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.

Report of Breakout Groups on Focus Question 3

What is the general understanding in your community of what powers and/or provisions the Anti-terrorism Act contains? Which of these concern members of your community most?

Group One

The group reported that while there was agreement on the problems, there was strong disagreement on how to tackle them.

The debate centred on implementation and activities within the community, and how the communities therefore understand that ATA. Some participants felt there had been a total breakdown of trust in the system as a result of an overzealous implementation of the Anti-terrorism Act. Police were racially profiling people of colour and people of certain religions, including Muslims. Some group members suggested the ATA had the effect of allowing the untrammelled expression of racial profiling and racism that has long existed in the policing community.

Other group members presented an alternative interpretation, calling for increased training of police and increased resources, noting that CSIS has admitted its lack of resources. These group members suggested it was naïve to believe that there is no terrorist infrastructure in Canada. It is important that police are able to deal with the real threats. The credibility of Canadian law is at stake.

Some group members stated that people in the Muslim community do not believe a word the police say and feel that the term "war on terrorism" translates into a war on Muslims. Other group members said due process must be weakened in order to enforce the law. The group debated whether procedural rule of law, a foundation of Anglo-Canadian law, is being undermined by the Anti-terrorism Act.

Group members suggested that threat assessments are inadequate and incompetent. Others wondered if the ATA could be modified to eliminate some of the implementation and enforcement difficulties. The suggestion was made that the term sensitivity training be replaced by anti-racist training, and that anti-racist training be thorough, systematic, and a fundamental part of the preparation of all individuals who work in law enforcement.

Group members agreed that everyone wants to feel secure. However, some group participants said the ATA made them feel more secure, while most participants said it made them feel a great deal less secure.

Group Two

Group Two reported that there was little understanding about the Anti-terrorism Act in the community, and that neither the Justice Department nor the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada had done enough in terms of public education campaigns. Fear, intimidation, and a sense of broad abuse of powers characterize feelings in communities. Reactions differ widely in the community, depending on status as immigrants, refugees, or those who are Canadian born. There is a broad sense of disappointment at what is perceived to be a rush toward a police state.

The Canadian Arab Federation indicated that four out of five people had chosen Canada because of its human rights record and policy of multiculturalism. Some group participants believe that existing legislation precluded the need for the Anti-terrorism Act. Furthermore, a law depends not just on what is written on paper but also on how it is played out on the citizenry. Implementation has resulted in racial profiling and invasive tactics of "pat-downs" and screening by both customs and immigration officials at airports.

The group reported on "two solitudes" of differing opinion about whether or not there is a real and present danger of terrorism. Some people feel they do not have enough security and other people feel they do not have enough human rights. The group noted that the request in 2001 for an anti-discriminatory clause embedded in the preamble to the Act was not heeded.

The group explored why terrorism has become synonymous with Muslims for many people. Concern was expressed about violations of human rights in the ATA, including rule of law, accountability, oversight, transparency, the way that entities are listed, arrests without warrant, investigative hearings, and an overly broad definition of terrorism. The group noted that racists, neo-Nazis, and the Aryan Nation are the only ones not caught in the dragnet. The legislation should be analyzed to determine its impact according to gender, race and ethnicity.

Group Three

Group Three reported on the extremely problematic manner in which the RCMP and CSIS are implementing the legislation, even if people conclude there is nothing wrong with the actual law itself. Secondly, the group felt that many community members do not know the details of the Act. It was reported that mobility rights have been limited because of information sharing. The issue of how indigenous communities have been affected by the Act was discussed. The group also described the negative effects on relief organizations such as the new difficulty in recruiting board members.

The next issue raised was the quick 'turn around' time of Bill C-36 and the perception that it was rushed through.

In conclusion, the group reported that people do not feel more secure but rather more insecure. The ATA is perceived as giving license for authorities of the law to violate people's rights, and for the private sector to incorporate security concerns in their hiring and employment practices..