Curb terror, not rights

posted on October 19, 2005 | in Category Canada | PermaLink

Original author: unsigned editorial
Source: The Toronto Star
URL: [link]
Date: October 19, 2005

Does Canada's national security after 9/11 really depend on being able to ship suspected terrorists back to countries where they may be tortured or executed, in violation of international law?

It's hard to believe, given that Ottawa has never used that power. But it dearly wants to, in the case of a handful of terror suspects here.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee wonders why. Canada has abolished the death penalty. And we subscribe to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which declares that "no one shall be subjected to torture." On terror, our policy fights with our ideals.

That left Canada catching flak this week as the U.N. panel in Geneva reviewed our approach to political and civil rights. Chair Christine Chanet and others raised child poverty, aboriginal rights, gender discrimination and other issues. They are complex matters. But Chanet pointedly noted the ban on exposing people to torture is absolute. The panel will comment by Nov. 3.

There's a message here for Prime Minister Paul Martin, and not only from the U.N. but also from Amnesty International and respected jurists.Concern is growing that Ottawa has gone too far under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, in subordinating civil rights to security.

Canada currently is detaining four Arabs who came here, were deemed inadmissible because of terror ties, and are being held under "security certificates" until they can be deported to Egypt, Syria or Algeria. One has been held for five years. A fifth detainee from Morocco has been released, under tight restraints. All have fought removal, saying they fear for their lives.

In a brief to the U.N. panel, Amnesty raised other relevant concerns with these cases, apart from the risk of deportation into peril.

Canadian officials can block public disclosure even of the fact that a hearing has occurred to decide whether a person poses a threat. That threatens our open courts.

And suspects have a hard time defending themselves. Officials don't have to inform detainees of the precise claims against them. They may see only a general summary of evidence. Evidence can be presented in the absence of a detainee or their lawyer. And detainees have no right to examine those who give information against them.

Overall, it's a troubling picture.

Since 9/11 respected jurists, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court, Justice James Hugessen of Federal Court, Justice Eleanor Dawson and Justice Simon Noel have cautioned against wantonly sacrificing civil rights to combat terror. Or have voiced unease at security detentions. Or have upheld detainees' rights.

A consensus seems to be taking shape around these issues.

Ottawa should stop pushing to deport people to likely torture or execution. Alternative removal destinations and options must be explored.

Judges handling security certificate cases must insist on as open a process as possible, consistent with security concerns, and must rigorously test any claims of terrorist ties. Detainees must have a better chance to respond to allegations.

And rather than detain people endlessly, judges must consider whether strict bail can serve the same purpose. The detainee from Morocco was freed providing he obeys a curfew and wears a monitoring device.

Canadians must be protected. But there are alternatives to offending our core values, shirking treaty obligations and devaluing lives. Ottawa must give them more thought.

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