OTTAWA -- The Supreme Court of Canada has declared the country's controversial anti-terror law constitutional in a series of unanimous, precedent-setting rulings Friday that affirm how terrorism is defined in the Criminal Code.
In a 7-0 ruling written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the court dismissed a series of charter appeals brought by three men, including terrorist Momin Khawaja -- the first person ever charged under the anti-terror law, which was passed in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in the United States.
McLachlin said an Ottawa trial judge erred by giving Khawaja too light a sentence at 101/2 years in prison and said the life sentence later imposed by the Ontario Court of Appeal sent a "clear and unmistakable message that terrorism is reprehensible and those who choose to engage in it (in Canada) will pay a very heavy price."
The rulings also upheld extradition orders against two other men, Suresh Sriskandarajah and Piratheepan Nadarajah, who can now be sent to the U.S. to face trial on charges of supporting the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group.
The court flatly rejected a series of constitutional challenges brought by the three men, dismissing arguments that the new law was too broad, criminalized harmless activity and violated the charter guarantee of freedom of expression.
The ruling essentially means the December 2001 anti-terror law, introduced by the then-Liberal government and supported by the two opposition parties that eventually became the Conservative party, contains no rights violations and doesn't have to be changed.
For Khawaja, it means the end of the road in a long legal saga that began with his arrest in 2004 and ran through a hard-fought trial in an Ottawa courtroom and his 2008 conviction.
He was found guilty of training at a remote camp in Pakistan, providing cash to a group of British extremists and building a remote-control bomb detonator known as the Hi-Fi Digimonster.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson applauded the high court for upholding the harsher sentence.
"By upholding this sentence, the court sent a strong message that terrorism will not be treated leniently in Canada," Nicholson said in a statement.
The Supreme Court dismissed the argument that the law was overbroad in its definition of terrorism and could ensnare innocent people.
"Social and professional contact with terrorists -- for example, such as occurs in normal interactions with friends and family members -- will not, absent the specific intent to enhance the abilities of a terrorist group, permit a conviction," the high court held.
It also dismissed a claim that the law violated the rights of free expression, saying threats of violence don't deserve protection.
"Threats of violence, like violence, undermine the rule of law," the court wrote. "Threats of violence take away free choice and undermine freedom of action. They undermine the very values and social conditions that are necessary for the continued existence of freedom of expression."
Khawaja's lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said he was disappointed with the ruling, but said it wouldn't mean an end to the unfair targeting of ethnic or religious groups by authorities.
"It's a very unfortunate ruling for minorities in this country," said Greenspon.
-- The Canadian Press