Some fear human rights at risk with terrorism bills

The House of Commons began debates on two anti-terrorism bills on Oct. 15, which had first been introduced after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and subsequently expired in 2007.

The first of the reinstated bills, S-7, the Combating Terrorism Act, expands the working definition of “terrorism” under the Criminal Code, widening the scope of acts that may be deemed terrorist offences under the law.

The bill also increases the severity of penalties for those who “knowingly harbour or conceal individuals who have committed terrorism offences.”

The act has generated controversy because of some of the expanded powers it grants to courts and law enforcement officers. The controversial segments of the bill, clauses 10 to 13, allow for the “preventative arrest” of individuals suspected of planning terrorist activities, followed by up to 12 months of recognizance without the individual being charged for an offence.

CBC reports that S-7 also “compels a suspect believed to have information relating to a terrorist offence to undergo an investigative hearing before a judge, without being charged with any offence.”

On Oct. 17, when debate on the Combating Terrorism Act resumed in Parliament, MP Olivia Chow (NDP) referred to S-7 as “a bill designed to violate the civil and human rights of Canadians.”

“What we have in front of us is a bill that unfortunately would take away a tremendous amount of rights from an individual. We can have a secure country without having to violate the civil and human rights of individuals. We do not have to give up those rights.”

The second anti-terrorism bill introduced on Oct.15, known as S-9 or the Nuclear Terrorism Act, adds four new offences to the Criminal Code related to the possession, use, and disposal of nuclear or radioactive materials and devices.

Bill S-9 also amends the Criminal Code’s section pertaining to double jeopardy in criminal proceedings. If a person is tried and acquitted of an offence outside of Canada, clause nine of Bill S-9 ensures that the individual may be tried again for that offence within Canada if the previous trial did not meet “certain basic Canadian legal standards.”

Bill S-9 has proved substantially less controversial in the House of Commons than S-7. CBC News reports that both the Liberal and NDP parties intend to vote in favour of adopting the act.

Although the measures contained within Bills S-7 and S-9 have never been applied by law enforcement, the Harper government has been pushing for their reinstatement since 2007 with no success. This time, with a majority in the House, both are expected to pass.

The bills were first approved in the Senate before moving to the House floor for debate.