Anti-Terrorism Law Targets Visible Minorities
By V. Thangavelu
Bill 36 has been passed into law after the Liberal government rammed it through the House of Commons and Senate in record time. In both houses of Parliament, the Liberal Party whips cut down further debate by moving closure motions. Royal Assent was given within an hour of Senate passing the bill on December 18, 200. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Anne McLellan will now have to gazette the effective date of the law coming into force along with the list of organizations and individuals whom the Minister considers as “terrorists.”
The Anti- Terrorism Act amended many acts like Bill C16 (Registration of Charities (Security information) and others like Criminal Code of Canada, the Official Secrets Act, the Canada Evidence Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Immigration Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act, Access to Information Act, Canada Post Corporation Act etc. These acts that were amended ensured the due process of law and protection for citizens. Anti-terrorism law has an ulterior agenda. It is on par with the laws of Mussolini and Hitler.
The amendments remove the civil liberties previously guaranteed in those Acts. Ethical, religious, and environmental arguments are not available as defences to any alleged breach of this new law. Prior to the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism law, those Acts provided sufficient due process of law and legal protection to citizens.
Only one MP from the government benches had the guts to vote against Bill 36. He is Andrew Telegdi, MP ( Liberal- Kitchener-Waterloo) who came to this country as a migrant fleeing Communist Hungary. Participating in the debate, he told the House of Commons that he has first-hand knowledge of what it means to live under a Police state. A few other Liberal Party MPs (probably due to pressure from ethnic constituencies) also spoke against the Bill, but they did not have the courage, understanding or will on their own to vote against it.
Benjamin Franklin once said that “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security… and neither will he receive either.” The new law will have far-reaching effects on the lives of visible minorities who will bear the brunt of the full force of this draconian law when implemented. They will lose both liberty and security and live as second-class citizens under the shadow of intelligence agencies and police with unlimited and unchecked powers of surveillance, arbitrary arrest and justice through secret evidence. It is obvious the Liberal government has robbed the air of freedom and liberty enjoyed by many Tamil Canadians who sought political asylum in Canada after fleeing persecution by the racist Sri Lankan state. To many, it is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire!
Canada was never under threat from acts of terrorism. Canada’s high profile commitment to peace and security won the admiration of many people living in third world countries. The bold initiative by Canada to ban the use of Anti-personnel mines, a treaty the USA has refused to sign, won plaudits from human rights organizations committed to peace and social justice. It is obvious the threat of terrorism has been highly exaggerated and blown many times over by vested interests that wish to turn Canada into a Police and Military state.
Security will not come through granting dangerous powers to the police. It will simply have the opposite effect of creating insecurity among the weaker sections of the society.
Canada in enacting the antiterrorism law joins the USA, Australia and England in severely restricting freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the right to protest. It targets and batters racial and religious groups and destroys the civil liberties of all Canadians. It is unlikely that any challenges to the law under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom will succeed because the Anti- Terrorism Act gives discretion to the Court to make decisions based on national security. Courts, in balancing the rights of individuals with the security interests of the state, will likely rule in favour of the state.
The mainstream Canadians, especially Canadian Jews, have welcomed the antiterrorism law forgetting their past, but they might live to regret the day as did Reverend Martin Impeller, a German Lutheran pastor when he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938.
“In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then the came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I was a protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”
The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE ), a national organisation of journalists and free expression advocates, in their submission to the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights, said that proposed restrictions on freedom of expression, far from enhancing security, are likely to breed insecurity, forcing dissent underground and eroding confidence in Canada’s security forces. Several sections of the bill contain serious assaults on the principles of free expression. We question the need to rush passage of a bill that makes significant inroads on long-standing principles of Canadian justice, in the absence of a demonstrably imminent threat to Canada or Canadians.”
“Citizens’ rights to peaceful dissent and freedom of association would most likely be curtailed by provisions in the bill which could interpret a protest group’s activities as intending to “intimidate or endanger public safety,” its submission said. A citizen who might want to peacefully express unpopular opinions could be smeared by government action and face a lengthy, expensive procedure to clear his name.”
The Anti-terrorism Act for the first time defines what constitutes “terrorism” or “terrorist activity” for purposes of the criminal code. The Anti-Terrorism law makes it:
(1) An offence to knowingly participate in, contribute to or facilitate the activities of a terrorist group or to instruct anyone to carry out a terrorist activity or an activity on behalf of a terrorist group or to knowingly harbour a terrorist; and
(2) A crime to knowingly collect or give funds, either directly or indirectly, in order to carry out terrorism, denying or removing charitable status from those who support terrorist groups, and by making it easier to freeze and seize their assets.
The definition is carefully circumscribed to make it clear that disrupting an essential service is not a terrorist activity if it occurs during a lawful protest or a work strike and is not intended to cause serious harm to persons.
In the wake of objections to the definition, Justice Minister Anne McLellan has removed the word “lawful” to protect participants of illegal protests, strikes or demonstrations, unless it was intended to cause death, serious bodily harm, endangerment of life or serious risk to the health or safety of the public
Under the Anti-terrorism law passed by Parliament, it will be easier to arrest people suspected of terrorism. In fact, police wouldn’t even need a warrant to make an arrest as long as they believe they are preventing a terrorist attack. The law also makes it easier for officers to use electronic surveillance. For instance, the use of wiretaps to seek out terrorists could be extended to one year from the usual two months and the requirement of telling the suspect about electronic surveillance after it has taken place could be delayed for up to three years. The bill would also allow the government to store the DNA of terrorists, to compile lists of terrorists and their organizations and to freeze and take away the assets of terrorists and their supporters.
Under the Income Tax Act, organizations supporting terrorist groups that claim to be charities could be stripped of their charitable status. The Official Secrets Act — under the new name Security of Information Act — has been changed to address the threat of foreign powers and terrorists spying on Canada. The Canada Evidence Act would offer more protection to the country’s intelligence information. The National Defence Act would enable the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to gather intelligence on terrorist groups.
Punishment under the new law depends on just how involved terrorist activity is. Someone who knowingly takes in a terrorist or commits a hate crime in relation to a religious property would face up to 10 years in jail. Someone who takes part in terrorism or is an accomplice to terrorist activity could also get 10 years.
Facilitating a terrorist activity carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. The heaviest sentence goes to the leader — a person who instructs an activity of terrorism could get a life. Offenders would be eligible for parole only at the halfway point of the sentence and would have to serve any other terrorism-related sentences consecutively.
The Anti-Terrorism law does not have an expiry date. Only a five-year sunset clause on two provisions which will expire after five years unless Parliament votes to reinstate them. The provisions relating to the police to take suspects under “preventive arrest,” holding them for 72 hours without charge and special “investigative hearings” that would see witnesses compelled to testify.
Most have heard the phrase “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The three times elected Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his government are, therefore, drunk with power by a factor of three.