News that the Tories are rushing to restore extraordinary police and judicial powers dropped from the federal Anti-Terrorism Act two years ago should concern every freedom loving Canadian. These measures include preventive arrests and compelling people to testify in investigations on the strength of suspicions by law enforcement authorities. The news story doesn’t say one way or another, but the old Anti-Terrorism Act permitted arrests without warrants of people suspected to be thinking about a terrorist act — we should be very afraid.
Before the “war on terror” a citizen was presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law where all of the charges and the evidence would be laid out. These days, the government can allege “terrorism” and important protections disappear.
What is a terrorist?
What is a terrorist? While there is no short answer to this question, a terrorist is someone who either does nasty things for political purposes, helps a terrorist or belongs to a terrorist organization. (Of course this is horribly simplistic, which is why you should follow this link to the Criminal Code terrorism provisions.)
Being a peace loving guy, I have no difficulty with jailing terrorists. But I am very concerned about how being charged with terrorism automatically deprives people of the rights they would have should they be charged, for example, with rape and murder, or less dramatically, stealing the potted tomato plant off the front of my front porch under cover of darkness four years ago (but I digress).
Who is a terrorist?
Ever helpful, the Canadian Government has compiled a list of organizations that:
- “have knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity
- knowingly acted on behalf of, at the direction of or in association with an entity that has knowingly carried out, attempted to carry out, participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity”
This list is compiled on the basis of intelligence reports, and doubtless many of the groups named will be familiar to folks who read the newspaper. Conspicuously absent from the list are governments and government agencies that routinely perpetrate terrorist acts on groups and whole populations. You know who I mean.
Where it gets sticky is the secrecy that surrounds the whole business. If you find yourself on the list, you can appeal the ruling. However, under the Criminal Code, you have no right to see all of the evidence “if the judge is of the opinion that the disclosure of the information would injure national security.” (See Criminal Code 83.05 (6) (a).)
Creepier yet, “(6.1) The judge may receive into evidence anything that, in the opinion of the judge, is reliable and appropriate, even if it would not otherwise be admissible under Canadian law, and may base his or her decision on that evidence.”
Hmmm. Does this mean that hearsay evidence or evidence obtained under torture is admissible?
Who else is a terrorist?
According to the Canadian government, anyone on their no-fly list could be, might be, is, kinda, should be dammit, a terrorist. It’s soothingly, reassuringly called the “Passenger Protect” program and it works like this: first you join a terrorist group off the approved list, then you commit or consider the idea of committing a heinous act, or maybe you do something else that makes you unfit for air travel, like not bathing, maybe. This qualifies you for membership on the government’s “specified persons list.” Once a member of this special group, you get a Via Rail Pass because you’ll never fly again.
Is that how it really works? Who know? I looked all over the Transport Canada site trying to get clear information and found some FAQs that don’t really explain how the list is compiled. One may assume that the Star Chamber process used to construct the terrorist entity list is somehow involved. How do you get off the list? Ask the two boys named Allistair Butt who were caught up in this anti-terrorist dragnet. They managed.
Is anyone else a terrorist?
“The Government of Canada issues a certificate only in exceptional circumstances where the information to determine the case cannot be disclosed without endangering the safety of any person or national security.”
Not only is this information sooooo sensitive that it can’t be revealed publically, it can’t be revealed to the subject of the security certificate. Go to Mohamed Harkat’s web site and learn how security certificates were used to ruin the lives of five Muslim immigrants in Canada.
National Security versus Real Security
Anyone who has followed the case of Maher Arar knows that government spooks are unreliable judges of threats to our national security. Secret evidence and secret trials lead only one way — to tyranny.
Under the guise of fighting terrorism, our freedom is being stolen. Real security exists where accused persons have the unfettered right to confront their accuser with all of the evidence public and open to challenge. Unless we demand this basic protection for all accused, we are allowing a police state to be born.