Excerpts from the editorial:
The United States was not the only country to respond to the horror of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with policies that went much too far in curtailing basic rights and civil liberties in the name of public safety. Now we see that a nation can regain its senses after calm reflection and begin to rein back such excesses, but that heartening news comes from Canada and not the United States.
Canada’s Supreme Court has struck down a law that the government used to detain foreign-born terrorism suspects indefinitely — employing secret evidence and not filing charges — while orders to deport them were reviewed. The law was actually passed in 1978, but was primarily employed to detain and deport foreign spies. After the 2001 attacks, the Canadian government began using it aggressively to hold terrorism suspects, claiming that it was an important tool for keeping Canada safe.
That is just the sort of argument the Bush administration used to ram the excesses of the Patriot Act and the 2006 Military Commissions Act through Congress, and offered as an excuse for other abusive policies, like President Bush’s illegal wiretapping of international calls and e-mail.
The Canadian justices rejected their government’s specious national security claim with a forceful 9-to-0 ruling that upheld every person’s right to fair treatment. “The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote.
The contrast with the United States could not be more disturbing. The Canadian court ruling came just days after a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that Congress could deny inmates of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp the ancient right to challenge their confinement in court. The 2006 military tribunals law revoked that right for a select group who had been designated “illegal enemy combatants” without a semblance of judicial process.
Lawmakers have only to look to the Canadian court for easy-to-follow directions back to the high ground on basic human rights and civil liberties. (emphasis added)