Monday, 21 November 2011

Do the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act proposals conflict with the rights of Canadians?

Anti-terrorism legislation creates various types of laws passed in the aim of fighting terrorism. They usually, if not always, are brought about after specific bombings, assassinations and/or terrorist threats have taken place. Anti-terrorism legislation generally includes specific amendments allowing a nation to bypass its own existing legislation and rights when fighting terrorism-related crimes, under the grounds of necessity.

Critics of such legislation often allege that anti-terrorism legislation endangers democracy by creating a state of strict enforcement that allows authoritarian style of government to exist. Governments often state that they are necessary temporary measures that will be dispelled when the danger finally vanish.

The Front de libération du Québec (FLQ; English: Quebec Liberation Front) was a left-wing Quebecois nationalist and Marxist-Leninist paramilitary group in Quebec, Canada. It was active between 1963 and 1970, and was regarded as a terrorist organization for its violent methods of action. It was responsible for over 160 violent incidents which killed eight people and injured many more, including the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969. These attacks culminated in 1970 with what is known as the October Crisis, in which British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was murdered by strangulation by members of the FLQ. Founded in the early 1960s, it supported the Quebec sovereignty movement.

The Canadian government enacted the Canadian War Measures Act to fight the FLQ which more or less gave the police exceptional powers (which as to be expected, they abused) but once the danger was finally over, the Act was no longer enforced.

However, most anti-terrorist legislation continues to be enforced even after the initial target of it has been eliminated. A good example of this is the ‘War on Terror’ which officially began at 9/11 was to end in 2003; however it persists to this day. With no clear end in sight, it violates the laws of reason, facilitating its own brand of circular reasoning and a pseudo straw man (‘Terror’ as the straw man). It is perpetuating its own existence as it were. This presents an unusual case as a logical fallacy. Measures which may be included by anti-terrorism legislation include preventive detention (that is, detention without trial), control orders in the UK and Australia, and warrantless searches in the United States.

The War on Terror (also known as the Global War on Terror or the War on Terrorism) is a term commonly applied to an international military campaign led by the United States and the United Kingdom with the support of other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as non-NATO countries. Originally, the campaign was waged against al-Qaeda and other militant organizations with the purpose of eliminating them.

Even though bin Laden has been killed, al-Qaeda, his god-child still exists and no doubt will continue to exist for more generations to come as will other terrorist groups. In years past, we referred to these people as anarchists and their crimes went back even before the last century. Some will call them militants but as Shakespeare so aptly put it, a rose is a rose by any name so call it what you will, terrorism which comes under many names is still terrorism and like the flu, it will be with us in all likelihood for a very long time. That being as it is, anti-terrorist laws will also be with us for a very long time.

The phrase 'War on Terror' was first used by US President George W. Bush and other high-ranking US officials to denote a global military, political, legal and ideological struggle against organizations designated as terrorist and regimes that were accused of having a connection to them or providing them with support or were perceived, or presented as posing a threat to the US and its allies in general. It was typically used with a particular focus on militant Islamists and al-Qaeda.

Although the term is not officially used by the administration of US President Barack Obama (which instead uses the term Overseas Contingency Operation), it is still commonly used by politicians, in the media and officially by some aspects of government.

The trouble facing all honest and peace-loving citizens is that their rights are slowly being whittled away by governments and the police on the premise that they are protecting us from terrorists.

As an example, when the War Measures Act was enforced in Canada in the 1970s to fight the FLQ in Quebec, police officers throughout Canada were using the Act to arrest people for crimes that were in no way, shape or form whatsoever related to the FLQ or even related to acts of terrorism.

In Canada you're not required to show ID unless you are the driver of a vehicle or if you want to enter a bar or buy cigarettes and you appear to be under age. There was an exception however when peaceful protesters were in the 'G20 Zone'. (the area of downtown Toronto where the leaders of 20 nations met last year) According to the police, the law allowed them an exemption to the rights of citizens by ordering peaceful citizens to show their ID in areas of public works which normally applies only to power stations, dams, etc. Well, the government got clever and just declared the entire downtown area a 'public work' so police could go around demanding ID. The law that made this happen wasn't even published until after the G20 was over. So nobody knew about it until the cops began arresting citizens who were exercising their rights not to have to show their ID to the police. As it later was discovered, the temporary law was actually legally unenforceable and as such, the acts on the part of the police to order citizens on the street to provide them with their ID was illegal.

Of course, none of this is as bad as to what is happening in Syria. The peaceful demonstrators in that unfortunate country are being murdered on the streets by government sharpshooters.

