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Face to face with Canada's counter-terrorism measures

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University studies are often dominated by abstract concepts and theories which seldom translate into something tangible. Those sacred teaching/learning moments, renowned in their scarcity, when the theoretical is transformed into the demonstrable seem even more elusive when dealing with the subject matter of my class entitled Terrorism and Human Rights.

For the majority of Canadians and most definitely my students here in Fredericton, the practical implications of terrorism and counter-terrorism measures have been held safely away at arm's length. The most concrete example of direct effects of terrorism or counter-terrorism measures for my class has been the new requirement of a passport to enter the United States.

An understanding of the difficulty in translating the theoretical into the practical and consequential can surely be appreciated. Nevertheless, on June 3, 2009, my students came face to face with the consequences of Canada's counter-terrorism measures and the realities they create.

Adil Charkaoui hesitantly entered the class with a book-bag slung over one shoulder. We made our introductions and he seemed very collegial. He began his talk by apologizing for his English, noting it was his third language, and how he was nervous to misspeak due to prior experiences. He was then interrupted by a phone call which he reluctantly answered. Explaining in French, he told the caller he was in the middle of a presentation and asked if he could call back shortly.

"Sorry, it was the government". Indeed, the effects of one policy were becoming increasingly clear for my class.

As I'm sure many readers are aware, Mr. Charkaoui is one of five gentlemen who have been detained in Canada under the provisions of Federal Immigration Security Certificates. In fact, Mr. Charkaoui was the lead plaintiff in a Supreme Court case which resulted in the certificate legislation being declared unconstitutional and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Charkaoui began his talk by explaining his family's journey from Morocco to Canada and how they settled in Montreal. He explained that his family all received citizenship with the exception of himself following the attacks of September 11th. He recounted a meeting with officials whom he thought were from Immigration until it was reviled they were from CSIS and requested his assistance in gathering information about the Muslim community in Montreal. After refusing to collude, he described how his life changed.

An important theme of this class is the balance between counter-terrorism measures and respect for human rights. To what degree can states justify infringing on civil liberties as basic as freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary detention, or the right to habeas corpus?

Mr. Charkaoui painted a vivid picture of the personal consequences resulting from this imbalance - described through his indefinite detention; threats of deportation to a 3rd party where it was assumed on reasonable grounds (established by the government) he would be subjected to torture, cruel or inhumane treatment; infringements on privacy and impediments to maintaining employment as a teacher.

Although his bail restrictions have been relaxed due to a court ruling, Mr. Charkaoui lamented about the stigmatism of being labeled a terrorist and the difficulties in trying to counter such a label and establish some normalcy in his life. For this reason, he has launched a cross-Canada speaking tour aimed at sharing his experiences and the consequences of such repressive legislation as the certificate policy. The effects of which are still omnipresent.

"This is my GPS" he said as he lifted his pant leg to show the device strapped to his ankle. "When I told them that I was going across the country they said I couldn't because the GPS doesn't function on a plane. They were just calling now to let me know that I'll be ‘accommodated' by having two CSIS agents accompany me on my flights."

Mr. Charkaoui seems to be finding himself in the mists of a growing number who have experienced Canada's counter-terrorism policies in the most tangible sense. Mareh Arar has garnered significant media attention to date due to his ordeal in Syria. His experience has since been echoed by three additional men leading to a subsequent inquiry. Abousfian Abdelrazik has been marooned in the Canadian Embassy in Sudan following detention and torture resulting from a tip-off by CSIS (which later found in conjunction with the RCMP that he had no ties to terrorism contrary to their earlier claim). The conservative government is now facing contempt of a federal court order if they do not provide Mr. Abdelrazik with the proper travel documentation by Friday.

I only wish more Canadians could hear these firsthand testimonies, as I am sure they would provide the impetus for a critical analysis of Canada's counter-terrorism policies which needs to take place at a community level as well as in higher government.

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