POLITICS

Craig Forcese, Kent Roach's Book Recommends Targeted Rollbacks Of Anti-Terrorism Laws

09/11/2015 03:25 EDT | Updated 09/11/2016 05:12 EDT
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OTTAWA — Some of Stephen Harper's opponents are making bold declarations about repealing recently enacted anti-terrorism laws, but it would be unrealistic to expect a new government to roll back all of the measures, a forthcoming book says.

Rather, the authors recommend "targeted" repeals and amendments of many aspects of security legislation they consider a wasted opportunity for constructive reform.

False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-terrorism, by law professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach, is to be published next week. It expands on a series of critiques the academics released earlier this year following the introduction of sweeping security legislation known as Bill C-51.

The Conservatives ushered in the bill, which was passed with minor changes, following jihadi-inspired attacks last October in Ottawa and St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., that left two soldiers dead.

It gave the Canadian Security Intelligence Service new authority to actively disrupt terror plots, made it easier for police to limit the movements of a suspect, expanded no-fly list powers and took aim at online terrorist propaganda. The legislation also boosted the sharing of federally held information about activity that "undermines the security of Canada."

Forcese and Roach say the process was flawed due to the absence of a comprehensive, publicly available account of what went wrong last October, as well as a general disregard for an array of recommendations put forward by politicians and commissions of inquiry over the years.

They see the legislative changes as a kneejerk reaction that infringes on constitutional guarantees without bringing Canadians closer to preventing terrorism. "Indeed, they constitute a step away from it. It is time for a re-think."

The NDP and Green party say they will repeal Bill C-51, while the Liberals have promised to amend it.

However, anti-terrorism laws are much easier to enact — especially after an attack — than they are to rescind, the book says. This is especially true without a sunset clause that sees elements automatically expire, or a requirement that Parliament review the legislation periodically.

"No government wishes to repeal, only to be faced with accusations that the law it abandoned may have made a difference in a future terrorist incident (a claim that requires no proof to be politically damaging)," the authors write.

The book sets out suggested reforms to C-51 and other security laws, but adds that any changes should involve widespread input.

Any new government must issue a detailed, lessons-learned document concerning the October 2014 attacks and other recent developments, as well as a white paper that provides options that can "be the subject for genuine and open-minded consultation," the professors recommend.

They also call for stronger co-ordination and oversight of anti-terrorist efforts, and more fully developed community-based programs to counter violent extremism.

On the 14th anniversary of terrorist attacks on the United States, Harper lauded his government's approach, saying voters must "choose between experience and the unknown, between security and risk."

The authors accuse the Conservatives of choosing national security last winter as "a political wedge issue" with an eye to the coming election.

"The government made sure that the law was rushed through Parliament with minimal amendments. The politics around the bill became polarized, and at times, toxic. Complex issues were, on both sides, too often reduced to slogans and talking points."

Constitutional challenges are underway to Bill C-51 and measures that permit the government to more easily strip Canadian citizenship from someone.

The authors catalogue other provisions they consider ripe for court challenges. "Much of the inevitable litigation over the new security laws could have been avoided had the government been more attentive to charter concerns and less radical when structuring its new laws."

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