Minority Views on the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act

4.  Detailed Findings (continued)

4.  Detailed Findings (continued)

4.3 Reactions to the ATA

As mentioned earlier in the report, there was a set procedure employed to expose participants to aspects of the ATA.

  • Each respondent was issued a simplified printed handout summarizing the relevant ATA provision or aspect (which had a minimum of legal language).  Participants were given a few minutes to read it over before the group discussion took place.
  • One-page printed handouts were issued for:  (1) the brief ATA summary, (2) the definition of a terrorist activity, (3) the listing of terrorist entities, and (4) the financing of terrorism.  And a two-page handout was used for (5) the new police investigative and preventive powers.  However the moderator read a written text to describe both the sunset clause and reporting obligation.

This section presents the main findings for each of these aspects.

Note that participants and groups focused mainly on self-selected aspects of the provisions under discussion.  While there may be important points in a particular aspect that were not discussed or mentioned, this in no way means that people did not care or have views about them – but could relate more to comfort levels reading and absorbing somewhat complex materials within limited time constraints and a group context.

4.3.1 The ATA Overview

Each respondent was issued a simplified one-page printed handout about with a brief overview of the ATA, and was given a few minutes to read it over before the group discussion took place. Note that participants and groups focused mainly on self-selected aspects of this provision

Overall Reaction

Reaction was generally consistent across all target groups and locations.  The majority of participants across all locations and target groups approved of this Act in principle – some participants did express their strong reservations.  Only a small minority questioned the need for anti-terrorism legislation in Canada.

On the positive side, the Act was generally thought to create a sense of comfort, safety, and increased security, as evidenced by the following comments.

  • They should enforce it – I came here to make a good life for myself – my country was a war one – I came here for a peaceful life. (Toronto Group 1)
  • We can't blame the government for being more careful with people coming from countries where there are terrorists – the potential is there, the risk is there. (Halifax Group 2)
  • It's okay if they have them, good for all society, hopefully catch those people.  (Vancouver Group 1)

Some participants in Calgary and Halifax appreciated the UN requirement, although one Calgary woman saw it as a loss of sovereignty.

Makes me feel safer - gives us a reason why they are doing it.  The UN wants to create peace in the world. (Calgary Group 2)

On the negative side, the summary was seen as too vague or broad across locations and groups, but most participants worried primarily about the possible detrimental effects on civil liberties, including (1) the potential for abuse, (2) the targeting of ethnic minorities, and (3) general ineffectiveness to prevent terrorism.

  1. Potential for abuse -- People in all locations expressed concern about the potential for abuse by both police and government authorities, especially with regard to "racial profiling "and the "invasion of personal privacy."
    • Sharing my flight information to the US trespasses on the Charter of Rights … Am I being protected or singled out?  It's racial profiling. (Toronto Group 2)
  2. Targeting of ethnic minorities -- Fear of being "labelled a terrorist", and of backlash if you belonged to a certain ethnic minority or religion was most pronounced in Group 1 participants.
    • J'aimerais ça savoir si ça ne va pas nuire aux libertés individuelles, si on ne va pas nous soupçonner à cause de notre religion. (I'd like to know if it can hurt civil liberties, if they are not going to suspect us because of our religion.) (Montreal Group 1)
    • Some Group 1 participants in Halifax felt it would help create shame and embarrassment with regard to their ethnic background.
  3. General ineffectiveness against terrorism -- The unlikelihood that the Act would stop or prevent terrorism was seen by some to create a false sense of security.  In fact, the idea of actually being able to prevent terrorism met strong scepticism in almost all groups. 

Note that the above 3 concerns were frequently repeated when examining the various provisions of the ATA.

Other negative concerns focused on American appeasement as the Act's raison d'etre, and the justice system's slow-spinning wheels.  Some participants in several locations felt the Act was enacted mainly to pacify or "appease the US", because it was passed so quickly, and that it was basically unnecessary in Canada, and simply PR.

We don't need this legislation but they want to show they are doing something. (Halifax Group 1)

In contrast, one Montreal francophone mentioned if US appeasement had been a factor, then the Canadian government had made a realistic decision, since our economy is dependent on the US and would suffer if we failed to take action.

