Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Government revives security certificates

Top court axed anti-terrorism law. 'Special advocates' could see secret evidence


Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day speaks to journalists in the foyer of the House of Commons yesterday.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day speaks to journalists in the foyer of the House of Commons yesterday

Eight months after the Supreme Court declared one of Canada's main anti-terrorism laws unconstitutional, the Conservative government has reintroduced the provisions, with changes it says would protect the rights of terrorism suspects.

Legislation unveiled yesterday would preserve the controversial security certificates, but create "special advocates" - lawyers, acting on behalf of the accused, with access to the secret information the government uses to detain and deport them.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day hailed security certificates as "an important tool to protect Canadians from terrorist threats," but acknowledged "the process should protect rights and freedoms in Canada."

Liberal justice critic Ujjal Dosanjh said his party would support the legislation, Bill C-3, in Parliament, thereby avoiding a defeat of the minority government and a federal election.

Dosanjh also said the Liberals would approach the government's planned reintroduction of preventive arrests and investigative hearings, two other anti-terrorism measures that his party rejected this year, "with no preconceived notions or bias."

The government's failed attempt to extend the measures for three years divided the Liberals last winter and sparked weeks of angry debate in the Commons.

Preventive arrest allows an arrest without warrant and three days of detention in a terrorism case. Investigative hearings allow judges to compel individuals to testify in terrorism investigations.

The two provisions expired under a sunset clause in March, and all three opposition parties defeated the government's bid to extend them. Critics said the move hobbled RCMP plans for investigative hearings into the Air India disaster.

Government House leader Peter Van Loan said Sunday the government would reintroduce the two measures through the Senate, even though most legislation starts in the Commons. Yesterday, officials declined to explain the unusual tactic or to say when it might happen.

For now, the government is moving ahead with changes to the security certificates regime - an extraordinary legal measure that allows the government to arrest, imprison and deport foreign nationals or permanent residents suspected of links to organized crime, or who may pose a security risk to Canada.

Introduced in the Immigration Act in 1988, the provision was strengthened after the 9/11 attacks to give authorities a fast and efficient way to remove terrorism suspects from Canada, without having to lay charges in the criminal justice system.

Last year, such certificates were challenged in the Supreme Court by three Muslim men who were accused of terrorist links and awaiting deportation.

In a unanimous ruling written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the court said the certificates violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in two ways.

However, the court also acknowledged the necessity of such measures, noting "one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a government is to ensure the security of its citizens."

The court suspended its ruling for a year, specifically telling Parliament to fix the law and bring it in line with the Charter before February 2008.