Public Views on the Anti-Terrorism Act (formerly Bill C-36)




3.2.1 The Canadian Anti-terrorism Act

The moderators evaluated participants' awareness of the Anti-terrorism Act. While unaided awareness was measured by the top-of-mind reactions of participants, aided awareness was gauged after the moderators mentioned that the legislation was passed in December of 2001 and that it was covered by the Canadian media.

Unaided Awareness of the Act

One or two participants in the Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City groups were already aware of the existence of a specific anti-terrorism law which allowed the state to "take away basic rights on suspicion," "gave more powers to policemen," and "allowed them to arrest without warrant."

Additionally, a few Group 2 participants in Halifax, Calgary, and Vancouver mentioned that terrorists' assets could now be frozen and that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) now had the power to freeze such assets.

Participants employed as teachers or social workers and individuals involved in communications, community work, health or education seemed to be more aware of the Anti-terrorism Act than other participants.

It was quite clear that the media coverage of the Maher Arar affair and the RCMP raid on the Ottawa Citizen journalist's home had increased participants' awareness of the anti-terrorism legislation; however, very few could identify the legislation by its title or Bill number (C-36). The mass media, the CBC in particular, were cited by those who had become aware of the Anti-terrorism Act on an unaided basis as their main sources of information.

Aided Awareness of the Act

All participants were asked whether they recalled the passing of the Anti-terrorism Act (Bill C 36) in the fall of 2001. When assisted, several participants across all cities and age groups (approximately half in each group) remembered having heard something about this law. Aided recall of the Act in both Toronto and Calgary was higher than in Vancouver and Regina. In Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City - especially among older individuals - it was average.

However, most participants did not remember many of the details associated with the Act and admitted that when they initially heard about it, it did not strike them as something of major importance. The general consensus was that those who were aware remembered vaguely hearing something about the Act in the fall of 2001, but that was all.

Since they did not know more about the Act, some participants in Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City wondered if there was a deliberate attempt on the Government's part to "soft-pedal" the Bill in order to avoid a major public debate.

It's odd that we don't know more about it. Was it debated? Was it speed-passed through? (Montreal, French Group 1)

A few participants recalled hearing about certain elements of the Act. Specifically, those in both Calgary groups remembered hearing that the Anti-terrorism Act was pushed through as a law on an expedited basis, and they knew that some people had been targeted under the Act because they saw it on television or read about it in a newspaper or online. In addition, when asked about the Act specifically, one or two in each group across all of the cities recalled hearing that the assets of terrorists could now be seized and frozen as a result of the new Act.

Some of the participants who were aware of specific aspects of the Anti-terrorism Act expressed some concern that the Act might infringe on the rights of Canadians, given the power that it gives to the police (i.e. the power to search without a warrant, to seize information, to tap telephone lines, and to detain people based only on suspicion and not "hard facts"). A very small minority of participants in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, and Halifax were opposed to the Act and to giving any additional powers to the authorities.

CSIS was also mentioned in most cities as an organization that is linked with the Anti-terrorism Act. Some participants recalled hearing through the media that after September 11, 2001, CSIS received more funding.

In summary, awareness of the Act, which is quite low when not aided, increases when aided, depending on the cities and the age groups. Some participants remembered vaguely hearing something about the Act when it was passed as well as a few of its specific provisions; however, most have not heard much about it since that time.

3.2.2 Prior Criminal Code Terrorism Provisions

Most of the participants assumed, or at least "hoped," that prior to the passing of the Anti-terrorism Act in the fall of 2001 terrorist acts were dealt with under the Criminal Code in some way. However, many were unsure of how they were specifically dealt with. In Halifax, some participants said that they thought terrorist acts could be defined and dealt with under the 'traditional' Criminal Code definitions for murder or conspiracy. Most participants logically assumed that terrorist acts prior to the fall of 2001 must have been dealt with through the Criminal Code in some capacity.

A few participants in Calgary Group 2 and Vancouver Group 1 felt that terrorist acts prior to the fall of 2001 would have been dealt with as acts of treason under the Criminal Code.

In Halifax, a few participants in both groups said that they were unsure of how terrorist acts were dealt with prior to the fall of 2001, given that during the FLQ crisis, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau chose to invoke the War Measures Act.

3.2.3 Post-9/11 Public Security Measures

There was almost universal awareness that airline travel in general has been impacted by new safety measures at airports. As examples of these increased measures, participants cited longer waiting times at the check-in counter and for security checks. A few participants mentioned not being able to carry sharp objects in their carry-on bags, such as nail clippers. Others mentioned that security measures are now stricter, with electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones being checked and people having to take off their shoes when passing through security check-points. Some participants also said that an additional airport security tax is now included in their airfare, although there was some confusion as to what this tax is actually used for.

In the airports, the procedures are changed. There's a list of instruments that could be potential weapons and which is much longer than before. It's not the same in airports. (Ottawa, French Group 1)

A few participants in Vancouver mentioned the presence of air marshals on planes and the fact that airline pilots are now able to carry guns as examples of increased security measures. However, participants were unsure whether pilots on Canadian airlines were actually being allowed to carry guns or if this measure only applied to pilots in the United States.

There was also an almost universal awareness that the Canada/United States borders are now controlled much more strictly than they used to be. Some participants mentioned truckers having to wait for hours and some mentioned personal experiences of having been delayed and interrogated at the border. While participants in Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City initially did not appear to differentiate between Canadian and American border officials in that regard, when they were asked whether it was on the Canadian side or the American side, they recalled that they were actually delayed on the American side of the border.

Some participants also mentioned the new measures concerning passports, for instance, that smiling is no longer allowed in photographs, as another step taken by the Government to increase safety.

Some participants mentioned that it is now more difficult for immigrants to get into Canada, since a revised screening process requires residents of Canada to 'sponsor' those who seek permanent residency in the country. Furthermore, some participants claimed that new immigrants to Canada now need permanent residency cards in order to enter the country. Nevertheless, there was a debate among Group 2 participants in Halifax on how lenient Canada's immigration laws actually are. This debate may have stemmed from the suggestion by a few participants that some of the key players in the events of September 11, 2001, crossed the Canada/United States border in Atlantic Canada.

It's harder for immigrants who have to travel with a special card to come into the country; it's harder to have your passport renewed; the borders are reinforced; no smile on the passport. (Montreal, English Group 1)

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