By Past President Joanie Cameron Pritchett
You’ve got to hand it to the Conservatives: they really know how to score political points.
When it comes to exploiting people’s fears and using it to ram through legislation that takes away civil liberties and individual freedoms, Prime Minister Harper is a master magician.
Is it ironic that Bill S-7, the federal government’s new “anti-terrorism” bill, was introduced just a week after the terrible bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, which killed five people and injured another 276.
Passed last Wednesday through the House of Commons at breakneck speed and given Royal Assent a day later, the new law will give police the right to pre-emptive arrest and hold people without charge for up to three days on “suspicion” of being involved in terrorism. This, of course, could literally mean anyone – and the government doesn’t have to do a thing to prove any of it.
Secondly, it will force people not even charged with an offence into testifying at investigative hearings, and sending anyone who won’t cooperate to prison for up to twelve months.
To most Canadians, this is very similar to the “anti-terrorism” legislation passed in the United States by the Bush Administration, including the notorious 2001 Patriot Act.
This week, Stephen Harper said that terrorism shouldn’t force us, as he specifically put it, to “commit sociology.” In Conservative-speak, that means that we shouldn’t look at the root causes of terror in the world today, and just arrest people after the violence happens.
For Canadians, this isn’t good enough, because by that time, it’s too late. The damage has already been done.
Instead of dealing with the real problems and issues facing millions of people throughout the country, the federal government would rather score cheap political points based on fear and misunderstanding.
People who commit acts of terror and kill innocent people are monsters. No one denies that. But for decades in North America, labour union activists and leaders were also arrested, threatened and abused by the state, just for doing things that unions today do on a regular basis. For far too long, union members were victims to many of the new policing powers listed in Bill S-7.
The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has publicly denounced the new law, saying that it doesn’t provide investigators any new useful tools. In a public letter, the CBA said that it “has the potential to violate basic rights and freedoms of Canadians… ‘Fighting Terrorism’ must not become a mantra that can be cited to justify ever-expanding state powers and ever-increasing encroachment upon fundamental human rights, individual privacy, and the rule of law.”
At the same time, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says that the preventative arrest and investigative procedures that were in effect from 2001 to 2007 – and which are also present in Bill S-7 – were never once used for their supposed purpose.
Several Conservative members of parliament have justified the importance of the Bill by pointing to the recent foiling of a plot by two individuals to derail a Via train in Toronto. Yet as many have suggested, the RCMP made its arrests and stopped any potential harmful activity without the provisions of the new law.
Yet there is another issue looming in the Bill, and that is racism. Canada likes to think of itself as a multi-cultural society where a person’s skin colour doesn’t matter. Yet we know from research that visible minorities struggle through discriminatory barriers in and out of the workplace and face more drastic social indicators like higher rates of poverty and unemployment.
Bill S-7 will only fuel more irrational fears against Muslim Canadians and those of Arab and Middle Eastern descent in Canada. In fact, after the foiled Via rail plot, even the RCMP said they were “bracing for a backlash against Muslims.”
This comes at a time when people of all cultures and faiths in Canada should be working together to break down the root causes of violence and terror in society.
Once again, instead of dealing with the real problems and issues facing millions of people throughout the country, the federal government would rather score cheap political points based on fear and misunderstanding.
Canada is better than this.