Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Canada Scraps Anti-Terror Laws

Reuter's reports:
Canada's Parliament scrapped two contentious anti-terror measures on Tuesday, angering the minority Conservative government, which accuses opposition legislators of being soft on terror.

The House of Commons voted 159-124 not to renew the provisions -- which expire on March 1 -- on the grounds that they had never been used.

One provision allows police to arrest people suspected of planning an imminent terrorist attack and hold them for three days without charge. The other provides for investigative hearings in which a judge can compel witnesses to testify about alleged terrorist activities.

The measures were introduced by the then-Liberal government after the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide attacks on the United States. In a bid to allay fears over human rights, Ottawa agreed the provisions would expire after five years.
The Conservative government controls just 125 of the 308 seats in the House and did not have the votes to extend the measures.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives won power in January 2006 on a platform that promised to crack down on crime, says the Liberals of Stephane Dion are soft on terror and cannot be trusted to keep Canadians safe.

"It is time the leader of the Liberal Party acted like Canadians should trust his judgment on national security issues," he told Parliament on Tuesday.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Canada was sending the wrong message to allies and potential terrorists. "You say you're backing off. That, frankly, is not a message that I want going out there," Day told CTV television a few minutes before the vote.

The Liberals will be the main threat to the Conservatives in elections that some political observers expect this year.

Dion rejects the charges, saying Harper is using fears of terrorism and crime in a bid to win votes.

"Soft on terrorism? That's awful. It will not stop me from finding the best solutions. I will not be intimidated by these bullying strategies," he told Reuters on Monday.

"I know very well how important it is to protect Canadians against terrorism ... I came to the conclusion with my caucus that the two provisions we are speaking about are not helpful and represent a risk to individual rights."

Some government officials suggested a compromise on Monday whereby the measures would be extended by six months to give a special parliamentary committee time to review the matter further. Dion said the offer had been made far too late.

The vote was the second time in a week that elements of Canada's anti-terror legislation had been eliminated.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court struck down a law that allowed foreign suspects to be detained indefinitely without trial on the basis of secret evidence.

"Now we see that a nation can regain its senses after calm reflection and begin to rein back such excesses," the New York Times said in its main editorial on Tuesday, calling on the administration of President George W. Bush to take similar steps in the United States.

Is Canada now a nation of sitting ducks, ripe for a "terror attack" to change their minds? Or is Canada well-positioned and in the driver's seat for a lucrative deal with the U.S. in exchange for resurrecting these anti-terror laws?

I can't imagine any scenario whereby the Bush-Cheney administration will tolerate our closest neighbors bailing out on their war on terror. Because if Canada can hold human and civil rights paramount, could a Democratically-controlled U.S. Congress be far behind in overturning the Patriot Act and last year's Torture Bill (Military Commissions Act of 2006)?

We can only hope.

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