TORONTO, Feb. 23 -- Canada's Supreme Court on Friday unanimously struck down the use of secret testimony to imprison and deport foreigners as possible terrorist suspects, ruling that the procedures violate Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But the court suspended its ruling for a year, leaving the six men who are under a "security certificate" in legal limbo. Two are held in a special prison, three are free on bond and a fourth has been ordered released on bond.
Supporters of the men hailed the ruling as a victory for civil rights but acknowledged that it did not entirely sweep away the procedures for holding suspects without trial that critics here have called "Canada's Guantanamo North."
The court said Parliament should draft a new law that is more fair to security suspects.
"The court found the way secret evidence was used violated fundamental justice," said Sharry Aiken, a law professor who represented a coalition of groups that argued against the law before the Supreme Court. But "it doesn't mean security certificates are going by the wayside. It does mean that federal court judges are finally willing to scrutinize the procedures of detention to a greater extent than they were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11."
Stockwell Day, the government's minister of public safety, said in Ottawa that "in general, the Supreme Court upheld the security certificates. We will look at the changes the court said are necessary."
The security certificate procedures allow police or intelligence agencies to present secret evidence against noncitizen immigrants or visitors in Canada. If two cabinet ministers agree the person is a security risk, the suspect can be imprisoned and deported without a trial and without seeing the evidence.
About 24 people have been deported since the mid-1970s, including an alleged Russian spy and a German Nazi sympathizer. But six men -- five from Arab countries and a Sri Lankan -- remain in Canada, arguing that they are unfairly accused and would be tortured if they were deported.
Most of those on bail are under strict conditions, including curfew, restrictions on use of computers or telephones, and a requirement to wear a security bracelet that identifies their location.
"I've been harassed for eight years," said Adil Charkaoui, a Moroccan who was imprisoned for 21 months on allegations that he trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. He is free on bond. "I am not a terrorist," he said at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday. "All I am asking for is justice, the chance to defend myself. If you have something against me, charge me" in court.
Egyptian Mahmoud Jaballah and Syrian Hassan Almrei, both accused of ties with al-Qaeda, have been on a hunger strike while in detention under the security certificates. Last week, a federal court ordered Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, who once ran a farming operation for Osama bin Laden, moved to house arrest.
The Supreme Court ruling put the spotlight on security arrests during a visit to Ottawa by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At a news conference following meetings with Canadian, Mexican and U.S. officials on North American security and prosperity issues, Rice defended the U.S. insistence that Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar remain on an airport "watch list."
Arar, who was whisked to Syria by American agents in a 2002 "rendition" that left him imprisoned in a dungeon for 10 months, was cleared in an exhaustive Canadian inquiry. The government here has apologized and agreed to pay him $9 million in compensation, but the U.S. refusal to acknowledge that his rendition was a mistake has rankled Canadians.