[Halima Mautbur is the human-rights coordinator of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.]

In an ostensibly ordinary moment, two children tossed a ball to one another under the shade of the trees lining the expansive green lawn of the Supreme Court of Canada last week.

The scene was more significant than most would comprehend. Ibrahim, 8, and Yusuf Mahjoub, 6, were trying to find a moment of normalcy during their anxious trek from Toronto to Ottawa for the court hearings that will ultimately impact the rights of their father, an accused terrorist.

Few Canadians would argue in favour of the protection of terrorism suspects’ rights after the fear and shock caused by the arrests of an alleged terror cell in Toronto earlier this month. However the very question of how to balance national security concerns with a respect for civil liberties is currently before the Supreme Court as it examines a practice known as the security certificate process.

The rationalization behind this process places national security as the paramount concern. It was designed to deal with the most dangerous of people, such as war criminals and terrorists, and allows for civil liberties only insofar as they do not encroach upon security. However, the conclusion seen in this process is that virtually no rights will be afforded in the face of security concerns.

Under the certificates, detainees can be indefinitely detained or deported to countries where they are likely to be tortured. The accused are never shown the allegations or secret evidence against them. “We still do not know what case we had to meet,” said Matt Weber, the lawyer of one of the detainees whose certificate was upheld. “We just know that we lost.”. . .

Human-rights groups, law societies and Muslim and Arab organizations encouraged the court to protect Canada from those who are truly dangerous — but without sacrificing our national soul. Certainly, legal processes must be available to deal with those who are legitimate threats, but without judicial safeguards like the adversarial system and due process, how do we ensure no collateral damage?

Under the current certificate regime, there has been tremendous collateral damage already: with no answers about why their father has been imprisoned, little Ibrahim and Yusuf stand on the lawn of the Supreme Court saying they feel like they’re in prison too.


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