Stephen Harper’s plan to bring back controversial anti-terrorism legislation signals an acrimonious fall in the House of Commons, the opposition is charging.
The NDP says it will not support the Prime Minister’s vow to push through two controversial clauses giving police increased powers to deal with potential terrorists or acts of terrorism.
“We think we have sufficient tools in the tool kit right now so we won’t be supporting further powers to the police to intervene beyond the powers they have now,” Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said. “Let’s take a look at their agenda. It doesn’t seem to be in line with what most Canadians are concerned about …”
Instead of being worried about pensions, jobs, health care and the environment as most Canadians are, the Tories are concerned about “guns, prisons and further powers to police,” Mr. Dewar said.
“It seems like they are out of touch with everyday people ...,” he added.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, meanwhile, accused the Conservative government of “taking us on a forced march back to the mid-18th century with their approach to criminal justice.”
The government, with its new-found muscle after winning a majority government in the May election, is planning to finally pass its controversial law and order bills that it had been unable to get through with a minority government.
In addition, it wants to scrap the long-gun registry and bring in reforms to the Senate and to political financing.
And in an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Harper added another item to that crime agenda.
Arguing that the major threat to Canada “is still Islamicism,” he vowed to resurrect the two contentious clauses from the Antiterrorism Act that expired in 2007. One clause allowed police to arrest suspects without a warrant and hold them for three days without charges if they believed a terrorist act had been committed; the other clause allowed a judge to compel a witness to testify in secret under penalty of imprisonment if the witness refused.
The act was passed in 2001 in reaction to the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington, but the controversial portions expired four years ago.
Mr. Harper’s spokesman Andrew MacDougall said he had no timetable for the return of the legislation but added, “as the Prime Minister indicated we do intend to reintroduce these two key provisions in order to better protect Canadians.”
The opposition is incredulous.
“The enemy is not Islam,” Mr. Rae said. “It is the way in which a religion is perverted and hijacked. The common enemy is violent extremism, the deliberate targeting of civilians, and the preaching of hatred. That should be our focus.”
Mr. Dewar suggested the Prime Minister is sowing division on the eve of the 10th anniversary.
“The 10th anniversary of 9/11 should be a time for reflection on how we can build a more inclusive society to end extremism,” he said. “Let’s all guard against knee-jerk demonizing and overheated rhetoric.”
And for Mr. Rae, there is more to dealing with terrorism than changing the law.
Mr. Rae wrote the report on the bombing of Air India Flight 182, and says that the “government will have to explain why measures in place since 2007 have been inadequate.”
He added: “The Harperites are always looking at changing the law as a sign of getting tough. But the issues of prevention and protection are different, more difficult and require more effort.”
Mr. Rae argued the real issue is “how effective CSIS, RCMP and police are working together.”
And he posed a number of questions that he looks forward to debating in the fall. “How many Arabic and other languages are spoken by officers and specialists? How do we deal with the ‘intelligence/evidence’ conundrum? ... And how effective are we at understanding ‘home grown’ terrorism?”
For his part, Mr. Dewar said that Mr. Harper is more concerned with his “pet projects” than with the priorities of Canadians.
“You just have to look at what’s happened this past summer both in Canada and around the world with regards to climate and look at what’s happening with the economy ... I think those are the two most important priorities in terms of people’s ranking of threats to our country.”