OTTAWA: A Canadian judge on Thursday quashed key parts of Canada s secrecy law used by federal police to obtain a search warrant to scour a reporter s home in 2004 for evidence of an unauthorized leak in a suspected terror case. Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynn Ratushny said in her ruling that three sections of Canada s Security of Information Act, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, were unconstitutional, too vague and too broad. The provisions, which deal with the handling of classified government information, were used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to search Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O Neill s home and office in January 2004. The impugned sections give the state the ability to arbitrarily protect whatever information it chooses to classify as secret official … and using the most extreme form of government control, criminalizes the conduct of those who communicate and receive government information, the ruling said. They have not been well-tailored to suit their purpose … They arbitrarily and unfairly and with a blunt club of criminal sanction restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of the press.
The RCMP were looking for an unnamed source and possible secret documents cited in O Neill s Nov. 8, 2003 story on Maher Arar, a Canadian man deported by US authorities to Syria and tortured.
Arar was stopped in New York on his way to Canada from a trip to Tunisia in September 2002, and was then deported to Syria where he was jailed and tortured for more than a year. O Neill s article provided details of what Arar purportedly told his Syrian captors, sparking an RCMP criminal probe of a possible intelligence leak. Justice Ratushny ordered O Neill s papers, notebooks and computer files, which have remained sealed until court proceedings played out, returned to her. Meanwhile, a Canadian report released mid-September absolved Arar or terror links and stated that US authorities had likely relied on faulty intelligence provided by the RCMP to hold and deport the 36-year-old software engineer to Syria.