MPs failing badly on terrorism laws, report says

Posted by admin on Sep 11th, 2007

Globe and Mail, COLIN FREEZE
September 10, 2007

Canadian MPs are doing a shameful job of discussing crucial anti-terrorism measures, favouring “simplified, sensationalized and politicized” debates to substantial discussion about powers intended to prevent mass casualty attacks, according to a new research paper to be released today. Legal scholar Kent Roach wrote the paper for the Institute for Research on Public Policy. “Canada was able to avoid that type of poisoned and polarized debate in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” writes Mr. Roach, a leading authority on the Canada’s security laws. “It’s a shame that it has now emerged in 2007.”

Aiming his critiques at both Conservatives and opposition members, the University of Toronto professor writes: “Parliamentarians must resist the urge to simplify, distort or sidetrack the difficult issues raised by security legislation.” A handy example occurred during last year’s debates about the so-called sunset clause powers – a “new low” for Parliament, according to Prof. Roach.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion had his caucus universally vote against these powers, outright ignoring objections expressed by his former cabinet colleagues who had passed the laws. Prime Minister Stephen Harper went so far as to accuse the Liberals of soft-pedalling on combatting terrorism.

Prof. Roach synthesizes a host of complex issues in 30 pages of the paper entitled “Better Late than Never?: The Canadian Parliamentary Review of the Anti-Terrorism Act.” He laments that amid all the political braying, decisions-makers remain woefully ignorant of what’s going on in other countries, and sometimes even in Canada’s own courts and committees.

Under the status quo, a host of issues are up in the air:

Canadian courts have struck down laws defining terrorism: It has been a year since a judge found that describing terrorism as religiously or politically motivated violence was unconstitutional. Parliament hasn’t moved to clarify the subject. “Problems with the definition of terrorist activities cannot be ignored,” Prof. Roach writes.

The sun has set on preventative arrests: The Conservatives have served noticed they plan to revive this controversial, if never-used, measure that would allow police to hold suspects for up to three days at a time if an attack was feared. The Liberals view such arrests, which could be extended by judges, as unnecessary. Prof. Roach points out Canada has let go of its powers with almost no substantive debate.

A House that needs to do more homework: A standing committee of MPs tasked with reviewing terror laws appears to be doing a subpar job. Much of their work “does not inspire confidence” writes Prof. Roach, adding that the upper chamber has a better handle on national security. “Senator [Colin] Kenny has developed expertise and a profile on security matters that is not matched in the Commons,” he writes.

Electronic eavesdropping is at an all-time high: Canada’s enhanced powers have gone largely unremarked upon. “Canada’s ears in the sky appear to be multiplying,” Prof. Roach writes.

Canada lacks convictions: Two criminal terrorism prosecutions have been launched since the Antiterrorism Act was passed in 2001 but no convictions have been secured. Cases have bogged down in time-consuming debates about disclosure and government secrecy. Prof. Roach points out other countries have done a better job in getting to the heart of such cases.

Sidestepping security certificates: Judges are taking a deep interest in security certificates, the tool intended to deport or jail immigrant terrorists. Parliamentarians have been less apt at asserting what is to be done about this controversial power, which is slated to disappear by mid-winter if new laws aren’t passed.

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