The Impact of the Anti-Terrorism Act on the State and Citizen

Length: 1457 words

Following the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, in New York City, numerous anti-terrorist measures were enacted worldwide. The Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-36) was introduced in Canada on Oct. 15, 2001, and became reality on Dec. 24, 2001 (Wark, 2006). While the purpose of this legislation was to fortify Canadian security against terrorism, it has done so at the expense of citizens’ rights. More powers have been granted to police and courts in their war against terrorism, but certain Canadian citizens may be innocently caught in the crossfire.

The Canadian Muslim and Arab population have suffered from increased racial profiling that is only aided by the Anti-Terrorism Act. There has been a shift in the balance of power between citizens and the state in Canada (International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group [ICLMG], 2003, p. 2). Crises usually result in an expansion of governmental powers, though there still exists a set of limitations on this power, which is a fundamental characteristic of democratic regimes (Daniels, Macklem & Roach, 2001, p. 41).

Through the Anti-Terrorism Act, the government fails to strike the delicate balance between collective security and individual liberty. To begin with, the Anti-Terrorism Act was drafted, debated and tabled in a time of emergency,

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with little time for public opinion or debate. Within the span of three months, the government had granted powers to police and prosecutors unheard of before. The general public gave their support in demanding radical measures in fear of being a victim, in hatred for the terrorists and in frustration of the continued terrorist activities (Daniels et al. 2001, p. 43). Common in times after a crisis such as 9/11, the state responded in haste to defend the state. In this environment of panic, terror and need for assurance, it is no wonder there was a rush to legislate the Anti-Terrorism Act. This haste meant that there was more willingness to forego the safeguards against abuse of power that usually accompany the legislation of sweeping powers. As well, these circumstances may cause the government to take draconian-authoritarian measures in over-reaction (Wark, 2006).

The public may have initially supported and perhaps applauded the swift response of the government in ‘ acting with a vengeance against the terrorists’ (Daniels et al. , 2001, p. 42), but they leave the government with enormous powers to wield. With the Anti-Terrorism Act, the expanded use of power and force by the state is legitimized in an unstable manner. It is important to understand that while power and force are both a part of the enforcement of law, the expansion of these powers leave much room for its abuse.

These expanded powers of the police and courts to include preventive arrests, investigative hearings, increased surveillance and investigative powers, and provisions for secret trials and security certificates (International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group [ICLMG], 2004, p. 27). Specifically, the Anti-Terrorism Act enables police officers to arrest individuals based on suspicion rather than evidence, or detain an individual without a warrant for up to 72 hours. As well, the definition of the term ‘terrorist activity’ is too wide and too vague (Canadian Bar Association [CBA], 2005, p. 4).

Essentially, this definition says that a terrorist activity is an act or omission committed partially or wholly for a political, religious or ideological objective, partially or wholly with the intention to intimidate the public, or compelling a person, government, or organization to do or not to do something (CBA, 2005, p. 4). Through this definition, acts of civil disobedience or political dissent could easily be misconstrued as a ‘terrorist activity. Combined with the new far-reaching powers of the police and state, an environment of insecurity is created for Canadians who may inadvertently fall within the category of ‘terrorism’.

Ironically, the legislation that is meant to protect Canada from terrorism may very well institutionalize ‘terror’ from the state through their unrestrained use of power and force. The true danger of the Anti-Terrorism Act is not that it fails to stop the terrorists, but that it potentially casts innocents as terrorists. Captured within the broad definition are participants in anti-government protests, wildcat strikes, and certain religious and charitable groups. While these activities may be violent and illegal, it is a dangerous exaggeration to call it ‘terrorism’.

Lawyers could also be seen as providing help to accused terrorists through their expertise (CBA, 2005, p. 11). As well, the definition of terrorism has a chilling effect on the freedom of expression and political dissent (ICLMG, 2004, p. 28). The political environment is increasing hostile to public expressions of political dissatisfaction. The right to political dissent is particularly essential in a democratic state because public approval is what establishes the power of the government, and dissent reflects dissatisfaction to the actions of the elected government.

