Two controversial measures in the federal Anti-Terrorism Act will disappear from the law books after a vote Tuesday night in the House of Commons that marked the first major political test for Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.
In a vote of 159 to 124, the combined opposition defeated a Conservative minority government motion that would have renewed the extraordinary legal powers of authorities to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects.
The Liberal caucus was deeply divided on the issue as recently as last week. But by the time of last night's vote, only one Liberal - Tom Wappell - abandoned Mr. Dion and voted with the Conservatives.
Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler abstained, and a dozen other Liberals were absent, some for health reasons.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Mr. Dion had to force his caucus into line, thus putting internal party politics ahead of national security.
Mr. Harper said the failure of the renewal motion is not the end of the matter, suggesting the government might introduce fresh legislation.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said "the government will get to work ... to protect Canadians" by fashioning new tools to combat terrorism. He did not specify what the government intends to do.
Mr. Day once again hammered Mr. Dion for "this very distressing flip-flop." The New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois have long opposed the renewal. But the Liberals took most of the political heat from the Conservatives.
Sensing an opportunity to drive a wedge between Mr. Dion and some of his caucus members, Mr. Harper last week called the Liberal Leader "soft on terrorism."
The Prime Minister's tone did not change Tuesday. He said Mr. Dion "denigrates the police in this country." The Liberal Leader, meanwhile, said he was taking a principled stand in defence of human rights.
It was a difficult debate, not just for Liberals but for many others who are concerned about the balance between individual rights and public security, Mr. Dion said.
He said he was not troubled by the no-shows from his caucus, because the turnout was about standard for this kind of vote.
The Liberal Leader left some political room for his party to come back at the anti-terrorism issue with alternative measures.
"The government did not do its homework," Mr. Dion said, referring to what he called a lamentable failure to deal with an entire package of anti-terrorism law reforms proposed by parliamentary committees.
Recent court rulings struck down other key measures in the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was adopted soon after the al-Qaeda attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
An Ontario court said Parliament will have to rethink the legal definition of terrorism because the law says terrorist acts are motivated by politics or other beliefs that are protected by the Charter of Rights.
The need for a tweaking - if not a major overhaul - of the five-year-old legislation is apparent to some Conservatives as well.
When he was the justice minister, Vic Toews said he was uncomfortable with the definition of terrorism as an offence motivated in whole or in part for a "political, religious or ideological purpose," and that the whole section could be safely dropped.
Earlier in the day, family members of Canadians killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks appealed to the opposition parties to support the renewal resolution.
"We're victims of terrorism. We don't want to be victims of politics," said Maureen Basnicki of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. Her husband, Ken Basnicki, was in New York's World Trade Center when it was hit and destroyed.
Ms. Basnicki said she has often thought that if U.S. authorities had such investigative powers before 9/11, they might have thwarted the attacks.
The fact the powers have not been used in the five years that they have been on the books in Canada does not mean they might not be needed, she told a news conference in Ottawa.
A former flight attendant, Ms. Basnicki compared the measures to the safety equipment and procedures aboard commercial aircraft for "the unlikely event of an accident."
The renewal resolution not only divided the current Liberal caucus, but was also controversial among former Liberal ministers who supported the bill five years ago.
Former deputy prime minister John Manley said it was unwise to let the powers expire. But Herb Dhaliwal, another former minister, said he is glad he insisted on the sunset provision five years ago.
"Once a law is passed it is very hard to get rid of it," Mr. Dhaliwal told CBC TV. "The sunset provision did what it was supposed to do." Some Liberals who had hoped for a last-minute compromise said Mr. Harper so poisoned the political atmosphere around the issue that a deal became impossible.
"The Prime Minister has taken the low road ... politicizing this when we need concrete solutions," said Michael Ignatieff, the deputy Liberal leader.
Mr. Ignatieff also said the government has been sitting on a House committee report recommending improvements to the Anti-Terrorism Act for five months, doing nothing and thus setting up Tuesday's confrontation.