Rescind the Anti-Terrorism Act! Release the Prisoners!

by Barry Weisleder / November 2006

October was a tough month for the enemies of civil liberties. Ontario courts twice struck down aspects of Canada’s sweeping so-called security and anti-terrorism laws. These judicial decisions were a limited reflection of public outrage over abusive police practices.

Justice Douglas Rutherford ruled out part of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which defines “terrorist activity” on political, religious, or ideological grounds.

Justice Lynn Ratushny decided that the Security of Information Act, used by the RCMP to harass an Ottawa Citizen journalist, is so vague, broad, and open to abuse that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The courts also barred Ottawa from trying to deport Mahmood Jaballah, 44, a ‘terror suspect’, to a country where he might face torture. Judges have also ordered non-Canadians accused of terrorism who have been held for long periods without being charged or deported to be released into the community under strict supervision. And earlier, the RCMP got a well-deserved black eye from the Maher Arar affair.

But five years after its adoption in 2001 under a Liberal majority, the current Tory minority government wants Parliament to grant a five-year extension to the most egregious provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act. A House of Commons sub-committee reviewing the Act urged that preventive arrest (for up to a year without charge) and investigative hearings (with power to compel testimony, while offering no protection against self-incrimination) should be maintained. Conservatives and Liberals who dominate the sub-committee voted yes; New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois members disagreed.

An Oct. 25 Toronto Star editorial pointed out that “since 9/11, police have successfully investigated and charged terror suspects without relying on these Draconian measures.” It called for an end to these provisions but not for the release of all those jailed without charge, nor for an end to the political offensive that targets Arabs, Muslims, and minorities and that seeks to justify wars of occupation in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Evidently, the Star is content with war and repression so long as they are conducted on the basis of conventional statutes.

Only by linking a stubborn defence of civil liberties to an equally firm opposition to imperialist interventions abroad, can the interests of working people be advanced. More rigorous action by the labour movement, and a more consistent stance by the NDP on this front, are urgently needed to reverse the trend towards repression and war.