Top court to hear appeal of terrorism law

Thu Jun 30, 2011 1:44pm EDT
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The Supreme Court agreed on Thursday to hear an appeal that could decide if the federal government went too far in how it defined terrorist activity in laws that were toughened after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Ottawa software developer Mohammad Momin Khawaja is challenging the constitutionality of his conviction for helping build remote detonators and providing other assistance to a thwarted plot that was intended to set off bombs in downtown London.

Khawaja was initially sentenced to just over 10 years in prison, but a provincial appeals court increased that to life in an earlier challenge. Canada does not have a death penalty.

The Ontario's Court of Appeals ruling in 2010 to increase the sentence was the first constitutional challenge to Canada's anti-terrorist laws.

Khawaja's lawyers have argued that the anti-terror law used to convict Khawaja was so vague that it could have a chilling effect on legitimate political and religious activities.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in conjunction with challenges to the law's definition of "terrorist activity" by two Canadian men wanted by the United States for attempting to acquire weapons technology for the Tamil Tigers.

The Tamil Tigers waged a bloody war for independence in Sri Lanka and are considered a terrorist organization by Canada and the United States.

In a separate decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court said it will also hear arguments on whether a Vancouver area chapter of the Hells Angels biker gang can be classified as a criminal organization.

The cases are Mohammad Momin Khawaja v. Her Majesty the Queen. (Ont) (34103); Suresh Sriskandarajah v. United States of America, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (34009), Piratheepan Nadarajah v. United States of America, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (34013); and John Virgil Punko v. Her Majesty the Queen (B.C.) (34135)

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)