Vancouver – The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association asked Parliament today to reject Bill S-7, as that bill goes to a vote. In letters to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Safety, and the leaders of the opposition parties, the BCCLA called Bill S-7 an unnecessary and ineffective measure to confront terrorism. It serves to unjustifiably expand the scope and reach of state authority without any accompanying expansion of accountability and oversight. The letters included a joint statement endorsed by BCCLA and other civil liberties organizations across Canada.
Bill S-7 is the latest attempt by the federal government to re-introduce controversial and troubling provisions from the Anti-Terrorism Act, passed in the aftermath of 9-11. These include “investigative hearings”, which compel individuals to testify in secret before a judge, and “preventive arrests”, allowing police to lock people up for up to three days without charge. Those provisions expired in 2007 as the result of a “sunset clause” when a majority of Parliament deemed them to be unnecessary, and voted against their extension. Bill S-7 also goes beyond the original 2001 legislation by creating new offences under the Criminal Code which are premised on very broad definitions of terrorist activity and what would constitute participation in such activity. These new offences run the real risk of criminalizing legitimate forms of political dissent.
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BCCLA, said: “Bill S-7 is unnecessary. It is telling that every major terrorism-related incident in Canada since the introduction of terrorism legislation has been investigated and prevented without any need to use these special powers. The existing Criminal Code is the most effective and appropriate tool to counter terrorism in Canada, as seen by the recent arrests in Montreal and Toronto of terror suspects alleged to be involved in a plot to derail a train.”
Under Bill S-7, individuals could be stripped of their constitutional rights and be forced to testify in court, arrested, detained or made subject to bail conditions – all without any charges being laid. Individuals will have no right to know and no opportunity to challenge the basis of their so-called preventive arrest, or the requirement to attend investigative hearings.
Vonn added: “It is morally and constitutionally repugnant to consider locking someone away for up to a year with no criminal charge. This Bill threatens ancient, precious and hard-won democratic safeguards, and Parliament must exercise extreme caution. Canadians deserve no less than Parliament taking a sober second look at this Senate Bill, instead of rushing to pass legislation in a climate of fear.”
The BCCLA appeared before parliamentary committee in November 2012 to highlight its concerns that these measures would likely have no demonstrable effect on combating terrorism, but they would certainly erode the core democratic principles and ideals that all Canadians have an interest in seeing protected.