As we all are well aware, it only takes one or several persons to bring about changes in our laws. For example, the terrorists who commandeered the four planes that crashed in September 11th 2001 were carrying box cutters so that they could control the crew and passengers. Up until recently, passengers after that weren’t even allowed to carry nail clippers in their carry-on luggage. The person who placed a bomb in one of his shoes brought about the policy in our airports that required all of us to take off our shoes so that the security people could inspect them for bombs. Then came the underwear bomber who then introduced to us the body scanners. And of course, you can’t bring your own soft drinks past the security gate as it might be construed as an explosive.

I remember when I was traveling around Europe and Africa in 1974. I used to secure my luggage to a pole at the train station with the luggage individually locked so that I wouldn’t have to carry it everywhere I went when I was shopping or eating in the stations. Nowadays, the station would be cleared and the bomb squad would come in and blow up my luggage.

Terrorism is a sad commentary of our times, of that there can be no doubt. The question facing us however is this; are we willing to accept restrictions against our rights in order to protect us from terrorists?

Before you answer that rhetorical question, consider this scenario. You get on board a plane and you are flying over the Atlantic with your family. Some security guard at the airport was too tired or too lazy to notice that the small radio he permitted a passenger to bring on board the plane in his carry-on luggage didn’t work because it was packed with a high explosive. Suddenly, he and his seat are blown out of the side of the plane and following him out of the side of the plane are your two dead daughters. As the plane begins spiraling downwards while out of control towards the sea, you might have a moment to yourself so that you can ask yourself this rhetorical question; are our rights really being whittled away unnecessarily?

Speaking for myself, I would rather be inconvenienced than be dead or watch my family or others being blown out of a plane.

But of course, our rights can’t be whittled away to the extent that they no longer exist.

This is why Canada is planning to review its Anti-Terrorism Act. The Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act was passed by the Liberal government of Canada in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. It received Royal Assent on December 18, 2001, as Bill C-36. The ‘omnibus’ bill extends the powers of government and institutions within the Canadian security establishment to respond to the threat of terrorism.

The expanded powers were highly controversial due to widely perceived incompatibility with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular for the Act's provisions allowing for 'secret' trials, preemptive detention and expansive security and surveillance powers.

The Canadian federal government is considering additions to the Anti-Terrorism Act that would outlaw glorifying terrorism and attending a terrorist training camp.

The amendments would bring Canada in line with a British law passed in 2006 that criminalized giving or receiving training in terrorist techniques and glorifying terrorism with the intent to incite violence.

It would also put Canada in compliance with a 2005 United Nations Security Council resolution that called on countries to "prohibit by law incitement to commit terrorist acts" and to "prevent such conduct."

But the attempt to outlaw incitement could be controversial, pitting the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights against the threat posed by fanatics who encourage their followers to commit terrorist violence.

Proving participation in terror training could also be onerous, requiring police to gather evidence of terrorist activities that often occurs in such lawless countries as Pakistan and Somalia, currently the main destinations for young extremists.
Asked why those two specific proposed changes were considered necessary, Julie Di Mambro, press secretary to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, responded: “Our government received a strong mandate from Canadians to continue making our streets and communities safer.”

I don’t seem to remember being asked to support a strong government mandate to make our streets safe. Such a statement by Di Mambro is what we would call fiddle-faddle. What she is really saying is that since the voters voted in the government of the day, it must have meant that we as voters had given the government authority to do whatever they want to keep our streets safe.

We want them to keep our streets safe but that doesn’t mean that we have given them carte blanche to do whatever they want to accomplish that aim. It doesn’t mean that we want super-secret trials or that we want warrantless searches. It doesn’t mean that we want suspects to be held in prison without their families knowing where they are and it certainly doesn’t meant that we want new laws being created that state that more than three people walking together on a street is illegal.

Di Mambro said, “The proposed amendments to the Anti-terrorism Act will help us fulfill that commitment. (to keep our streets safe) While our government's actions have averted terrorist attacks, the threat of terrorism is still very real. We need to provide law enforcement and national security agencies with the means to anticipate and respond effectively to terrorism.”

She later said it would be inappropriate to comment on specific amendments until the bill had been tabled in Parliament. The Ministry of Public Safety declined to comment and referred questions to the Ministry of Justice. Don’t you just love government secrets?

In other words, we won’t know what the government is proposing until after it is discussed in parliament. Are the proposed amendments so onerous that the government is too embarrassed to tell us what the amendments are going to be?

Professor Kent Roach of University of Toronto said that outlawing terrorist training would be a "minor and justified tweak" to the law. But he said glorification was controversial when it was banned in the United Kingdom.

