal investigation into how their secret report came into the hands of journalists. No results from either investigation have ever been made public.) The 2007-leaked report was subsequently made available to the Federal Court, which went out of its way to conclude, in January 2008, that there was no proof to substantiate the allegations of a plot to blow up a plane. The Federal Court judge who threw out Charkaoui’s certificate in 2009 came to a similar conclusion in her judgements on this case.
In Abdelrazik’s case, both CSIS and RCMP stated in formal letters to the federal government in October 2007 that they had, for all intents and purposes, no information that Abdelrazik was involved in any criminal activity. It was on the basis of these letters that the Canadian government submitted an application for Abdelrazik to be removed from the UN Security Council’s blacklist in 2007 (the letters are available on Project Fly Home’s website). Neither man was ever charged in connection with the allegations contained in the leaked documents.
Similarly, it is important to note that neither Abdelrazik nor Charkaoui are on Canada’s no fly list. During a speaking tour organized last year, Abdelrazik took several flights across Canada. Charkaoui has also flown in Canada since his security certificate case crumbled in 2009. This means that Transport Canada, apparently the recipient of this purported CSIS document, did not take the story seriously.
“Always on the radar” and racial profiling
Former CSIS agent Michel Juneau Katsuya is quoted in the La Presse article as suggesting that, when a person “constantly reappears on the radar”, an inquiry is justified. This isn’t just about a neighbour taking revenge, he says, it is a question of many successive events. The image evoked in Mr. Katsuya’s observation is one of “the radar” impartially sweeping all of society, seeking out dangerous behaviour in an objective manner. But, after all we have learned about racial profiling in the past decade, that is a difficult image to accept.
Another explanation about why certain people keep reappearing on the radar is that they are “in the sites”: whether because of their profile (e.g. pious Muslim, politically active Arab); or because CSIS has a certain theory about what constitutes suspicious behaviour (travelling to certain countries or praying); or because of some triggering event (such as a neighbour seeking revenge). Once a person comes onto the screen of the security agencies, they become a ‘person of interest’; they are tracked. More scrutiny leads to more “incidents” – behaviour that could be perfectly innocent but which someone seeking to justify an inquiry might construe as suspicious.
In legal circles there is a phenomenon called “tunnel vision”: the police develop a theory about someone and systematically gather or even seek out information that tends to support that theory while disregarding or discarding information that would tend to undermine it. This particular kind of unfairness has been the subject of scrutiny by the courts in criminal cases. CSIS has often come under criticism for building its cases in this way.
Irresponsible journalism compounding injustice
In the first instance, it is irresponsible of La Presse to have published the story at all, given the circumstances surrounding the story’s basis—the leaked CSIS document. These circumstances include the anonymity of the source of the leak, the lack of confirmation of the validity of the document, the dubiousness of the information contained in the leaked document, the dismissal of the same or similar information as valid evidence in a Federal Court case, the damage the story would cause to the two men at its centre as well as to their families, and the high probability that the information was intended to achieve ends that could not be achieved by legitimate means.
In the second instance, the article, in its form and its content, represents an instance of irresponsible and sensationalizing journalistic and editorial practice. The main article treats as factual and as straightforwardly true the information contained in the CSIS documents leaked to La Presse. This, despite serious questions about the validity of the leaked information raised by lawyers representing the two men. The information is questioned in respect of its timing and purpose, its veracity and reliability. Yet, the La Presse writer constructs the story as if the information contained in the leaked documents (the allegedly transcripted phone conversation) was truthful and authentic. At certain points, he even embellishes the story, adding in elements of his own to make it more sensational.
Rather than make the story’s focus the context and the circumstances of the leak – the veracity and reliability of the information contained in the leaked documents, the motive behind publishing the allegations at this time and in this way, the way that CSIS conducts its investigations-, Mr. Normandin chooses to put the alleged conversation at the centre of the story. While this may give the story more sensationalistic appeal, it does so at the expense of truth and justice and at the expense of the two men who have been struggling to free themselves from the unfair and draconian measures and processes to which they have been subject for many years. La Presse has simply compounded the injustices that have resulted from the punitive measures used against the two men: security certificates in the case of Charkaoui and the UN 1267 sanctions regime in the case of Abdelrazik. Both men have been fighting the unjust punitive practices to which they have been subject including the holding of secret trials, torture or the threat of torture, the use of secret evidence to justify punitive measures, the denial of an opportunity to fairly respond to accusations in a independent tribunal, and being treated as guilty by association.
Feeding Islamophobia and racism
Beyond the main article’s effects on the men at the centre of the story, it is accompanied by images and supplementary information (the profiles) that pander to widespread stereotypical beliefs about Muslims, Arabs and people of colour. La Presse was not deterred by any consideration of the wider deleterious effects of the article’s graphic content—for instance, the menacing image portrayal of Charkaoui and Abdelrazik accompanying the extracts of the alleged conversation. This kind of imaging simply continues a pattern of negative portrayal of Arabs and Muslims, especially Arab and Muslim men, prevalent in North American media for decades. It is a shameful instance of stereotyping.
Additionally, the presentation of the profiles of six men (“Six portraits”) includes no explanation or contextualization. The effect is to leave open to interpretation the meaning of the collection of portraits. It is especially misleading to include the portrait of Abu-Zubaida among the six. It suggests that there is some sort of connection between him and the others, while none exists. Moreover, the US has radically changed its position on Abu-Zubaida, no longer believing that he is the important figure they once believed him to be. The section appears simply as gratuitous sensationalism.
For more information: www.peoplescommission.org/en/abdelrazik