Tories want to revive anti-terror police powers

Posted by admin on Mar 12th, 2009

By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News Service. March 12, 2009
OTTAWA — Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who introduced legislation Thursday to revive lapsed anti-terrorism measures, said it is necessary to give police additional powers “if and when” they need them, even though they never have been used. Nicholson defended his controversial bill as a hip-pocket type of law, so nobody can come back to the government in the event of a terror attack to ask why it didn’t do more to prevent the attack.

“We don’t plan for terrorist acts. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to have these tools on the books,” Nicholson said in an interview.

The legislation would restore two provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, passed quickly in December 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

A “sunset clause” was added, so the two most contentious provisions of the bill — investigative hearings and preventive arrests — would expire after five years unless they were specifically renewed by Parliament.

The extraordinary measures would give police the power to arrest suspects before an act of terrorism occurs, and hold them for up to three days before receiving a judicial hearing.

Authorities could also compel people to testify at closed-door investigative hearings to help police with terrorism probes.

The Criminal Code provisions lapsed in March 2007 after the opposition parties at the time refused to support their continuance.

It was unclear Thursday whether the latest endeavour will pass in the minority Parliament.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who condemned the provisions two years ago as an unnecessary intrusion on civil liberties, told reporters he would have to study the bill before commenting.

But his public-safety critic, Mark Holland, said the legislation is needed in the event of “extraordinary circumstances.”

The NDP and the Bloc oppose the proposed legislation.

The bill is a slightly milder version of the one opposition parties voted down two years ago. Rather, it’s virtually identical to one the government introduced in the Senate after the first bill failed.

That initiative, which had the support of the Liberal-dominated Senate, died when the federal election was called last fall.

The Senate version added the requirements that: police would have to convince a judge they had used every other option available to obtain the evidence they needed, and witnesses compelled to testify at secret hearings would be able to retain lawyers.

Police have never made preventive arrests. An investigative hearing, however, was held in Vancouver to try to force testimony from an Air India witness. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 2004 that the investigative hearings do not violate the Charter of Rights.

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