Balancing liberty and securityposted on December 22, 2004 | in Category Bill C-36 | PermaLink
Source: Editorial in The Toronto Star
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Date: December 22, 2004
Just before leaving for Christmas, Members of Parliament took care of one last piece of unfinished business. They announced a review of the Anti-Terrorism Act, passed in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy.
They had little choice. Section 145 of the act requires a re-examination of all of its provisions and operations after three years. The deadline for launching it was Dec. 18.But they do have a choice about how open, wide-ranging and penetrating it will be. The path of least resistance would be to rubber-stamp all the new powers Ottawa conferred on police, security agents, immigration authorities and military personnel in autumn of 2001. Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, who steered Bill C-36 through Parliament, seems quite comfortable with the current balance between civil liberties and national security. The wiser course would to ask Canadians, with no predetermined outcome, whether the measures enacted in haste three years ago reflect their values today. A lot has happened since the horrific September morning when hijacked jets slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One of the main developments is that Canada and the United States have grown apart. To most Americans, homeland security remains priority number one, trumping individual rights, good relations with neighbours, free trade, mobility and privacy. To most Canadians, the memory of 9-11, though searing, no longer colours every policy decision and affects every facet of daily life. Daniel Drache, associate director of the Robarts Centre of Canadian Studies at York University, puts it this way in his new book, Borders Matter. "We are at a tipping point where an array of forces are pushing and pulling Canada-U.S. relations towards a new configuration with different rules, practices, ideas and mentalities. "In the new world order, Canadians are not convinced that their destiny is always to play the role of acquiescent deputy sheriff in the coalition of the willing." If Drache's contention is true, one of the first sounding boards will be the subcommittee on public safety and national security. The seven-member group of parliamentarians, chaired by New Brunswick Liberal MP Paul Zed, will hold public hearings through the winter and into next spring to find out how comfortable Canadians are with the tools the government has given itself to fight terrorism. They include: The power to arrest and detain a suspected terrorist without charges for up to 72 hours. "Preventative arrests" can be carried out without a warrant. The power to compel a person believed to have information about terrorism to testify before a judge. "Investigative hearings" remove an individual's right to remain silent. The power to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information in judicial proceedings. This means an individual could be convicted without knowing the details of his or her alleged crimes. The power to wiretap suspected terrorist groups for up to a year. The targets of such surveillance need not be notified until three years later. The power to lay criminal charges against anyone who knowingly participates in the activities of a terrorist group; raises or provides funds for terrorist activities; or harbours or conceals a terrorist. And the power to seize, freeze and confiscate property used in, or related to, terrorist activity. (Since 1991, the government has had the power, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to detain and deport non-citizens deemed to pose a security threat.) The Anti-Terrorism Act, while less sweeping than the U.S. Patriot and Homeland Security Acts, mirrors the intent and approach of the American legislation. Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research Associates, says his polling shows that Canadians are relatively satisfied with the way their government is dealing with the terrorist threat. There is an undercurrent of concern about privacy and human rights, but it is eclipsed by people's preoccupation with safety. Graves adds, however, that Canadians want their national security policies to reflect the differences between their values and those of their American counterparts. The challenge for Zed and his colleagues (two Conservatives, two Liberals, one New Democratic and Bloquiste) will be to come up with recommendations that reflect that mix of anxiety and national self-awareness. "We need to decide how tolerant we can be of the international forces that are impinging upon us," Zed said. His personal inclination, as a Liberal, a Maritimer and a former corporate lawyer, is to avoid anything that might jeopardize cross-border trade. Drache's aim, as an academic and policy advocate, is to get federal legislators to "think outside the traditional commerce-at-any-price box." This is a badly needed debate. The stakes are much bigger than one piece of legislation passed at a time when North Americans were united in fear and revulsion. But taking a calm, Canadian look at the Anti-Terrorism Act is a good way to begin the post- 9-11 era. (Anyone wishing to appear before the committee should send a written request to clerk Marc-Olivier Girard at [email] ) Carol Goar's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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