Trail of a Terrorist

Canada's Proposed New Laws on Immigration Reform and Counterterrorism Measures

As of October, 2001, the Canadian Parliament is considering two major legislative proposals for strengthing Canada's ability to identify terrorists and prosecute them.
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Immigration Law Reform Bill

In the wake of Ahmed Ressam's arrest and the revelations about how he and fellow Algerian refugee claimants had been living in Montreal for years planning a terrorist attack in the United States, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan introduced sweeping immigration reform legislation to the Canadian Parliament in April, 2000. The bill, which she described as "tough," includes provisions aimed at speeding up the deportation of convicted criminals and streamlining the asylum application process.

The new legislation, bill C-11, is the first major revision of Canada's immigration law since 1976. It provides, among other things:

+ "front end" security screening of refugee claimants, by which claimants are subject to an in depth CSIS screening immediately upon arrival, rather than after a lengthy hearing process. According to an Immigration Ministry spokesperson, the IRB instituted this front end screening process after September 11, even though C-11 has not yet been passed, because the process was deemed an administrative, not legislative, change. Previously, in depth security checks by CSIS were done only after an individual's refugee claim was processed.

+ new grounds for deeming individuals inadmissible to Canada, including misrepresentation of identity. The IRB would be empowered to suspend or terminate a refugee claim when an individual is found inadmissible for security reasons, organized crime or human rights violations. Under the current act, a claim can only be terminated if an individual was deemed inadmissible for criminality.

+ streamlining the procedures by which "serious criminals" are removed from Canada. Currently, non-citizen permanent residents who are subject to removal for committing crimes have access to the appeal procedures of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Under the proposed law, appeal rights will be stripped if there is reason to believe a person is a member of a terrorist organization, a war criminal, has committed crimes against humanity, or has been convicted a crime in Canada that would be punishable by a jail term of at least 10 years in prison, for which a sentence of at least ten years in prison has been given. The IRB decision on criminal inadmissibility will be directly reviewable by the courts, rather than through the administrative appeal process. This provision, says Caplan, respects the refugee claimant's right to due process, while eliminating some of the time-consuming review procedures. The new provision does not change, however, the definition of "serious criminal." Someone convicted of petty thefts, as Ahmed Ressam was, would not be subject to removal due to those crimes.

+ strengthened authority to arrest criminals and security threats. Under the current law, the IRB must first obtain a warrant to arrest a non-permanent resident.

+ increased penalties for possessing, using, or dealing in forged, blank, incomplete, altered or false documents. The penalty for possessing a false document would be 5 years in prison; the penalty for using or dealing in documents would be up to 14 years in prison.

C-11 has received criticism from many sides, and remains under debate. Both the Canadian Bar Association and Amnesty International argued before the House of Commons Immigration Committee that the bill granted too much power to immigration officials. "This is a bad piece of legislation that takes away the rights of the people," said Robin Seligman of the Ontario chapter of the CBA to the Toronto Sun. Other immigration lawyers have said that the powers granted under the bill to immigration officials are akin to those of a secret police. Critics say that the provisions stripping the appeal rights of immigrants facing deportation on criminal grounds, if passed, will likely be challenged in court as a violation of due process.

On the other hand, Canadian critics such as former Immigration Reform Board official Bill Bauer argue that the bill did not make enough changes to have any real effect. He told FRONTLINE, "What I see in the legislation is no change at all in the existing system. To change the existing system requires more than just jiggling a few lines here and a few lines there."

Since its introduction, the bill has since been subject to a number of amendments in response to these criticisms. It passed the House of Commons in June, 2001, and as of October, 2001, is waiting approval by the Senate.

The Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-36)

On October 15, 2001, Canadian Minister of Justice Anne McClellan introduced a sweeping anti-terrorism legislative package which would create new and unprecedented state and police powers. The 171-page bill was quickly drafted in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. If passed, the legislation will make it easier for police to obtain authorizations for electronic surveillance and grant the government greater latitude in protecting information deemed sensitive. Major changes proposed include:

+ allowing police to conduct "preventative arrests" of individuals suspected of planning a terrorist act. Suspects would be brought before a judge within 24 hours of being detained, and could be held for up to 72 hours before being charged.

+ the initiation of "investigative hearings" in which an individual could be brought before a judge and compelled to answer questions in a terrorism investigation.

+ increased power of the Communications Security Establishment which would allow for the interception of communications from within Canada to abroad, as long as the interception was approved by the Minister of Defence. (Under current law, the CSE can only listen to communications outside Canada.)

+ the creation of a number of new criminal offenses including fundraising for terrorist groups, harboring a terrorist, and participating in or facilitating the activities of a terrorist group.

As with similar legislation proposed in the U.S., the bill has been criticized as instituting draconian measures that will infringe on the Canadians' civil rights. "It's absolutely unheard of in our law, and I think it sets a very dangerous precedent," said Alan Gold, President of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, of the provision allowing individuals to be compelled to answer questions in investigatory hearings. Of the package as a whole, he said, "It's going to make a terrible difference for the worse, and I don't think it will make an ounce of difference in terms of catching terrorists. It's what I call 'placebo legislation.'"

Justice Minister McClellan defends the bill, saying the measures are necessary to combat terrorism and preserve freedom. "People who live in daily fear of their personal security and safety cannot live in a free and democratic society," she said, "That fear starts to eat away and erode at the very underpinnings of democracy." McClellan hopes to have the bill passed by Christmas time.

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