Canada high court stands up for civil liberties


Richard Moore

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Canada's high court strikes down anti-terrorism law that detains suspects 

The Associated Press
Friday, February 23, 2007

OTTAWA: The Supreme Court struck down one of Canada's most contentious 
anti-terrorism provisions Friday, declaring it unconstitutional to indefinitely 
detain foreign terror suspects while the courts review their deportation orders.

The unanimous ruling was a blow to the government's anti-terrorism regulations. 
Five Arab Muslim men have been held for years under the "security certificate" 
program, which the Justice Department had called a key tool in the fight against
global terrorism and essential to national security.

Human rights activists and lawyers for the men hailed the ruling as historic and
a victory for those who believe fundamental rights and freedoms have been 
overshadowed by the demands of national security since the Sept. 11, 2001, 
attacks on the United States.

The high court suspended the judgment from taking effect for a year, to give 
Parliament time to rewrite the part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection 
Act that covers the certificates.

The security certificates were challenged by three men from Morocco, Syria and 
Algeria ‹ all alleged by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to have ties
to al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.

The law currently allows sensitive intelligence to be heard behind closed doors 
by a federal judge, with only sketchy summaries given to defense attorneys.

The men risk being labeled terrorists and sent back to their native countries, 
where they face possible torture.

The court called this a fundamental violation of their human rights.

"The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: 
before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must 
accord them a fair judicial process," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in 
a ruling for all nine justices.

"The secrecy required by the scheme denies the person named in a certificate the
opportunity to know the case put against him or her, and hence to challenge the 
governments case," she said.

The court said the men and their lawyers should have a right to respond to the 
evidence used against them by intelligence agents and noted that a law in 
Britain allows special advocates to review such sensitive intelligence material.

The Justice Department said it would have no comment.

Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day issued a statement saying the government
would address the court's ruling "in a timely and decisive fashion," but noted 
that since the ruling does not take place for a year, the certificates would 
remain in place.

"The security certificate process has been in place since 1978 to protect 
Canadians against threats to their safety and security," said Day, who was 
meeting his U.S. counterpart, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on 

Two of the men are out on bail and remain under house arrest.

"This is a very great day, a great victory," said a beaming Adil Charkaoui 
surrounded by supporters and family members in Montreal. "Today the Supreme 
Court of Canada in a 9-0 decision said No to Guantanamo North, no to arbitrary 
detention, no to indefinite detention."

Charkaoui, 33, is a native of Morocco and a former University of Montreal 
student and pizzeria operator who was arrested in Montreal in 2003 and freed on 
bail under strict conditions in 2005. He is accused by the Canadian Security 
Intelligence Service of belonging to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, which
has ties to al-Qaida and a history of terrorist attacks in Spain.

CSIS also claims Ahmed Ressam, convicted in 2001 of plotting to blow up Los 
Angeles International Airport, identified Charkaoui as someone he met at an 
al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan ‹ a contention denied by Charkaoui.

"I want my name to be cleared. I am not a terrorist, I have been repeating this 
for four years," Charkaoui said.

He reminded reporters he was still living "under draconian conditions" which 
include him wearing a tracking bracelet at all times.

Three others are still being held in a federal facility in Ontario that has been
dubbed the Guantanamo Bay of the North, a reference to the foreign terror 
suspects being held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"This is a judgment that, quite frankly, I think we should all be very proud of,
because our court has not bought into the rhetoric of national security," said 
John Norris, a lawyer who represents one of the five suspects. "They have 
recognized the fundamental importance of preserving the security of all of us, 
but at the same time has stated, in the clearest possible terms, that that must 
never be done at the expense of human rights."

Barbara Jackman, an attorney who represents another of the detainees, said the 
Supreme Court decision in no way compromises national security.

"It only strengthens our democracy," she said. "It's an indication to other 
countries that to detain people and mistreat them, it's not satisfactory. There 
are ways to provide fair hearings in the face of national security concerns."

Though the security certificates have been around for decades, their use became 
more contentious after 9/11, and more suspect since Ottawa used faulty 
intelligence in a case that led to a C$10.5 million (US$9 million, ¤6.85 
million) apology to another former terror suspect, Maher Arar.

In that case, the Syrian-born Canadian citizen was detained by U.S. authorities 
in New York and sent to Syria for questioning about suspected ties to 
terrorists. He was held in a cell for a year and tortured before being sent back
to Canada, where he was cleared by a federal inquiry of any links to Islamic 

Five Arab Muslim men currently stand accused of terrorist links under the 
certificates, and all five deny any ties to terrorism. It was not immediately 
clear if the three men still in detention would be released, or remain jailed 
until the law is rewritten.

The others are native Algerian Mohamed Harkat, arrested in 2002 and freed on 
bail last year; Egyptian Mahmoud Jaballah, who remains in detention; Mohammad 
Mahjoub, also from Egypt and recently granted bail, though he has yet to be 
released; and Hassan Almrei, a native of Syria who was arrested in 2001 and is 
also still in custody.

 Copyright © 2007 The International Herald Tribune |

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