Summary Report: Public Consultation with Ethnocultural and Religious Communities on the Impact of the Anti-terrorism Act

November 29, 2004
Ottawa, Ontario


This document is a summary of the views expressed by the participants and does not reflect the views of the Department of Justice or the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.


Plenary Discussion on Focus Questions 1 and 2

What impact has the Anti-terrorism Act had on members of your community? Has your organization conducted any research and/or surveys on this impact?

The Vice-President for the Canadian chapter of the Muslim Students' Association of the United States and Canada referred to a Summary Position Paper available on the resource table and endorsed by many of the organizations participating in the consultation.[1] He stated that the primary concern of his organization is profiling at the border. Additional concerns include the consequences students face for being politically active or participating in anti-war activities on campus, the practice of putting exchange students on various lists, and the harassment of students by police organizations. The Muslim Students Association is compiling data on these issues to present to the Parliamentary review.

The President of the thirty-member Coalition of Muslim Organizations expressed concern about the arrest of individuals without a warrant and an accused's lack of access to a lawyer. His next concern was the chill felt by many people who wire money to their families. Many wiring offices have become frightened and individuals have become scared to send money to their own mothers. According to him, the Canadian Muslim community feels they have been singled out and humiliated by their own government, particularly by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Referring to the Minister's comments about protecting minorities, he recommended that Muslims should also be recognized and protected as a minority group.

The Toronto Chair of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association noted that very few people in the community have read the Anti-terrorism Act and few are capable of understanding it. People also have difficulty differentiating between the impact of the Act and what they perceive to be the general effects of September 11, 2001. Many in the community feel there were no substantive consultations prior to the announcement of the National Security Policy. He expressed three areas of concern. Of primary concern is how CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) approach individuals during their investigations. They are under surveillance, but not charged. The Muslim Lawyers Association provides free legal advice to individuals who are being sought for questioning. Many times when CSIS and the RCMP have called a person for an information-gathering interview, and the person then contacts his firm for legal advice, the officers have cancelled the interview when his law firm has attempted to sit in on an interview of their clients. While the CSIS mandate is intelligence-gathering and not criminal investigation, the average individual cannot tell the difference between CSIS and the RCMP, or their mandates. The second area of concern is the reporting obligations of money-transferring businesses and the way the businesses are treated by banks. The third area of concern in the Muslim community is the impact of surveillance and investigation on charities, their donors, and potential donors.

The representative chosen by the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative is also a representative of the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, but did not attend the consultation in that capacity. He expressed concern that there were no Indigenous groups invited to the consultation, and stated that the ATA has a very serious impact on Indigenous peoples in Canada. He also claimed that the arrest of 50 protestors at the Sun Peaks resort in B.C. is an example of the use of the Anti-terrorism Act.[2]

The Executive Director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic said the ATA has been a real concern in the African-Canadian community. The concerns of her organization include the increase in stops, searches, and secondary stops and searches, particularly at airports. According to her, many people have been treated in embarrassing and shameful ways, including being asked to remove their shoes and clothes, and having their clothes and bodies searched. She said this is also true for African Americans who visit Canada and said there have been an overwhelming number of complaints. Both the Somali and Rastafarian communities feel targeted, especially African Canadian males. As well, there are frequent incidences of questioning, screening, and harassment at banks. Individuals are being asked for more identification, their deposits are being questioned, and police and security are being called. She concluded by stating that the Act promotes racial profiling.

The representative from the India Canada Association, expressed concern that Canada is losing its independence by following its U.S. neighbours. He said his worries encompassed all brown and black peoples, since people find it hard to differentiate between groups. One-fourth of India's population is Muslim and Canadian Muslims of Indian origin have their own philosophy. He too identified racial profiling as an important issue.

The President of the World Sikh Organization expressed his pride in both Canada's history and its international leadership in preserving and protecting human rights. He stated that governments have an obligation and a duty to be guarantors of freedom. The World Sikh Organization is deluged with requests to document numerous reported incidents of violence, hatred, and oppression that are too often overlooked by mainstream media. Sikhs and Muslims find themselves in the unenviable position of having to educate and re-educate generations of their compatriots. He spoke of demeaning searches of Sikhs at the border, and the need for rigorous sensitivity training for people who work at the borders. Despite an exceptional history of non-violence, Sikhs can no longer travel on planes, boats, or trains with their religious identity intact. Children experience hostile environments at school, on the bus, and in the privacy of their own living rooms.

The Executive Vice-President of B'nai Brith pointed to the reality of terrorism in his community. He expressed his belief that the government does not fully comprehend the consequences of terrorism. According to him, while Canada has been blessed so far, it is only a question of when and where terrorism will occur in this country. He said the Jewish community is the most vulnerable minority as it has been the target of terrorism throughout the world. He questioned the political decision to identify only 35 terrorist groups when the Mackenzie Institute listed a minimum of 50 terrorist organizations in 2003. He also claimed that there is a lack of national will to take the issue of terrorism very seriously or to appropriately fund policing entities so they have sufficient resources and do not make mistakes. He concluded by saying that his concern is for the implementation and not the diminishment of the Act.

