Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Parts of Canada Secrecy Law Struck Down

The Associated Press

Thursday 19 October 2006

Toronto - A court struck down sections of a Canadian anti-terrorism law Thursday, in a ruling that threw out warrants used to search the home of a reporter covering U.S. efforts to secretly send a Canadian terror suspect to Syria for interrogation.

The Ontario Superior Court judgment quashed three sections of the so-called leakage provisions of the federal Security of Information Act, which passed following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The provisions were directly drawn from the decades-old Official Secrets Act and dealt specifically with the unauthorized communication of intelligence by officials who are bound to secrecy.

In her ruling, Justice Lynn Ratushny said the provisions were vague and violated the constitutional rights to justice and freedom of the press.

"They arbitrarily and unfairly and with a blunt club of criminal sanction restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of the press," the ruling said.

David Paciocco, a lawyer for Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill, told The Canadian Press that Thursday's ruling underscores the media's role in protecting democracy.

"It's a tremendous affirmation of the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression," Paciocco said after reading the judgment.

Squads of Royal Canadian Mounted Police combed through O'Neill's home and office in January 2004 in an attempt to find the source of information about the Maher Arar affair.

Arar, a Syrian-born Ottawa engineer, was traveling on a Canadian passport when he was detained at New York's Kennedy Airport in 2002 during a layover on his way home to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. After his release from a Damascus prison in 2003, Arar made detailed torture allegations.

Arar was exonerated of all suspicion of terrorist activity last month by a Canadian commission of inquiry. The inquiry found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had told U.S. authorities that Arar was an Islamic extremist suspected of links to al-Qaida.

The RCMP launched a criminal probe in the weeks following publication of a Nov. 8, 2003 story by O'Neill. The story cited a "security source" and a leaked document offering details of what Arar allegedly told his Syrian captors.

The Mounties believe O'Neill published her article "based on the receipt of secret classified information."

Paciocco said the court ruling effectively renders the warrants null and void, paving the way for the return of O'Neill's seized papers, notebooks, contact lists and computer files.

Prosecutor Robert Frater said there was no immediate decision on whether to appeal.

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