Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Draconian' anti-terror laws must go

Grits: Liberals' own security provisions no longer necessary, McCallum says
Norma Greenaway
The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, February 12, 2007

In an about face, the federal Liberal party is poised to help kill "draconian" anti-terror measures the former Liberal government insisted on writing into sweeping legislation passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Liberal MP John McCallum made clear yesterday there have been no second thoughts about the party's surprise decision, revealed Friday in the Commons, to vote this week with the Bloc and NDP to strike down the two most controversial provisions of the 2001 anti-terrorism law.

The Liberal decision means the minority Conservative government will not have the votes needed to approve a motion extending the provisions for three years.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day reacted by accusing the Liberals of bailing out of their own legislation and the war on terrorism.

As recently as October, the Liberals had said they would support extending the provisions that allow preventive arrests of terrorist suspects and investigative hearings.

The provisions, which have not been used, were subject to a five-year sunset clause in the 2001 legislation, and are set to expire at the end of this week unless the Conservative motion is approved by the House of Commons and Senate.

Mr. McCallum said the measures are no longer needed.

"The whole purpose of the sunset clause is that sober second thought can occur," Mr. McCallum, a former Liberal defence minister, said during an interview on CTV's Question Period.

"Now that we are five years beyond Sept. 11, we think it's no longer necessary to have these draconian provisions. We think individual rights are critical, must trump in this situation, and that these laws are not necessary to protect Canada from terrorist threat."

The Conservatives were caught off guard by the Liberal about face, and are expected to spare no effort to paint the reversal as a sign the party, under its new leader, Stephane Dion, is soft on terror.

In the Commons on Friday, Mr. Day said the Liberal move is illogical and naive in the face of continuing terrorist incidents and threats around the world.

"I would remind my colleagues that Canada is still on Osama bin Laden's list," he added before reciting a list of security-related measures being pursued by the Conservative government, including its plan to arm border guards.

Liberal MP Sue Barnes, the party's public security critic, told the Commons there is no justification for keeping unnecessary measures on the books that infringe on the rights of suspects.

"We know today that the Criminal Code already contains all the necessary offences and powers for law enforcement officials to adequately respond to the threat of terrorism," Ms. Barnes said during debate on the motion.

The preventive arrest clause allows police to arrest suspects without warrant and detain them for several days without charge if authorities have reason to believe a terrorist act will be committed.

Investigative hearings allow judges to compel individuals who may know about a terrorist plot to testify in a closed court.