Canadian court strikes down antiterrorism law

Published February 24, 2007

OTTAWA - One of Canada's most contentious antiterrorism provisions was struck down Friday by the Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional to detain foreign terror suspects indefinitely while the courts review their deportation orders.

The 9-0 ruling was a blow to the government's antiterrorism regulations. Five Arab Muslim men have been held for years under the "security certificate" program, which the Justice Department had insisted is a key tool in the fight against global terrorism and essential to Canada's security.

The court found that the system violates the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Canada's bill of rights. It 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 on constitutional grounds 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 now allows sensitive intelligence to be heard behind closed doors by a federal judge, with only sketchy summaries given to defense attorneys.

The men have spent years in jail while fighting deportation orders. They 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 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 sensitive intelligence material.

Stockwell Day, the minister of public safety, noted that since the ruling does not take place for a year, the certificates would remain in place. He said in a statement that the government would address the court's ruling "in a timely and decisive fashion."

Two of the men are out on bail and remain under house arrest. Three others are being held in a federal facility in Ontario that has been dubbed the "Guantanamo Bay of the North," a reference to the prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Human rights activists and lawyers for the men hailed the ruling as 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.

"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, who represents one of the five.

Fast Facts:

Suspects have been held for years

Five Arab Muslim men stand accused of terrorist links under Canada's "security certificate" program. All deny terrorism ties. Three of them are held in a special prison, and two are free on bail. One of the imprisoned men has been ordered released on bail.

Adil Charkaoui: The most notable of the detainees, Charkaoui, 33, is a former University of Montreal student and pizzeria operator who was arrested in Montreal in 2003 and freed on bail in 2005. The Morocco native 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 attacks in Spain.

Mohamed Harkat: An Algerian native arrested in 2002 and freed on bail last year, Harkat, 37, is accused of once belonging to the Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria and of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent.

Hassan Almrei: Almrei, 32, is a native of Syria who was arrested in Toronto in 2001. He is being detained in Ontario. He admits he lied about details of his past, but says he did so because he feared being wrongly labeled a terrorist. He is accused of attending al-Qaida training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and of supporting Islamic extremists in Tajikistan.

Mahmoud Jaballah: Jaballah, 44, an Egyptian, is a former Toronto Islamic school principal accused of membership in Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which has ties to al-Qaida. He was arrested in 1999 in Toronto, freed after his first security certificate was quashed by the courts, but arrested again in 2001 on a new certificate. He remains in jail, staging a hunger strike.

Mohammad Mahjoub: Also a native of Egypt, Mahjoub, 46, was arrested in 2000 in Toronto and granted bail last week, but he has yet to be released. He is accused of belonging to Vanguard of Conquest, an Egyptian group with ties to al-Qaida.