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Supreme Court rules witness can be forced to testify in terror hearings
Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that reluctant witnesses can be forced to testify in hearings in the fight against terrorism.

In a 6-3 ruling Wednesday, the high court said the hearings do not contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case stemmed from the Air India trial continuing in British Columbia.

The Supreme Court has been grappling with the issue of whether the hearings, which have been allowed under anti-terrorism legislation, violate the charter.

The RCMP and Crown have been trying to force an unco-operative witness, whose name is protected under a publication ban, to answer questions related to the 1985 Air India bombing at a closed hearing in Vancouver.

The Supreme Court originally heard the case in December when federal Justice Department lawyers argued that citizens have a duty "to aid in enforcing the laws."

"There is no constitutionally protected right to refuse to assist police," Justice Department counsel Bernard Laprade told the court last year.

The proposed hearing is separate from the trial of two men - Ripudiman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri - who face criminal charges in the downing of the Air India plane that took more than 300 lives.

Some of the information that could be gleaned from such a hearing could be relevant to the trial.

Lawyers for the mystery witness argued before the Supreme Court in December that such proceedings would violate their client's right to privacy.

They also said they feared that the judges presiding at such hearings would lose their independence and become investigative arms of the police.

© The Canadian Press 2004

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