Skip to main content

Canada accepts 250,000 immigrants and refugees a year, but seems to feel compelled to apologize for insisting on weeding out the few seriously dangerous ones - potential terrorists, war criminals, Mafiosi.

The Liberal Party, in sensibly supporting the Conservative government's revised national security-certificate law this week, did so as if holding its nose. "This isn't a bill we would have introduced ourselves," said Ujjal Dosanjh, the party's national-security critic.

The Bloc Québécois opposed the bill because Canada needs only to show that a newcomer is probably dangerous - which is to say, that there is at least a 50.1-per-cent chance. The Bloc wanted Canada to have to prove dangerousness "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Story continues below advertisement

Not only the country's security but its liberal immigration policy (which includes constitutional rights the moment a newcomer sets foot on Canadian soil) depends on a strong security-certificate process.

Imagine if a terrorist were concealed among the 250,000 - not hard to imagine at all. Imagine if that terrorist blew up downtown Montreal or Toronto or Calgary. People would demand to know why the government didn't protect them. Because even those newcomers who raised a red security flag were untouchable? Canadians would quickly insist on plugging up the flow of immigrants.

This is the context for the security-certificate law that passed this week in the House of Commons. The law was not rushed through after 9/11; it had been around in various forms for three decades. (The Liberals were quite content not to alter its most contentious provisions when they were in power.)

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously struck it down last year because the law provided, in the crucial beginning of the court process, for a secret hearing in the absence of the suspected terrorist and even in the absence of his lawyer. That put the onus on a Federal Court judge to challenge the government's evidence before deciding whether to summarize it in open court, allow it to be heard in full or keep it out altogether.

The new law allows for a special advocate with a security clearance to view the government's secret evidence and challenge it on the suspect's behalf. Britain has a similar model.

But the law is still a work in progress. Lawyers in Britain complain that they are not allowed to talk to their clients about the secret evidence. In both countries, judges may grant an exemption so the special advocates can discuss that evidence with their clients, but it remains to be seen whether (and in what circumstances) such exemptions will be granted in Canada. In Britain they are not granted often.

Democracies must give due process to suspected foreign terrorists; the state's case must be tested. But democracies don't need to apologize for insisting on a workable scheme to reject and expel dangerous newcomers.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