The Views of Canadian Scholars on the Impact of the Anti-Terrorism Act


The principal aim of this project was to ascertain the major effects of Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, an omnibus bill introduced by the Government of Canada to combat terrorism in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. To achieve this aim, the Department of Justice identified a number of academic experts on terrorism and asked them to provide written responses to questions on the impact of the Act, the threats faced by Canada, and on the measures this country ought to consider in responding to these threats.

The participating scholars formed a diverse group geographically, as well as in terms of their academic backgrounds. They were drawn from law schools, international studies, conflict studies, programs in governance, and history departments. As the original pool of experts was not selected randomly, the participants cannot be taken to be a representative sample of all Canadian scholars with expertise in the area of terrorism.

6.1 The Impact of the Anti-Terrorism Act

Many of the participating scholars indicated that it was too early to assess the impact of the Act as many of the most contentious powers under it have not been used. It was also pointed out that the Act's ability to deter terrorist attacks is difficult to determine, as the absence of such incidents can indicate that the measures taken have been successful or simply that the objective threat has been minimal.


6.2 Emerging Trends in Terrorism and Threats Faced by Canada

Many of the participants alluded to the transformation of terrorism in the post-September 11th era. Specifically, they spoke of the abandonment of restraints in terrorist attacks, the pursuit of mass casualties, and the danger of an attack involving weapons of mass destruction.


6.3 Canada's Response to Terrorism

Overall, participants stressed that a multidimensional response was required in dealing with terrorism, including effective legislation, intelligence, and police work, as well as critical infrastructure protection and government policies designed to promote the values and interests of Canadians. Several participants supported a comprehensive approach to dealing with all threats faced by Canada-including terrorism-and the prioritization of these threats. Such an approach can be pursued only with the cooperation of public and private agencies that have responsibilities in addressing these threats. Participants also discussed the importance of establishing a central threat assessment capacity and a review of risk assessment methodologies toward the end of identifying the capabilities and intentions of terrorists, as well as the vulnerability of various targets.

Several participants mentioned the need for a measured response that is sustainable financially, respects civil liberties, and does not alienate various communities, so they do not become a more fertile ground for recruitment by extremist groups. Notwithstanding the admonitions to avoid over-reacting to the terrorist threat, it was pointed out that preserving the safety of Canadians is a fundamental moral and legal obligation of the government.