Bill To Restore Sunsetted Anti-Terrorism Laws Debated

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Parliament began debate Monday on two anti-terrorism provisions that were never used and that expired five years ago. It's also looking at new measures to deter acts of terrorism. | Getty Images

Parliament began debate Monday on two anti-terrorism provisions that were never used and that expired five years ago. It's also looking at new measures to deter acts of terrorism.

The two anti-terrorism measures were first brought in by the Liberal government in the wake of 9/11, but were subject to "sunset" clauses that meant they had to be renewed after five years.

Both controversial, one measure compels a suspect believed to have information relating to a terrorist offence to undergo an investigative hearing before a judge, without being charged with any offence. Another measure allows an individual to be preventively arrested without charge and then placed on recognizance, in which he or she would have to agree to certain conditions for up to 12 months.

Police never resorted to using either of these two measures. The cases of the Toronto 18, as well as Mohammed Momin Khawaja and three terrorist suspects in Ottawa were all dealt with using the Criminal Code, which has an extensive terrorism section.

Nevertheless, the government tried before to re-introduce both investigative hearings and preventative arrest, only to be defeated in the minority parliament in 2007. Other attempts died on the order paper.

Now the government, with a majority, has brought the provisions back. Prime Minister Harper, in an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge last fall, said this was his government's plan: "We think those measures are necessary. We think they've been useful," he said. "And as you know … they're applied rarely, but there are times where they're needed."

The government has taken the somewhat unusual step of putting the anti-terrorism legislation first through the Senate, or, as NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin put it, "the back door." The bill, known as S-7, the Combatting Terrorism Act, passed in the Senate in May and then was sent to the House of Commons.

Boivin argued that if the government considered this a serious and important bill, it should not have been debuted at the Senate level, but in the House of Commons, where the Minister of Justice could answer questions.

'A threat that is not going away'

In the House debate today, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, parliamentary secretary for justice, admitted the two sunsetted anti-terrorism measures had never been used, but said, "This is a threat that is not going away."

Boivin argued the bill has "a major shortcoming. It lacks a balance between security and fundamental rights."

Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, critiquing a bill his own government had crafted in 2001, suggested the bill be amended to allow for a special advocate for terrorism suspects who find themselves at ex parte or emergency investigative hearings, where they have to agree to certain conditions without being charged with any offence.

Scarpaleggia also suggested creating a special committee of MPs, under oath, to study classified information about terrorism and national security.

New measures added

As part of S-7, the government has also introduced four new terrorism offences to the Criminal Code, all of which have to do with leaving or attempting to leave Canada to commit several of the existing terrorism offences in the Code.

Penalties range from a maximum of 10 to 14 years imprisonment for anyone leaving, or attempting to leave the country — or boarding a plane, for example — in order to commit or facilitate terrorism.

Findlay, the government spokesperson for the bill Monday, noted that CSIS head Richard Fadden, testifying at a Senate committee, said that between 45 to 69 people have left Canada in order to join "al-Queda type" organizations.

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