The role and power of the citizen in a democracy has been reduced in the fear of terrorism when political dissent is restricted. The specific danger of the Anti-Terrorism Act once again relates to its broad definition of ‘terrorism’, where the use of the terms ‘political’, ‘religious’ or ‘ideological’ as criteria threatens freedom fighters as well as certain religious groups. In a revealing survey conducted in 2003 by the Muslim Lawyers Association, 10 of 40 lawyers reported 35 incidents of abuse or cases where police overstepped their bounds (ICLMG, 2004, p. 5).

Another informal survey done by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group revealed that half of Canadians believe that police have gone too far in using anti-terrorism powers, and 52% agree that Arab Canadians are being unfairly targeted because of their race (ICLMG, 2004, p. 12). Certainly, with much of the expanded powers in authority based on police discretion, it is not hard to imagine that personal bias will be a factor in executive decisions (ICLMG, 2003, p. 5). In response to the troubling powers granted to the police, the Muslim and Arab communities have learned to mobilize and organize more quickly (ICLMG, 2004, p. 8). Organizations have become stronger as self-preservation kicks in (Ibid. ). As well, there has been a greater and more effective presence of the Arab community in Canadian politics and lobbying efforts (Ibid). It is clear that the Anti-Terrorism Act does little to alleviate the racial tension in Canada following the 9/11. Indeed, the definition found in the Act seems to inadvertently welcome racial profiling. There is a high potential for abuse of power by the police towards specific Canadian groups, particularly in the recent discriminatory environment of Canadian Muslims and Arabs.

The Anti-Terrorism Act marks the failure of the government to balance collective safety with individual liberty. It would seem that the social contract of Canada’s liberal democracy is threatened, as the very citizens whose consent places power and legitimacy in the government find their liberties at stake (Held, 1996, p. 81). The process of legislation was manipulated in a time of emergency, where government took advantage of public fear to quickly grant extraordinary powers to the police and state. With these powers came a broad category of ‘terrorism’, which gives great potential to the abuse of these powers.

The vagueness of the term also places political dissent and anti-government protests in the same arena as ‘terrorism’. However, the most notable targets are the Arab and Muslim communities. The Anti-Terrorism Act places specific emphasis on religious criteria for ‘terrorism’, which helps facilitate a discriminating environment in Canada. Through the manipulation of the process of legislation, the government takes away power from the citizens. Through the actual process of legislating the Anti-Terrorism Act, more powers are granted to the police and state over the citizens.

Through a potential abuse of these powers, there is an exercise of power over the citizens. The Anti-Terrorism Act has disturbed the balance of power between state and citizen, placing a dangerous amount in the state. The danger from terrorism now is not that Canada cannot defend itself, but rather defending itself too well, and in doing so, becoming less democratic (Daniels et al. , 2001, p. 42). Bibliography Canadian Bar Association, (2005). Submission on Bill-C36 Anti-Terrorism Act. Retrieved October 18, 2006, from http://www. cba. org/CBA/submissions/pdf/05-28-eng. df Coalition of Muslim Organizations, (2001). Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights: Submission on Bill C-36, Anti-Terrorism Act. Retrieved October 23, 2006, from http://www. muslimlaw. org/MLA. c36. pdf Daniels, R. J. , Macklem, P. , & Roach, K. (2001). The Security of Freedom: Essays on Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Bill. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Held, D. , (1996). Models of Democracy, 2nd ed. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, (2003). In the Shadow of Law. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from http://www. ba. org/CBA/News/PDf/shadow. pdf International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, (2004). Anti-Terrorism and the Security Agenda: Impacts on Rights, Freedoms and Democracy. Retrieved October 14, 2006, from http://www. carters. ca/terorism/Public%20Forum%20-%20ICLMG. pdf Wark, W. K. (2006). National Security and Human Rights Concerns in Canada: A Survey of Eight Critical Issues in the Post-9/11 Environment. Canadian Human Rights Commission, Section 2. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from http://www. chrc-ccdp. ca/research_program_recherche/NS_SN/page3-en. asp

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