09/08/2011 09:12 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST

Canada's Anti-Terrorism Laws: Better to Have and Not Need

In the Toronto 18 case in which I testified five times over four years, it was clear that had there been no such legislation, the offences that the Superior Court found to be criminal would probably not have been denounced as required.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper's bid to re-introduce controversial anti-terrorism measures have already earned the wrath of interim liberal leader Bob Rae, who said Harper would face a "good debate" over them in Parliament, and NDP MP Paul Dewar, who described them as "draconian" in an email to Huffington Post Canada.

I do support both of the "controversial" elements in the measures: the preventive arrest and the investigative hearings. Let me explain why.

First, it is better to have and not need than to need and not have.

As Canada found with the Toronto 18 terrorism prosecution -- the largest of its kind in Canadian history -- this was meant to be not only a test of intelligence sharing but also of the legality of existing anti-terrorism legislation as validated by the courts. What the government found was that indeed, the laws were wide enough to incorporate a number of activities that could legally be construed as terrorism.

Referencing the Toronto 18 case in which I testified five times over four years, it was clear that had there been no such legislation, the offences that the Superior Court found to be criminal would probably not have been denounced as required. It would be inconceivable to have a case first and then introduce the laws to deal with the offences under scrutiny.

Secondly, the public spectacle element (arresting 18 people, some on the highway during rush hour traffic, others just as they exit the Mosque) remains a problem especially when the government says nothing in support of the case for fear of derailing it. This left the window open to professional propagandists to then fill the void with all sorts of conspiracy theories and attempts to delegitimize the case -- almost as if they were judge and jury together. It created a narrative that was never really responded to and thus left many Muslims to simply deny the reality of the charges and otherwise dismiss it away as a group of hapless youth whose reach exceeded their grasp and otherwise not a serious threat.

It is true that there was no reasonable prospect of such attacks taking place but the criminal offence is not to succeed with a catastrophic terror attack but to a) form a group with the express intention of perpetuating and committing acts of violent extremism and b) taking steps to realize those objectives. The group did both those things and for that reason fell into what we refer to as a criminal offence. Eleven were eventually found guilty, either though guilty pleas or judgements of the court -- three are serving life sentences since deterrence and denunciation must remain a major function of the court system.

The backdrop of the case provides the reasons why these enforcement measures are necessary.

Take the case for "Investigative Hearings." Here, if a person is reasonably suspected of having some vital information, they are required by law to give up that information. Believe me when I tell you, the Muslim community in general would make mincemeat of the Muslim who testifies against "his brothers" and I am aware I am making such generalizations but given my first hand observations in this regard, I have every right to.

I was personally labelled a traitor -- an apostate -- a hypocrite and regular wishes of my death and suffering filled the extremist forums. Given that reality, we cannot leave it to the community to volunteer this information and take it to its logical extension: testifying in open court. This is a very stressful and life-consuming process. In this sense, the Investigative Hearing would help the person who would otherwise not testify out of fear from criticism by saying they are being coerced by the government under threat of imprisonment. Thus, it saves the spectacle of a public prosecution and the "shame" of being exposed publicly by reporters who are not there to tell the truth but to "tell the story."

Let's move to the Preventive Arrests: in one case earlier this year, a young Somali man was about to go to Somalia to join Al Shabab. The police had to wait until he was literally on the plane before they could arrest him. Why upset an already skittish air travel industry? He could have been arrested without such an incident through a preventive arrest because frankly, we do not have the resources anymore to be sending people overseas to gather evidence to prosecute offences in Canada.

I do understand the concerns people have about arresting people of what we might think could happen but the reality is, the government agencies have a duty to citizens to reasonably mitigate such danger. I know how much of that intelligence is collected. I know the dangers people have to go through to get it. It would be an enormity to have it -- and not use it -- just like this legislation before us.