‘Anti-Terrorism’ Legislation Attack on Canadians: MP Olivia Chow
October 17, 2012
OTTAWA – Innocent Canadians might soon be subject to racial profiling and arrest without warrants. The Conservatives are pushing for passage of Bill S-7, an anti-terrorism bill that threatens the civil liberties of Canadian citizens. The bill seeks to revive the provisions enacted in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, and which were removed in 2007. The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code and Canada Evidence Act would allow for the arrest of a Canadian without warrant or fair trial.
Bill S-7 is dangerous to the civil and human rights of Canadians, and its provisions have been found to be ineffective and unnecessary by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Department of Justice. Though touted as an anti-terrorism bill, the danger of these draconian measures lies in their unchecked scope, and the ability under them to target even individuals unrelated to terrorist activity.
MP Olivia Chow spoke out against this unwarranted attack on Canadian liberties in Parliament.
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak against Bill S-7, a bill designed to violate the civil and human rights of Canadians, a bill to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act to allow a Canadian to be arrested without a warrant, imprisoned without having a fair trial and imprisoned for up to 12 months without even being charged with a criminal offence.
These fundamental changes were brought in by the Liberal government of the time in 2001, immediately after September 11. At that time, it was not a public policy discussion; it was a crisis management tool. Some of the provisions of the bill expired in February 2007 and, at that time, the NDP led the opposition to the renewal of these clauses and opposed the extension of the provisions. We were very proud to stand for human rights. It is unfortunate to see that through the Senate this bill is now back in front of us.
I remind people that there is a lot to learn from history. Maher Arar, a Canadian, was arrested without a warrant and was imprisoned without a fair trial. He was never charged. There was never a criminal offence. He did not do anything wrong. It was during that unfortunate period that he was not only sent to be tortured, but he was imprisoned in a coffin-like box for almost a year and eventually freed. During the O’Connor commission inquiry, there was a great deal of talk about the kinds of human rights violations against Maher Arar.
What we have in front of us is a bill that unfortunately would take away a tremendous amount of rights from an individual. We can have a secure country without having to violate the civil and human rights of individuals. We do not have to give up those rights.
The provisions in the amendments of the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act had been deleted since February 2007. The police from that time to now never saw the need to use any of the provisions. Also, no investigations needed to use them.
Many things have occurred, as my colleagues have talked about, such as the case of the Toronto 18 and the more recent case involving four people from the Toronto region, the bomb situation. In none of those situations did the police have to use any of these provisions. People did not have to be put in jail without charges or arrested without a warrant.
In many ways we actually do not need to do anything because police investigations have successfully dismantled terrorist plots all of those times. Why are we particularly concerned? It is because we have seen instances where some sectors of the community, especially the Muslim community, have been subjected to some of the unfortunate discriminatory measures.
The executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ihsaan Gardee, talked about arresting people without any charges or warrants and stated that these kinds of measures posed a significant risk to the abuse of the powers conferred to the state. For an example, he said the ability to detain a person for 72 hours, compromising civil liberties when faced with a potential danger which has not yet happened, only dissolves the boundaries between civil rights and concrete national security concerns.
He went on to say that the council believes that the provisions already contained in the Criminal Code are more than enough to allow the policing authorities and courts to prevent terrorism-related offences before they are committed. He said that according to article 495, a person detained for reasonable motives must appear before a judge who can impose the same conditions as the proposed anti-terrorism measures. He then said that the judge can even refuse bail if he or she believe that the liberation of the person concerned constitutes a danger to the public.
In his opinion, the experience of the last 10 years has shown that Canada’s Muslim communities would be disproportionately affected by the abandonment of civil liberties. It is even less clear how the distinction would be made in practice between acts linked to terrorism and other criminal acts. For example, the recent fire bomb attack incident in Ottawa against a Royal Bank branch before the G20 summit was treated as a criminal act of arson and no charges were laid under the anti-terrorism provision, et cetera.
The president of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association of Toronto, Ziyaad Mia, and Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that, in their opinions, the bill should not move forward, that it is unnecessary, that it does not offer any solutions and that there are substantial problems.
