The federal government has launched a sweeping review of a crumbling anti-terrorist law, acknowledging the system needs fixing.
"We are working on it actively, very actively, and recognize that the current situation is not ideal – and that there is a need for change," Peter Van Loan, Canada's Public Safety Minister, said in an exclusive interview.
The review of the rickety national-security-certificate system could scrap or revamp a law used to arrest and deport non-Canadians considered a threat to national security.
Certificates have existed for three decades, and more than two dozen have been issued since 1991, when they became part of federal immigration law.
But legal challenges and upbraidings from judges over miscues by Canada's spy agency have seen recent cases slow to a crawl – or collapse altogether.
"I'm contemplating what we would do in the future, and whether that is an appropriate instrument," Mr. Van Loan said.
"I'm taking a serious look at it, trying to work our way through what the implications of the court decisions are and how we can balance that with our ability to assure the national security of Canadians."
Opponents of security certificates say the process is unfair because detainees are not given full details of the allegations against them.
A case involving Montrealer Adil Charkaoui, a native of Morocco, fell apart recently when the government withdrew supporting evidence, saying its disclosure would reveal sensitive intelligence sources and methods of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
There are only four active cases, ranging from seven to 10 years old, illustrating the legal limbo that certificates can create for detainees.
Mahmoud Jaballah and Mohamed Zeki Mahjoub, both Egyptian, were arrested in 1999 and 2000 respectively, while Hassan Almrei of Syria was detained one month after Sept. 11, 2001, and Mohamed Harkat of Algeria seven years ago this month.
But even if the courts find the certificates to be valid, it's unclear whether the men could be deported because each says he has reason to fear being tortured if forced back to his homeland.
All four men have been granted release from prison under strict conditions that control virtually their every move while the cases play out in the Federal Court of Canada.
In cases where certificates failed, the government is trying more conventional means.
Certificates levied against Palestinian Issam Al Yamani were thrown out by the courts on two occasions. He is still fighting a deportation order, saying he fears torture if sent back to Lebanon, his former home.
Mr. Al Yamani, 53, has been waiting for a federal assessment of that risk for more than three years. "And I haven't heard anything from them," he said.