Some participants in Toronto and Vancouver felt that the ATA would change nothing about a perceived weakness in Canada's legal system, which "took too long", and enabled terrorists to take advantage of all the delays and "legal loopholes" available (they were particularly annoyed about what they saw as the shamefully drawn-out Air India case).

In many groups, questions were also raised about specific measures and just how these would be implemented, assuming (and some did not) that Canada had the funds and manpower to do so.  For example, several Vancouver participants wondered how convicted terrorists would be handled, and whether they would be deported or dealt with in Canada; some participants in Halifax wondered how collected information would be used, and who would have access to it; and some in various locations (Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax) wondered how big a role the "CIA" or "FBI" agents would play in collecting or providing information to Canadian authorities.

In sum, despite the various concerns and questions raised by respondents, most still approved of the ATA and its existence.

Upholding of Individual Rights and Freedoms

After exposure only to the brief ATA summary and what others said about it in their groups, participants were specifically asked if they thought the Act upheld individual rights and freedoms.

Most emphasized they did not know for sure, because the summary lacked details.  However, the general tendency was to hope that individual rights would be protected, and to see safety and security as more important.  This was more pronounced in the non-visible minority groups, with some agreement by various visible minority individuals.

  • They have to do whatever it takes to stop this. (Toronto Group 1)
  • C'est plus important de protéger les Canadiens même s'il y a des personnes qui subissent certaines conséquences. (It is more important to protect Canadians even if some persons have to be subjected to some consequences.) (Montreal Group 2)
  • It does uphold … if I don't feel safe in my homeland, I don't have any rights and freedoms. (Toronto Group 2)

Some also believed that safety and protection were important, but to a limited degree, and worried that individual rights might be taken away, an attitude which seemed to emanate more from visible minority participants (in Groups 1 and 2), many of whom had, or knew someone who had, experienced some type of discrimination or mistreatment, even before 9/11.

  • There are lots of innocent people who would be targeted. (Calgary Group 1)
  • I don't like people to think that people from Middle East are dangerous. (Vancouver Group 1)

The only specific right mentioned in a few groups during this part of the discussion was the "right to privacy."  Some participants were "okay" with trading some loss of privacy for greater safety and security, while others were not.

  • It could affect one's own privacy in terms of email.  (Vancouver Group 2- a debate ensued in this group over who would and would not mind if their email was read – the group was split.)
  • No big concern, we have lost freedom before (Halifax Group 2, referring to loss of privacy re computers).

There were some participants in various groups who thought that a few individual rights were not upheld by the ATA, especially for immigrants.  Perceived infringements were on "the right to know what you are accused of", and on the "right to free speech."

  • It does for some Canadians, does not for immigrants. (Vancouver Group 1)
  • An Algerian pizza delivery guy is being held as a security threat and he doesn't know what he is being held for. (Toronto Group 2)
  • People may get scared to express themselves. (Toronto Group 2)

In sum, most participants said they were unsure whether individual rights were upheld in the ATA, but some thought they either might be taken away or were not upheld and hoped that they would be protected.

Comparative Toughness

Participants were asked if they thought the Canadian ATA was tougher, less severe or about the same as anti-terrorism laws in both the US and UK.  Overall, almost all participants, consistently across target groups and locations, assumed the US had the toughest law, followed by the UK, and that Canada's law was the least severe of the three.

Most felt they knew much more about the US than the UK.  Their impressions of the American anti-terrorism law stemmed in part from their general negative mindset about the US, from news coverage of discriminatory incidents against ethnic minorities, from the newly created Department of Home Security, and on the perception of Canada as a more sensitive and humane country.

We're a different culture, different people.  This is the Canadian spirit. (Calgary Group 3)

There was also some feeling in both Montreal and Halifax that Canada would probably be less severe in the law's application or enforcement, either because of our peaceful culture or our lack of financial means.  In Montreal especially, the alleged presence of several terrorist cells in Canada tended to support the idea that Canada is less strict.

With regard to the UK, most participants felt they knew very little, if anything, about it, although some were mindful of efforts to stem IRA terrorist activities, and a few had heard about the increased surveillance using street cameras.

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