The Executive Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress noted that individuals and communities of individuals have dual fears: they fear being a victim of terrorism and also being a victim of anti-terrorist measures. He reminded the group that Canada is the only country on Bin Laden's list that has not yet been attacked. Jewish Canadians, in particular, are fearful of being potential victims of terrorism, as they are the only ethno-religious community that has been publicly targeted for international terrorist violence by Bin Laden's followers. In August 1999, two members of an Algerian cell in Montreal discussed detonating a full gasoline truck in a main intersection frequented by a large community of Orthodox Jews. A Montreal Jewish school was recently firebombed and he said the ATA sends a message of reassurance and allays a certain amount of fear that Jewish communities experience about being a victim of terrorism.

According to the Executive Director of Somali Family Services, the Anti-terrorism Act gives full power and tools to different branches of Canadian law enforcement entities, such as CSIS, the RCMP, local police officers, and custom officers. Those entities watch, profile, and target specific groups because they are different. He claimed that the ATA has enormous powers, and the consequences of using those powers are dangerous to the Muslim community, particularly the Somali community. According to him, many incidents go unreported because victims are too timid to speak out. Many individuals have already experienced such victimization in their countries of origin and think that no one can help them. There have been excessive interrogation and incidents of strip searches and humiliation by airport customs officers. Women have been forced to remove their hijabs at airports and borders. Men with longer beards or who dress differently have been targeted.

The Executive Director of the Canadian Ethnocultural Council began her intervention by acknowledging the important work of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. She clarified that her organization is an umbrella organization and does not necessarily get involved at a front-line level, but does have anecdotal evidence to share. She stated that the impact of the Anti-terrorism Act on different communities might not be known for a number of years. She used as an example the situation in Canada during the Second World War, when individuals suffered greatly from being rounded up, detained, and interned. As a result, many individuals lost their jobs and livelihoods, and some took many years to recover. She stated that while we can say that those were extreme times and extreme measures, the reality is that many innocent people became victims solely because of their membership in an ethnic group. She said that "security" still remains the primary criterion for determining people's ability to contribute to and participate in Canadian life. She gave the example of the federal government hiring process that requires security clearance and questioning about one's beliefs and associations. People are feeling outcast and watched, she said. It is hard to get work, and people worry about their children.

The representative from the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada expressed support for many of the concerns that had been shared, and particular support for the Summary Position Paper. He argued that some legislation is formulated in a racialized manner as a response to exaggerated hysteria. He pointed out that 2004 was the tenth anniversary of Bill C-44, the "Just Desserts" bill, in which, he argued, the "danger to the public" provision was implemented on a racialized basis. According to him, the ATA is also nurturing a generalized climate of exaggerated fear and racialized, faith-based xenophobia, not just in the language of the Act, but also in how it is operationalized.

The representative from the Sri Lanka United National Association expressed concern and frustration with the apparent government policy of shying away from including in the list of banned terrorist organizations the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He said this decision ignores concerns about LTTE and the security of the Canadian people. His organization denounces the political opportunism implicit in party candidates seeking to benefit from potential votes within the large Tamil population in Canada. He concluded by saying that the security of the country and its peoples should override any political concerns, and that the LTTE should be listed as a terrorist organization as has been done in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.

The President of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women indicated that the ATA has resulted in significant fear, discrimination, stereotyping, and racism. A community participatory research project completed in 2002 found women, families, and children had been significantly affected, and that members of the community felt enormous fear. Focus group members did not understand why males had been taken away from the home or why their bank accounts had been frozen. She stated that both levels of government must work together on these issues. She recommended increased openness about the process, suggesting that the government create a fact sheet on the Anti-terrorism Act and distribute it widely. She concluded by saying that Canada should have a stronger voice in the international arena against state-sponsored terrorism.

The Executive Director of the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada recommended that a gender and ethnic lens be applied to the national security agenda and the ATA. According to her, many people in immigrant communities, especially women, feel scared and intimidated. She indicated that many of those who are "professional consultees" are growing weary due to people at the highest levels failing to register their concerns. She recommended the creation of a simple brochure, available in various languages, to allay many fears in the community. She noted that a primary concern for immigrant and visible minority women is the denigration of charities. Many women send remittances to countries where the state has imploded, often through the only avenue available, informal channels. The community has also suffered from racial profiling, and, given a culture of modesty, airport "pat-downs" are absolutely demeaning. The national security agenda is a practice of exclusion by ethnicity and faith, she concluded.

