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 4

Do you have any suggestions as to how the Anti-terrorism Act could be improved?

Group Three

Group Three stated that there is a unbalanced relationship between the public impression of the law, and what powers and provisions the Act actually contains. The group suggested that law enforcement agencies be provided with additional education and training on the Act, and that the training should involve non-governmental organizations and the people around the table.

The group also suggested that law enforcement agencies should be included in community consultations such as this one. In its view, not only does the Act need to be improved, but so does the entire consultation process.

It was also suggested that more public education and training is needed, and that the Act should be provided to the public in a format that is easy to read and understand. As well, a sunset clause should exist for the whole Act, rather than simply for two provisions. An accountability mechanism should be added to the Act, and a committee should be established to oversee and monitor complaints. Links among different organizations should be provided through a diagram so that gaps and problems could be identified.

CSIS should verify information from foreign governments. Ministerial Certificates should only be issued in cases of a substantiated risk to national security and not simply a risk to international relations. For individuals charged under the regulations, there should be access to information, in accordance with the Privacy Act.

Group Two

Group Two questioned the necessity of the Act itself, suggesting that criminal law processes were sufficient. They called for the inclusion of an anti-discrimination clause in the preamble to the Act, as well as the establishment of civilian oversight and mechanisms to deal with complaints regarding CSIS, the RCMP, and all of the national security provisions. There should be a long-term commitment to consultations, an effort made to meet people in their own communities across the country, and information on the law available in multiple languages in a simpler format. An anti-racism and gender impact analysis should be applied to the security agenda and the legislation.

The mischief offences should not be restricted to religious property alone, but should also include community property such as the schools and community centres of ethnocultural and faith groups.

The group also argued that the transparency of judicial oversight should be clarified. There should be an effective appeal or complaint mechanism, such as access to the Canadian Human Rights Act or to the Supreme Court. There must be greater transparency regarding the use of evidence and limitations set on the use of secret evidence. The definition of terrorism should not include motives such as "political" or "religious". There should be a right to answer charges and closed hearings should be abolished.

Amendments should be made to investigative hearings, preventive arrest, and the use of security certificates. An anti-discrimination clause should be included in the Act, and racial or faith-based profiling should be banned.

Group One

There was agreement about the problems, but sharp differences on how to address them.

Opinions in the group ranged from advocating for change to the implementation mechanism of the Act, to keeping the Act as it is, and to developing a new re-written Act. There was agreement that there should be more impact analysis when the Act is reviewed.

Another suggestion was that the word "religious" should be taken out of the definition of terrorism so that the focus would be on the ideologically-based actions of a politically-motivated group. There should be one comprehensive annual report that outlines, for example, the number of individuals investigated, those who were cleared, and those who were shifted to other countries. Such disclosure could help to dissipate the paranoid culture that exists right now. There were differing opinions on whether accused individuals should be afforded sufficient legal defence, although there was agreement that access to legal counsel was an imperative by law.

There was general agreement on the need to allocate funds for implementation, including data collection, training, and publication of documents in a language that ordinary people can understand. There was a lot of discussion about due process and how the Act, in its implementation, is allowing extraordinary policing in a manner that goes against customary expectations of due process. It was suggested that there needed to be a higher standard for listing; as the words "reasonable grounds" do not carry great meaning.

It was agreed that the vast majority of citizens do not understand the "do's and don'ts" of the Act. If the nature of terrorism is such that extraordinary legislation is required, then accused persons should have access to resources to be able to defend themselves. Resources are a problem if assets are frozen, and legal aid would not be sufficient. Some members of the group felt that "specialized" lawyers should be provided to defendants through the legal aid system in terrorism cases, while other members of the group felt that the current legal aid system is adequate. As well, individuals who have been issued security certificates should have direct access to a review process by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The group concluded by stating that law enforcement agencies should participate in regular, ongoing, and effective anti-racism training, provided in collaboration and partnership with many of the groups represented at the table. Finally, the preventive arrest section should be deleted, and the government should be obliged to help those who have been de-listed to regain their life and credibility in society. There should be anti-racial profiling legislation to balance the Anti-terrorism Act.