"The proposal will raise alarms in Muslim and civil liberties communities and any new offence, if used, would have to be narrowly tailored to be upheld under the Charter," said Prof. Roach, an expert in terrorism law.

The measures are being debated as the government struggles to figure out how to respond to the problem of radicalization—Canadians who for various reasons have bought into the al-Qaeda ideology and accepted it as a means to an end.

To advance their cause, some would-be terrorists have travelled overseas to camps, particularly in Somalia and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. The training amendment would presumably allow police to arrest them upon their return to Canada. I don’t have a problem with that kind of amendment.

But other extremists such as the so-called Toronto 18 have instead stayed home to target Canadians. Outlawing glorification would presumably help curb such attacks by silencing those who preach violence. I don’t take issue with that either.

Canada argued at the UN in 2006 that it already had the legal tools to tackle terrorist incitement, specifically the federal hate-crimes law. But five years later, terrorist propaganda remains pervasive on the Internet and radicalization is still considered a top security threat and Canada is still doing nothing to stop it.

Since 2006, Canadian police have charged two prolific online jihadists. Said Namouh of Quebec was a member of the Global Islamic Media Front, an al-Qaeda mouthpiece that uses the Internet to promote terrorist attacks against the West. He was sentenced to life for conspiracy, extortion, facilitating terrorism and participating in a terrorist group. That I do approve.

Salman Hossain of Toronto had used the Internet to call for terrorism against Canadians. He was charged with inciting genocide and hate speech, but he fled the country before police completed an investigation and has not been arrested. If he is arrested, he too should face life in prison.

In a speech last week, Andy Ellis of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said cases like the Toronto 18 show that radicalized individuals with a “distorted version of Islam” are willing to conduct attacks inside Canada.

“Frankly speaking, security agencies do not yet fully understand why and how a seemingly ordinary young man or woman can grow up in Canada yet come to reject the Western, liberal and democratic values that underpin Canadian identity—instead replacing them with the violent, anti-Western ideology of al-Qaeda,” said Mr. Ellis, the CSIS assistant director of policy and strategic partnerships.

"What we do know is that terrorist ideologues who are the vectors of radicalization seek to promote an ‘us versus them’ storyline. This simple message is attractive to many people, especially young people, who are looking for an identity and for a feeling of belonging, and who want to make sense of the world."

Speaking at the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies conference in Ottawa, Mr. Ellis said that to tackle radicalization CSIS would have to work with other government agencies, police and at-risk communities. “We need to expand our efforts into longer-term, preventive programming that will foster individual and community resilience to extremist discourses.”

Canada is woefully unprepared for the onslaught of terrorism despite the many warning signs it has received. Incitement to terrorism proliferates without hindrance in Canada.

Terrorists are being recruited in this country for action abroad. For instance, Canadian Mohamed Jabarah is in an American jail on allegations of plotting to attack the US embassy in Singapore.

Canadian born Mohammad Momin Khawaja, arrested in March 2004 in Ottawa, later was facing charges of participating in a plot to bomb London, England.

Plots for terrorist acts in Canada have also been uncovered. Ahmed Ressam, an illegal Canadian resident convicted for attempting to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport, confessed to targeting “a neigbourhood in Canada where there was an Israeli interest”. He also told investigators from his jail cell of a plot to blow up a fuel truck in a Jewish area of Montreal. He is now serving life in an American prison.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) revealed that a plot by a South American terrorist cell linked to Osama bin Laden to strike Jewish targets in Ottawa and several other Canadian cities was foiled.

Since 9/11, there has been increasing awareness of the pressing need to protect Canadians against the looming threat of global terror. The architects of the anti-terrorism legislation were therefore mandated with the task of balancing security imperatives with the protection of traditional civil liberties. This legislation was also necessary to bring Canada in line with its international obligations. The Anti-Terrorism Act was indeed a step forward, but in my view, far too timid a step.

For example, I don’t believe that a suspect who is arrested for committing or planning to commit an act of terrorism should be released from prison from the moment of his arrest until his death in prison unless he is actually found innocent of those crimes.

I don’t believe that anyone who advocates acts of terrorism in Canada or anywhere else has a right to remain free. And I further believe that anyone who is part of a group of people who are taught how to make bombs or other forms of explosives should be treated in any manner other than as a terrorist.

Further, I don’t believe that anyone who publicly advocates acts of terrorism should be treated as anything other than as a terrorist.

If you think that my views are outrageous, consider how you will feel when you later learn that the would-be-terrorist who is finally set free, makes a bomb that explodes in the bus you and your family are riding in and your family is killed and your limbs are blown off. Would you not then think that it would have been better for everyone if that terrorist had been imprisoned for life instead having been set free?

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