April 6, 2004
Supporters of alleged Moroccan terrorist accuse Ottawa of hiding a key report

MONTREAL (CP) - Supporters of alleged terrorist Adil Charkaoui accused Ottawa on Tuesday of trying to hide a report that determined he could be tortured if deported to his native Morocco.

Charkaoui's friends and family were upset by a federal government assessment report on the risks to Charkaoui, who Canada is trying to deport on claims that he's an al-Qaida sleeper agent. Charkaoui has been held in custody on a national security certificate since last May.

The assessment report was dated August 21, 2003, but defence lawyers said they only received it last week.

The document was completed after Charkaoui's lawyers requested he be granted asylum on humanitarian grounds.

The report says the 30-year-old permanent Canadian resident faces "a probability of torture, threats to his life and cruel and unusual punishment" if he's deported.

Supporters of Charkaoui who attended his Federal Court hearing on Tuesday were angry the Immigration Department waited nearly eight months before releasing its opinion on what Charkaoui could face if he returns to Morocco.

"They hid this evaluation from us for eight months," his sister, Hind, told reporters.

"This isn't right. They knew, they had evidence."

A spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency rejected claims the federal government tried to cover up the existence of the report.

Huguette Shouldice said cases are judged on a priority basis, adding Charkaoui, a former graduate student, doesn't face imminent deportation.

"The person is not even facing removal yet," she said from Ottawa.

"So why would that have a priority over somebody else who we've already bought their tickets to go?"

Shouldice said a second risk-assessment report could be written once a judge determines the validity of the security certificate.

She added the government would then weigh the risks to the individual versus the risk to Canada if the suspect were to remain here.

Charkaoui's lawyer, Johanne Doyon, urged the government Tuesday to formally offer protection to Charkaoui, which would override his deportation but keep him behind bars.

Charkaoui has maintained he is innocent.

He has not been charged and hasn't been linked to any specific terrorist plots or attacks.

But the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) says Charkaoui knew terrorists and that his photo was recognized by prominent al-Qaida members, including jailed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam.

Doyon has pointed out Ressam received a lighter sentence in exchange for his information.

A number of character witnesses have testified in Federal Court on behalf of Charkaoui, a former University of Montreal literature student.

Federal Court Justice Simon Noel has twice denied bail to Charkaoui, ruling in January the suspect "still constitutes a danger to national security or the security of others."

Doyon submitted a motion Tuesday to have Noel removed from the case and suggested the judge has already made up his mind about the possible threat posed by Charkaoui.

"Circumstances leave the impression that he already has an opinion on a certain aspect of the file," Doyon said after the hearing.

"And we would naturally prefer to have a judge who doesn't have an opinion on a part of the evidence."

Noel adjourned proceedings Tuesday and was to consider the motion this week.