La Presse journalists refuse to reveal sources

Adil Charkaoui’s defence lawyer was stone-walled in court Monday as La Presse journalists took the stand, but the two refused to reveal their sources. The journalists in question, Gilles Toupin and Joel-Denis Bellavance, were cross-examined about how they obtained information regarding Charkaoui’s alleged connection to a terrorist plot.
The journalists obtained a document, said to have come from a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent, that apparently relates a conversation Charkaoui had discussing a terrorist plot. The information was then used in an article published in La Presse in June.
Charkaoui was arrested on a security certificate in 2003 and is currently under house arrest, monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet and forced to be accompanied by his parents whenever he leaves his home. He has yet to be advised of all the evidence against him.
The document contains a conversation obtained by the journalists that allegedly took place between Charkaoui and Hisham Tahir in 2000. La Presse reported that Charkaoui told Tahir, who has links to “Islamic groups” in Montreal, that he planned to fly a plane into an unspecified target in Europe. Charkaoui has vehemently denied this, saying that while this conversation is said to have taken place in 2000, he flew several times between that date and 2003 without any trouble. The article also reported that Charkaoui said he lived in Montreal freely between 2000 and 2003.
While CSIS said it was looking into the leak and requested a police investigation by the RCMP, there have apparently been no revelations.
Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalism (CAJ) said in an interview with The Concordian that, a document that a defendant and his lawyer cannot access should have been made public in the press regardless. She believes it would have been a violation of journalistic practice not to make the information contained in the documents public, regardless of the effect it had on Charkaoui’s reputation.
“The fact is, Charkaoui was in jail for 21 months without charge, he’s still suffering from fairly serious restrictions from his liberty and anything that helps us understand why that was should be made public,” said Welch. She defended the La Presse journalists further, adding that she would have had an ethical problem if the journalists had not published the information.
Welch continued, “In this country we have a tradition of keeping sources confidential because we want to make sure that information gets out there, that people feel confident that if they speak to a journalist and perhaps give us a document, their identity will remain secret. It’s in the public interest to make sure that the confidentiality of sources is maintained.” For this reason Welch says the CAJ fully supports the La Presse journalist’s decision to withhold their sources.
Charkaoui has said in the past that is convinced that his fate will be decided by public opinion. “Now that suspicion has been cast on him and this attack on his reputation has been made in such a public way, it’s very difficult to clear yourself,” said Mary Foster of the Coalition of Justice for Adil Charkaoui. “There’s a lot of racism in our society which is becoming more and more obvious and explicit. Unfortunately, we’re not living in a context where there’s an assumption of innocence if you’re someone with Mr. Charkaoui’s background, so when you throw these allegations out in this way, it’s simply a smear on his reputation,” said Foster.
Foster called the information leaked “unproven, sensationalist allegations” against Charkaoui. “We haven’t seen the actual documents, we have no idea what the context is, we have no idea what’s behind it or why. Certainly, Charkaoui is confident that he was never involved in any plot,” said Foster.
Welch says that while there is no doubt Charkaoui’s reputation has been tarnished by the leak, she is not sure he has been further damaged by the content of the document since he has already been in jail for 21 months without charges.
Nevertheless, these questions of ethical journalism do not change the legal questions surrounding the leak. Foster said it is possible the leak was a well-orchestrated affair, using La Presse as a “conduit” to spread “misformation.” Foster said the source “obviously had an agenda in leaking this information.”
Other evidence made public against Charkaoui includes statements made by convicted terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Noureddine Nafiaa linking him to the Groupe Islamique des Combattants Marocains. However, George W. Bush has said publicly that Zubaydah’s statements were coerced through torture and the same may be true of Nafiaa.
Ahmed Ressam, who was convicted of plotting to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport, also linked Charkaoui to terrorist groups but has since recanted this statement. Journal de Montreal reporter Patrice de Pierrebourg testified on August 22 that Ressam told him in a letter from Guantanamo Bay that he was under “difficult psychological circumstances” when he made these statements. His testimony was originally unreliable because the U.S. Federal Court delayed his sentencing for two years to allow him to provide information in return for a lighter sentence.
On February 23, 2007 the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the use of Security Certificates as unconstitutional, giving a one-year grace period to come up with new legislation.


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