The Supreme Court of Canada has declared the country’s controversial anti-terror law to be constitutional in a series of unanimous, precedent-setting rulings that affirmed how terrorism is defined in the Criminal Code.
In a 7-0 ruling, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the court on Friday dismissed a series of charter appeals brought by three men, including terrorist Momin Khawaja, the first person ever charged under the anti-terror law that was passed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.
McLachlin said an Ottawa trial judge erred by giving Khawaja too light a sentence at 10 1/2 years in prison and said the life sentence later imposed by the Ontario Court of Appeal sent a “clear and unmistakable message that terrorism is reprehensible and those who choose to engage in it (in Canada) will pay a very heavy price”
The rulings also upheld extradition orders against two other men, Suresh Sriskandarajah and Piratheepan Nadarajah, who can now be sent to the United States to face trial on charges of supporting the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group.
The court flatly rejected a series of constitutional challenges brought by the three men, dismissing their lawyers’ arguments that the new law was too broad, criminalized harmless activity and violated the charter guarantee of freedom of expression.
The ruling essentially means the December 2001 anti-terror law, introduced by the then-Liberal government and supported by the two opposition parties that eventually became the present Conservative party, contains no rights violations and doesn’t have to be changed.
For Khawaja, it means the end of the road in a long, legal saga that began with his arrest in 2004, ran through a hard-fought trial in an Ottawa courtroom and ended with his 2008 conviction.
He was convicted of training at a remote camp in Pakistan, providing cash to a group of British extremists and building a remote-control detonator, known as the Hi-Fi Digimonster.
The Supreme Court dismissed the argument that the law was overbroad in its definition of terrorism and could ensnare innocent people.
“Social and professional contact with terrorists — for example, such as occurs in normal interactions with friends and family members — will not, absent the specific intent to enhance the abilities of a terrorist group, permit a conviction,” the ruling said.
It also dismissed a claim that the law violated the rights of free expression.
The court said threats of violence don’t deserve protection.
“Threats of violence, like violence, undermine the rule of law,” the court wrote.
“Threats of violence take away free choice and undermine freedom of action. They undermine the very values and social conditions that are necessary for the continued existence of freedom of expression.”
The court also rejected the argument by Khawaja’s lawyer that the so-called motive clause would have a chilling effect on guarantees of freedom of expression of religious or ideological views.
“In this case, it is impossible to infer, without evidence, that the motive clause will have a chilling effect on the exercise of … freedoms by people holding religious or ideological views similar to those held by some terrorists,” the ruling said.
Khawaja also failed to persuade the court that his life-sentence was too harsh.
“The appellant was a willing participant in a terrorist group,” McLachlin wrote. “He was committed to bringing death on all those opposed to his extremist ideology and took many steps to provide support to the group.
“The bomb detonators he attempted to build would have killed many civilians had his plan succeeded. A sentence of 10 1/2 years does not approach an adequate sentence for such acts.”
And the court also dismissed Khawaja’s claim that he was taking part in an armed conflict and should be exempt from being charged under international law.
It rejected his contention that he didn’t recognize the threat posed by the British terrorist organization, the Khyam group.
“There is no air of reality to the suggestion that the appellant believed that the Khyam group intended to act in compliance with international law, or that he cared if it did,” the ruling stated.
Sriskandarajah and Nadarajah, meanwhile, failed in their bid to overturn their extradition to the U.S.
The high court affirmed that Justice Minister Rob Nicholson didn’t err when he signed their extradition order.
“The claim that the minister’s decision was unreasonable must be rejected.”
U.S. prosecutors allege the two men tried to purchase $1-million worth of guns and rockets for the Tigers.
Sriskandarajah is charged with acquiring aviation equipment, submarine and warship design software and other communications equipment for members of the Tamil Tigers. He is also charged with laundering money and counselling group members on how to smuggle goods.
Nadarajah is charged with trying to buy surface-to-air missiles and AK-47s for the Tigers from an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a black-market arms dealer.