04/23/2013 08:07 EDT | Updated 06/23/2013 05:12 EDT

New Anti-Terrorist Laws Would Put Canadians' Liberties at Risk

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July 26, 2009 - Via Rail trains started rolling again after a short-lived strike that left travellers in limbo this weekend. Sarah Dea/Toronto Star. Photo? (Phototrak server down.) (Photo by Sarah Dea/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Monday's announcement that the RCMP broke an apparent terrorist ring set to derail a VIA passenger train is good news. It shows that Canada's existing terrorism laws work.

What the announcement does not show is the need for draconian new laws.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says Canada needs tougher anti-terrorism laws -- laws which his government has put before Parliament. He suggests the Boston bombings prove that; and it is a cinch that he will say Monday's announcement is further evidence of the need for more police powers.

For example, in Canada now everyone is free to remain silent when questioned by police. Under the proposed amendments to Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act Bill S-7 s.83.28(10) the right to remain silent is largely eviscerated. Once an order is given:

No person shall be excused from answering a question or producing a thing under subsection (8) on the ground that the answer or thing may tend to incriminate them or subject them to any proceeding or penalty.

Now, today, in Canada you can be forced to answer questions in court but this is quite different from being required by law to speak to the police. There are certain protections in Bill S-7 (the evidence gathered on a mandatory basis cannot be used to prosecute the individual later) but the change in the rights of the police is quite significant.

There are other elements to Bill S-7. Suspects can be pre-emptively arrested and held for three days. It becomes illegal under Canadian law to travel abroad to conduct an act of terror.

These may seem small points, but Canadians are being asked to give up liberty for a terrorist threat that seems to be in hand. Quoting Clarence Darrow may be old-fashioned but sometimes old fashioned is right:

"You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man's freedom. You can be free only if I am free."

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