Canadians Worried About Civil Rights

By By U Wire

By U Wire

BURNABY, British Columbia?The federal government hastily introduced anti-terrorism legislation last week, raising concerns about civil liberties and democratic rights among many Canadians.

The proposed Bill C-36 is part of a $250-million federal plan in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The bill was outlined in Parliament by Justice Minister Anne McLellan who described terrorism as an act that ?is taken or threatened for a political purpose with the intention of compelling a government to do, or refrain from doing, any act that seriously interferes with or disrupts an essential service, facility or system.?

The bill?s language is broad in scope, causing fear that it could be misused.

The legislation would give police and government security forces in Canada sweeping powers to monitor, detain and prosecute people suspected of being associated with terrorist organizations.

Under the legislation, police would be given the power to make ?preventative arrests? allowing them to hold individuals for up to 72 hours without laying criminal charges. Investigative restraints on police would also be lifted, ?compelling? witnesses to testify outside the courtroom.

Concerns that this legislation could be used to violate basic democratic freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, have been expressed by a number of people.

Garth Barriere, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, says it is important that the government not move too quickly in passing this bill and cites a specific concern over the definition of terrorist activity outlined in the legislation.

Barriere is particularly concerned by the bill?s potential to infringe on citizens? rights to peaceful political self-expression.

?Non-violent civil disobedience is part of our political culture and could be deemed a terrorist activity under this legislation,? he said.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, however, insists that ?this legislation is in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,? and wants to have it passed by Christmas of this year.