The spokesperson for the Muslim Canadian Congress identified his organization as a group of Muslims who believe very strongly in the separation of religion and state. He stated that racial profiling is part and parcel of the ATA. While it may not be in the letter of the law, it is in the spirit of the law, and one reason for this is because of the racial stereotypes that exist. In his view, the evidence is there for all to see that the Muslim community has been targeted. A second point made by him was the fact that not a single person has been convicted of any offences under the Anti-terrorism Act, which shows either incompetence or that the bill was unnecessary. A third option that he put forward is that, if neither of these is true, the real objective of the ATA was to create a climate of fear in both the Muslim and the broader mainstream community. He said, as an example, the Muslim community has been told to identify suspects within their communities and the greater community.

The Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees indicated that her organization endorses the Summary Position Paper prepared for the Consultation by six of the invited organizations. She highlighted the importance of looking at the ATA within the broader context of security measures. Security measures are frequently sought through the implementation of immigration legislation rather than the Criminal Code, with the result that few of an individual's rights are recognized. She questioned why human rights groups have not been included in this consultation, given their ability to access information about how rights are affected by security measures. She claimed that certain rights, such as the right to be free of torture, are being sacrificed in the Act and through other security measures. The Act contains no remedy for those who were so wronged. She asked how the government is addressing the false links the general population makes between Arabs, Muslims, and terrorists. She also objected to the references in the National Security Policy to reforming the refugee determination process.

The representative from the Canadian Arab Federation said his organization is looking forward to a new chapter in their relations with government departments on the issue of the Anti-terrorism Act and on the security agenda as a whole. The Federation does not have the resources to do research and their requests for resources fall on deaf ears. According to him, the security agenda has changed the landscape of the very multicultural society that Canada strives to nurture by negating the rights, privileges, and opportunities inherent in a culturally-diverse democracy. Examples include wrongful interrogations and abuses occurring at the border and the indefinite detention and loss of citizenship for foreign-born Canadians based on secret evidence. He also stated that the Arab community feels marginalized, targeted, singled-out, mistreated, and discriminated against. He concluded by saying that the security agenda should be dealt with collectively, with the security of all Canadians in mind, and with a view to approaching a common destiny with actions of greatness and valour.

The Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation said her organization was founded as part of the National Canadian Japanese Redress Agreement to be a watchdog organization and to provide support to those seeking research in order to speak out on issues. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation has gathered extensive information on monitoring and profiling, including research such as that done by the African Canadian Legal Clinic. She noted the real and potential infringements on civil liberties contained in the ATA and advocated for a sunset clause. Training of police and customs officers is also important. She expressed her hope that during the preparation of the Parliamentary review of the Anti-terrorism Act, there would be outreach to representative groups who attended the consultation and that they would have enough time, support, and resources to prepare the needed briefs.

The Director of Law and Public Policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada raised the issue of development and relief organizations. She stated that there has been a significant chill on projects in sensitive areas such as Palestine and Afghanistan despite the great need for assistance in these areas. According to her, groups receiving CIDA funding are subject to more paperwork and scrutiny.

The Executive Director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada recommended that the Parliamentary review be holistic and extend beyond just the Act alone to include issues such as the rule of law, minority rights, and constitutional rights. According to him, if the analysis is circumscribed to only the narrowly defined use of the Act, the reality of the Act will be obscured and the review will not be a reliable indicator of the impact of the Act. He argued that the Act institutionalizes certain norms and values that violate the rule of law - that this normative architecture informs discriminatory action and conduct. He used as an example the questioning of individuals on how often they pray. He says that the inclusion of religion and ideology in the definition of terrorist activity leads to questioning that is more of a fishing expedition. He also argued that the lack of oversight and review in the Act in the listing provisions has had a negative impact on some individuals, such as Liban Hussein in Ottawa. He raised the issue of arrests without warrant and the effect on individuals who feel compelled to speak when visited by CSIS and the RCMP. He concluded by encouraging the Justice Department to develop a mechanism for people to safely and confidentially lodge complaints about discrimination related to the Anti-terrorism Act.

The President of the Canadian Council of Churches began his intervention by noting that Council members only speak in the name of the Council when absolute consensus exists among its twenty participating churches. He said there was 100% consensus among the Council members with what has been expressed around the table and with the Summary Position Paper. He suggested it is impossible to talk about laws independent of their implementation and the cultural climate the laws produce. Implementation involves actions of the police, immigration officers, and of neighbours. Racial profiling absolutely must be addressed. He cautioned against selling out fundamental values for security and against the establishment of a permanent War Measures Act. The climate of fear must be replaced with a climate of respect. He noted that fundamental values in Canada are based on the idea that society is created by individuals collectively and not by the power of the law. He concluded with the well-known quote from Mark 8:36 "For what does a man profit, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" and a lesser known statistic: a recent Ottawa Citizen article ranked terrorism as the seventh greatest threat out of ten, with flu being number one.


  • [1] The Summary Position Paper was endorsed by the Canadian Arab Federation, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers' Association, the Muslim Canadian Congress, and the Muslim Students' Association of the US and Canada.
  • [2] As a note to the reader, no charges were made pursuant to the Anti-terrorism Act as a result of these arrests.
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