Former public safety minister Stockwell Day is set to testify in court this week, an appearance expected to offer a rare insight into how the government labels someone a terrorism suspect.
The testimony, scheduled for Thursday, is part of a long-running legal battle by Mohamed Mahjoub, who is accused of being a senior jihadist. The Egyptian protests his innocence and has not been charged in Canada, but remains subject to federal restrictions that have kept him in detention or under house arrest for the past 12 years.
Mr. Mahjoub has been fighting in Federal Court to contest the “reasonableness” of the security certificate under which he was arrested.
In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the security certificate legislation as contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, giving the government a year to redraft it. An amended version became law early in 2008, when Mr. Day was minister of public safety.
As the former minister, Mr. Day’s testimony is hotly anticipated for what it may reveal about the process of determining who is a threat to national security.
“I think it will be interesting to see what exactly the minister has relied upon,” said Kent Roach, professor in the faculty of law at the University of Toronto.
“Given that it’s a minister’s decision … in some ways it’s surprising that this appears to be the first time that a minister is going to be required to explain the reasons for his or her decision.”
He cautioned, though, that Mr. Day could cite the need to preserve national security as a reason not to answer some questions.
And although the minister gave the approval, cabinet confidentiality could be invoked if the process involved a broader discussion among senior government.
Mr. Day could not be reached on Monday.
An assistant to the British Columbia-based former politician confirmed that he would testify at the Toronto proceedings by video conference.
The security certificate program is intended to allow the government to deport non-citizens deemed a threat. But when they cannot be expelled because they face the risk of torture or execution back home, they can be detained without charge.
The program is controversial, with critics saying the secrecy of its proceedings doesn’t permit suspects to mount a proper defence and that allegations derived through tainted means, including torture by foreign authorities, may be used.
Mr. Mahjoub came to Canada in 1995 with a bogus Saudi passport. He was granted refugee status, but caught the eye of Canada’s security establishment. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service watched him from at least 1998 and he is accused of being the number-two in the Vanguards of Conquest, an offshoot of Egyptian Islamic Jihad that eventually rejoined the militant group.
He was the first of five people held under security certificate legislation since 2000, all accused of having ties to terrorism. Three remain subject to the certificates.