Abdelrazik and Charkaoui: Questions Ministers Should be Asking

General commentary

As was widely reported several days ago, La Presse ran a story describing an alleged conspiracy between Adil Charkaoui and Abousifian Abdelrazik to highjack an aircraft using an explosive device.  To summarize: the plot was apparently revealed in a conversation between the two, recorded by CSIS in 2000.  It would appear that the document leaked to La Presse is not an actual transcript but a four page, 2004 document citing portions of this recorded conversation. 

The revelation comes as the two men pursue separate lawsuits for their quite different hardships: Abdelrazik at the hands of the Sudanese authorities acting in arresting him in Sudan at the request (he alleges) of Canadian officials and Charkaoui in response to the lengthy (and ultimately collapsed) security certificate case against him.

In response to the press reports, immigration minister Jason Kenny is quoted in the Globe and Mail as follows: "I read the protected confidential dossiers on such individuals, and I can tell you that, without commenting on any one individual, some of this intelligence makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck ... I just think people should be patient and thoughtful and give the government and its agencies the benefit of the doubt.”

I leave it others to ask whether the security services' track record over the last decade in its use (and misuse) of intelligence entitles the government to the "benefit of the doubt".  I confine my comments to the following questions Minister Kenny (and even more so, public safety Minister Toews) should now be asking:

1. Why, officials, were no criminal charges laid?

Conspiracy to hijack and aircraft is a crime.  It was also a crime in 2000.  Section 76 of the Criminal Code dates to 1972.  It reads:

Every one who, unlawfully, by force or threat thereof, or by any other form of intimidation, seizes or exercises control of an aircraft with intent

(a) to cause any person on board the aircraft to be confined or imprisoned against his will,

(b) to cause any person on board the aircraft to be transported against his will to any place other than the next scheduled place of landing of the aircraft,

(c) to hold any person on board the aircraft for ransom or to service against his will, or

(d) to cause the aircraft to deviate in a material respect from its flight plan,

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life.

Under section 7 of the Code, this a crime whether it takes place in Canada or abroad.  Indeed, conspiracy to hijack an aircraft is a crime whether it takes place inside or outside Canada.

So, on assumption that the CSIS document is accurate, one must ask why no criminal charges were laid.  Why, instead, was Abdelrazik (allegedly) outsourced to the Sudanese and Charkaoui tied up in an ultimately fruitless security certificate. 

The conventional answer is that CSIS doesn't like sharing its secret intelligence marbles -- but then, wasn't this document just provided to La Presse?  So maybe the marbles get shared according to the flavour of the era or the needs of the Service.  Maybe these strategic leaks are the sort of underregulated tactics of disruption that CSIS's review body, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, has warned about?  Please, officials, inform the ministers.

2. Which also begs the question, officials, about whether there is now a criminal investigation into the leak of this document.

The government keeps its secrets secret, except when it doesn't.  Less than laudatory things were said about Maher Arar by someone in the RCMP and splashed about the Ottawa Citizen.  And so the RCMP launched an investigation -- a lousy one from their perspective, actually, given that it resulted in reporter Juliet O'Neill's successful lawsuit against them.  But the point remains: the Security of Information Act should be as good for the goose as for the gander.  So please, officials, and with all due regard to police independence, the ministers look forward to a vigorous investigation of this leak.

3. Meanwhile, speaking of information sharing, please explain to me, officials, why the RCMP reported in November 2007 that it had "conducted a review of its files and was unable to locate any current and substantive information that indicates Mr. Abdelrazik is involved in criminal activity."

Were they wrong, or was CSIS still hoarding its marbles even from the RCMP (with whom it is supposed to be sharing more cooperatively)?  And are we to suppose that the alleged 2000 conversation was insufficiently useful in making the government's case about Abdelrazik during controversy over his repatriation from Sudan that it needn't have been invoked in that debate?  Please advise the ministers, officials.

Those inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt will have no doubt that, even as I write, all these questions are being asked and answered.