OTTAWA – One of Canada’s most contentious anti-terrorism measures 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 dealt 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 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 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 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.