The Harper government is unlikely to include a review or expiry provision when it brings back two controversial anti-terrorism clauses that dramatically expand police powers.
A three-year review of the Anti-terrorism Act and a requirement that two contentious clauses in the act be reaffirmed – or subject to a sunset clause – after five years were included in the original legislation, brought in by the Chrétien government in 2001, as a safeguard to Canadian civil liberties.
This week, however, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggested he is not interested in the idea of a review of the clauses that expired in 2007 after a vote in the House of Commons.
“The extent to which they will be reviewed and how they will be reviewed is not an issue that I have considered at this point, and those are discussions I’m sure that we will have here in Parliament,” Mr. Toews told CTV’s Question Period this week.
Mr. Toews said the “legislation that has expired is going to be brought forward.” And he defended the measures – which allow police to execute preventive detentions and judges to compel testimony – as “necessary to provide us with the flexibility” to deal with terrorism.
Stephen Harper revived the anti-terrorism debate last week in an interview with the CBC on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary. He said he would be bring the measures back to the House of Commons quickly, arguing the biggest security threat to Canada is still “Islamicism.”
That characterization offended some Muslim groups and drew opposition scorn. On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was asked to respond to the Prime Minister’s view and to the concerns of Muslim Canadians.
“I think the overwhelming majority of Canadians – the overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims – want to live peacefully with their neighbours,” he said. “That’s certainly the government’s view and we obviously reject extremism of every kind and we’ll do everything we can to ensure Canada is safe from all forms of extremism.”
The Anti-terrorism Act was brought in by Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Although controversial, it contained provisions for a review every three years of the entire legislation plus a five-year sunset clause on the two controversial measures.
Those measures, preventive detention and investigative hearings, expired in 2007 with the support of the Liberals under then-leader Stéphane Dion. The Tories were angry over losing the vote: “Any party that doesn’t take the national security of Canadians seriously will never be chosen by Canadians to form the government of Canada,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at the time.
But today, two of the Liberal architects of the legislation – former foreign minister John Manley and his counterpart at justice, Anne McLellan – are supportive of Mr. Harper’s plan to bring back these clauses.
Ms. McLellan, however, emphasized the importance of the sunset clause, noting its importance at the time in gaining support from her own caucus. Human-rights expert and Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who had concerns with the initial bill, ended up backing the legislation, partly because it contained such a measure.
Nevertheless, he abstained on the 2007 vote in which the two clauses expired because he felt the debate had become “unduly politicized” and “did not address the merits of the issue.” And now he is pushing for a full review of the legislation.
“The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is an appropriate time to launch a comprehensive review of various sections of the [Anti-terrorism Act]– not just investigative hearings and preventative detention – so that our overall anti-terrorism law and policy can be properly analyzed, critiqued and improved,” Mr. Cotler told The Globe.
All of this is pointing to a heated debate in the Commons. The NDP has said it will not support the government’s plan to reintroduce the measures, but Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was not as direct. He said the government will have to make its case as to why the measures are again necessary, 10 years after 9/11.