Minority Views on the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act
Participants in various locations were confused about what terrorism really was, and what constituted a terrorist act. This emerged early in the groups, while talking about terrorist acts in Canada before 9/11, and also while discussing several of the ATA provisions.
4.1.1 Awareness of Pre 9/11 Terrorist Incidents in Canada
General awareness of terrorist incidents in Canada was consistently low in all 5 locations and across all target groups.
Overall, participants indicated that nothing had happened that was comparable to 9/11. However, several participants in all 5 locations vaguely remembered the 1970 FLQ crisis, as well as the Air India bombing, although the latter was of greater concern in the visible minority and non-visible minority groups. Some in the Calgary visible minority group were aware of a recent attempt to smuggle a bomb across the border.
Other incidents mentioned early on in the discussions foreshadow some of the confusion about the definition of terrorism. These include the Oka crisis (mentioned in Montreal), the Montreal massacre of women at the Polytechnic (cited in both Montreal and Halifax), and the shooting of an abortion doctor (referred to in Calgary and in Vancouver.)
4.1.2 Likelihood of Terrorist Attack in Canada
As part of the introductory discussion, participants were asked about the likelihood of Canada suffering a terrorist attack. (Note that the 13 discussion groups, after Halifax, were given a time parameter of within the next 4.years.)
Overall, it would appear that participants in this study did not perceive the current situation – even in the tense pre-Iraq-war climate – as exceptional or particularly threatening.
Consistently, most participants in all locations felt the perceived risk of terrorism on Canadian soil was very low because Canada is a
"safe and peaceful country", and not akin to others (in the mid-east, Europe, and Britain) where terrorism has long been active.
We [Canada] are not on the terrorist's blacklist. [Halifax Group 1]
Canada was also seen as:
"a neutral country," and
"not a threat to anyone," certainly not when compared to the US, as
"very multi-cultural," and
"accepting of all people," as a
"peace-keeper," as a
"not a leader," and as a country who was currently not supporting the US in the Iraq war.
People in different locations mentioned that the low risk of a war or terrorism was in fact one of the reasons why they came to Canada in the first place. However, some concern did exist in various groups that Canada has been and still could be a
"safe haven for terrorists." In fact, several people in Vancouver thought the chances were high that
"sleepers were already living here." Some in Montreal thought not only were terrorists already here, but they were
"prepared to attack". They felt our proximity to the US puts us in harm's way, although we might not be a direct target, and that perhaps a small incident might occur, but nothing on a large scale.
A typical apprehensive comment –
"You never know!"
In general, participant awareness of terrorist-related legislation was consistently low, across all 3-target groups and in all 5 locations, whether it concerned the Anti-terrorism Act, the Criminal Code or any other legal measures.
4.2.1 The Anti-terrorism Act
Overall, awareness of the passing of the new anti-terrorist legislation was consistently very low across all 3-target groups and in all 5 locations. Some had heard of it in the news, but had only vague impressions. Several participants in various locations suggested that the ATA passed quickly after 9/11 due to pressure from the US.
After September 11, we are living by the US rules. (Halifax Group 1)
Others remarked that the ATA had passed without any public consultation or publicity. A Toronto woman had read that CSIS could now accuse someone without revealing the evidence against them (even to the accused person's lawyer). Some in Montreal thought it was a new law, while some others disagreed – in either case, no one saw it as a major change.
Several individuals had somewhat greater in-depth knowledge about the ATA. A Group1 participant from Calgary had tried to read it, but at more than 100 pages, it was too long for him. A Group 4.participant from Vancouver, a legal secretary, had heard her employers discussing it at work. And a student from Halifax Group 4.had recently written a paper about it at law school, and cited:
Changes to the court system, expansion of police powers, increased surveillance, loss of rights on an individual's right to a defence, infringement on privacy and free speech, increased airport and border security, racial profiling, immigration (security, detention and identification), listing of terrorists, and financing of terrorism (money laundering, donations to charitable organizations).
4.2.2 Prior Criminal Code Terrorism Provisions
Overall, awareness of how and whether terrorist acts were dealt with before the passing of Bill C-36 was consistently almost non-existent – most people simply did not know, even vaguely.
Exceptions occurred in the Montreal francophone groups and in Calgary. In Montreal, a few in each group thought the Anti-terrorism Act toughened already existing legislation in the Criminal Code, but could not say how. Also in Montreal, one respondent thought the War Measures Act was the legislation dealing with terrorism before the ATA. A Calgary respondent vaguely recalled that someone had been deported to Syria, under some sort of
"suspicion law," but could not say more about this.
4.2.3 Post 9/11 Public Security Measures
Participants were not specifically aware of legislated changes after 9/11, but a significant majority did seem to know about certain public security measures adopted by the government of Canada to combat terrorism.
Most people expressly mentioned government actions related to travel, customs and immigration – namely that personal identification was now needed to travel to the US and elsewhere. According to participants, it now
"takes longer to get a passport",
"permanent resident cards" with photos are now needed, and passports are no longer stamped like they used to be.
In addition, it was now generally
"tougher" to get into the US. In Montreal, this was mainly attributed to an American decision that Canada simply had to accept. However, some Montreal participants appreciated that the Canadian government had protested American insistence on the systematic filing of names of certain Canadian residents born abroad.
Participants also mentioned,
"increased security checks" at airports and borders, and more
"careful screening" of new immigrants.
"Upscale screening technology" was now being used, including
"more secure cockpit doors" on planes. Airline security charges (referred to as a
"tax grab") were now in place to pay for this.
Some thought that increased federal funds were allocated to
"help fund CSIS" and security at airports. Some others referred vaguely to legislation, but did not connect it to the ATA. For example there was mention of legislation related to
"financing of terrorism," the
"official banning" of some groups from Canada, and
One Montreal respondent had heard during the G8 Summit in Quebec City that people
"could now be arrested without a warrant" and feared
"police abuses" and a diminution of civil rights, such as the
"right to protest."
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