Post-9/11 powers likely to expire

ANTI-TERROR LAW - News - Post-9/11 powers likely to expire
Post-9/11 powers likely to expire

Liberals drop their support for controversial provisions, so Conservative motion for renewal almost sure to be defeated

Feb 10, 2007 04:30 AM
Tonda MacCharles
ottawa bureau

OTTAWA–In a surprising about-face, the Liberal party yesterday dropped its support for extending the most controversial anti-terrorism powers it granted to police when it was in government after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It's likely that, as a result, the Anti-Terror Act's most far-reaching provisions – for investigative hearings of material witnesses in terror cases and preventive arrest without bail for 72 hours – will expire as scheduled on Feb. 16. Those two provisions have never been used.

The Liberals now say they will refuse to support a Conservative motion to renew the powers for three more years, even though they had supported a five-year extension in a parliamentary subcommittee review released in October.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in an interview yesterday he believes the Liberal action sends "the wrong message."

"I think this country wants to have laws on the books that will protect Canadians for any eventuality."

Liberal MP Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine) said the Liberal party's support for extending the provisions to 2011 was tied to recommendations that the Conservative government amend the law to curb the two powers.

Specifically, the subcommittee called on the government to limit investigative hearings to cases of "imminent peril that a terrorist offence will be committed" and that police be required to have "reasonable grounds to believe" a terrorism offence will be committed before seeking to "preventatively arrest" a suspect, who can be held for up to 12 months if he refuses strict release conditions.

But the motion introduced by the Conservatives yesterday dealt only with a three-year extension, and not with any proposed amendments. "The Conservative government has literally swept those away with one hand," Jennings said.

"The subcommittee felt (the proposed amendments) would achieve the balance between security and individual rights," said Elizabeth Whiting, a spokesperson for Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

"Without the other recommendations, the Conservative motion extends the sunset period and ignores the protection of individual rights."

Jennings said it was the climate of fear in the wake of 2001 that gave rise to the powers, but even the Liberal government couched its support at the time. Now it's up to the Conservative government to prove they are necessary, she said.

"We know today that the Criminal Code already contains all the necessary offences and powers for law enforcement officials to adequately respond to the threat of terrorism," Liberal MP Sue Barnes (London West) told the Commons yesterday. "I believe these provisions as they stand should sunset."

Not all Liberals are happy with the turnaround.

Liberal MP Roy Cullen, who sat on the parliamentary subcommittee, stands by its recommendations for limitations. But he still does not want to see the powers killed outright.

"I believe those powers are still needed," Cullen (Etobicoke North) said in an interview. "The fact that they've not been used just means authorities are acting judiciously ... but they will be handy some day."

The Tory government appears to feel the original Liberal-drafted legislation is sufficient.

"The ironic part of it is if some tragedy did happen in this country they'd be the very first ones to say, `Is the government going to bring in legislation that's going to deal with this?' Well, the legislation is on the books," Nicholson said. "I think the world has become, if anything, more dangerous, and that terrorist threat is always there. And I hope they have a change of mind, quite frankly."

At the subcommittee, the Bloc Québécois and New Democrats opposed extending the provisions. NDP critic Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh) said he isn't concerned about the loss of the powers next week.

"The Bloc and myself wrote the minority report setting out that it was an unnecessary measure. It was quite risky in terms of unintended consequences. Much as we saw the War Measures Act used in the 1970s against the Quebec population, these provisions were just wide open to be used against the First Nations, the Muslim population, any number of other groups, the labour community. It just was wide open to potential abuse somewhere down the road."

Comartin said "the reality is that we have provisions within the rest of our Criminal Code, the evidence act and other legislation that provides them with all the mechanisms that they need to fight terrorism."

terrorism is still illegal

Comartin said "the reality is that we have provisions within the rest of our Criminal Code, the evidence act and other legislation that provides them with all the mechanisms that they need to fight terrorism."

The remarkable thing about the Patriot Act is that people who support it make it sound like there weren't any laws for fighting terrorism (real or imagined) prior to the PA.

Good for the opposition in Canada.