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Ottawa unveils terror trial 'advocates'

Legislation revives detention measures turfed by top court

OTTAWA -- The Conservative government yesterday introduced new immigration security certificate legislation creating "special advocates" for terror suspects that would allow Ottawa to continue detaining them.

The Supreme Court earlier this year struck down the 30-year-old certificate law for denying terror suspects access to the case against them.

The special advocates would be lawyers who could challenge government evidence in the closed-door hearings, according to the legislation introduced yesterday by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. Under strict conditions, a Federal Court judge could share some of the secret evidence with the accused. The proposed law would also provide a new avenue for individuals to appeal deportation orders.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has long fought to keep its intelligence secret from its targets in court processes for fear of compromising its investigations. Mr. Day rejected any concern that foreign intelligence agencies may be less likely to share information with Canada now that some material could be shared with terror suspects.

"Many other jurisdictions have similar types of processes in place so we don't see a problem," Mr. Day said.

The opposition Liberals were quick back the proposed bill, ensuring it will have enough support to pass through the minority Parliament.

The New Democratic Party criticized the legislation, saying it does not appear to provide a fair hearing to the accused.

The introduction of security advocates mirrors the process currently in place in Britain, which a committee of British MPs described as "critically flawed" in a 2005 report.

The special advocates themselves were the strongest critics, saying they were often unable to ask suspects about the evidence against them. Debate in Canada over the bill will likely focus on whether the advocates will be allowed greater interaction with the accused than their British counterparts.

Critics of the security certificate process slammed the bill yesterday, saying it changes little and will likely be back before the Supreme Court before long.

Matthew Behrens, co-ordinator of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, said the legislation would continue to leave the accused in the dark.

He said it also allows evidence to be heard that would be considered inadmissible in a court case against a full Canadian citizen.

"It's fancy window dressing," said Mr. Behrens, "but it doesn't in any way advance the interests of the person accused."

In February, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the security certificate law, arguing it is unfair to the accused because they are denied access to the case against them. However, the court gave Ottawa one year to improve the law's provisions.

There are currently five Muslim men who are subject to security certificates in Canada. Only one man, Hassan Almrei, remains in a Kingston Immigration Holding Centre, nicknamed by critics as "Guantanamo North." Mohamed Harkat, Mohammad Mahjoub and Mahmoud Jaballah have all been released from prison but are under strict house arrest provisions, as is Adil Charkaoui, who successfully challenged the previous law as unconstitutional.

The immigration security certificate procedure allows suspected terrorists - as well as refugees and landed immigrants accused of human-rights violations or serious criminality - to be detained and deported from Canada. However, many deportations have been delayed over claims that the lives of the individuals would be endangered should they be returned to their country of origin.

Though debate over security certificates has generated much attention in recent years, they have actually been in place for almost 30 years. More than two dozen foreign nationals were deported under the process prior to 2001.

Meanwhile, the government survived a key test yesterday as a Liberal amendment critical of the Throne Speech was defeated by the three other parties by a vote of 203 to 89. Had it passed, the vote could have triggered a federal election. Tomorrow, MPs vote on the Throne Speech as a whole, another confidence vote the Conservatives are expected to survive.

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