A very renowned lawyer, Paul Copeland, who is actually in the Order of Canada now, said that the provisions being examined or that were being debating would unnecessarily change the legal landscape in Canada. He said that we must not adopt them and that, in his opinion, they were not necessary. This man who has practised criminal law for at least 30 years. He went on to say that other provisions of the code provide various mechanisms for dealing with such individuals.
The Canadian Islamic Congress said that removing people’s rights was problematic because some people may have legitimate concerns about themselves but know that if they speak out their family members overseas may suffer persecution. We have heard from many legal experts who have said that we are already very well protected under the Criminal Code. If we were not, how were the police able to solve a lot of the problems before they occurred.
They talked about having close working relationships with communities. Good policing means community based policing. When various activists or people who are very engaged in their communities hear of problems or notice suspicious things, if they trust the police because of a close working relationships with them, they very likely will talk to the police and deal with the problem before it happens. That kind of good, community based policing is what ultimately led to destroying the terrorism plot.
I also want to talk about security at the border. I have noticed there has been a recent massive layoff of people who keep our borders secure. It is not just the Canadian Border Service Agency that has suffered layoffs. As a result of the Conservative government cutting back millions of dollars to CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, we have seen massive layoffs of airport screeners. When we go through the security gate at airports, these are the people who help screen people to ensure they are not carrying objects that are dangerous and keep both our airlines and air travellers safe. A few months ago, 300 people were laid off in Toronto and a few hundred have just received their notice in the last few days. Therefore, we will have fewer people in the biggest and busiest airport in Canada.
The government says that it does not have enough money, which is why it has to lay off people who keep us safe and secure. However, the government has continued to charge significant fees for the air travellers security charge, which increased in April 2010. If individuals come on an international flight from other countries, they will be charged $25.91. For a domestic round trip it is close to $15. In this year alone the federal government has taken in $658 million in revenue from these so-called air travellers security funds. The government is actually making money from these fees to keep us safe but it is not putting that money into border airport screeners.
On one hand, we are losing jobs at a time when we need to create jobs. On the other hand, we have a bill before us that is supposed to keep us secure but, in actuality, as all the legal experts have said, the bill is not necessary because the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act already have the provisions.
The other concern with the bill is that it could be invoked to target individuals participating in activities, such as acts of protest or of dissent, which have nothing to do with a reasonable definition of terrorism.
I do not need me to remind members about what happened at the G20 Summit in Toronto. There were a series of human rights violations. People were arrested and some of them were not allowed to speak to lawyers. They were put into a detainment area where their human rights were violated. In some cases, women had to go to the washroom in public and they were humiliated. There were assaults that led to different charges against the police.
Various inquiries and studies have shown that sometimes, if the state feels it has the power to dominate, people’s human rights can be violated, as we saw, unfortunately, during the G20 Summit protests in Toronto. In that case, it was partially because the Conservative government did not give the City of Toronto and the police enough time to prepare for security measures. The summit was imposed on the city even though the mayor at the time felt that having that kind of event in downtown Toronto was a huge problem. Unfortunately, the Conservative government did not listen to those concerns.
There are provisions in the bill that could be invoked to target individuals who want to express their dissent to existing policies, and there are other problematic areas.
For example, the institute released a report claiming that the various branches of government involved in the fight against terrorism in Canada received $19 billion more than what they would have normally received, or $69 billion with inflation. However, Bill S-7 is not clear on the financial costs to reactivate these measures. It is not clear how much it would cost taxpayers. This is at a time when CBSA officers are being laid-off. These measures expired four years ago. Why is this necessary since nothing much has changed from 2001?
I also want to mention some very serious studies that I would encourage my colleagues who are supporting the bill to read. An in-depth study presented to the Canadian Human Rights Commission talked about why this anti-terrorism bill was unnecessary. It quoted many legal experts from when it was Bill C-36. Reports from the Department of Justice also state the problems with the bill.
I urge my colleagues on the opposite side to not support Bill S-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code.