Legal Ease: Canada’s Remembrance protects against terror

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Remembrance Day, also known as Poppy Day, was inaugurated by King George V in 1919 and is observed every November 11 to recall the end of hostilities of World War I in1918 and to remember armed forces personnel who died in the line of duty.

The act that ignited WWI occurred on June 28, 1914 when Archduke Ferdinand, the nephew of the Hapsburg emperor, was shot in Sarajevo by an unhappy 19-year-old Serb, Gavrilo Princip, a member of a group whose goal was to create a new Slav state through terrorism. Within a few weeks World War I had begun. Canada, as a member of the British Empire, sent troops. Twenty-five years later Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began. Again, as a member of the British Commonwealth, Canada sent troops.

The German invasion of Poland was an act of war by one country against another. The murder of the Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the thrones of Austria and Hungary, was an act of terror.

Then on September 11, 2001 another act occurred, this time in the United States. The New York Trade Centre and the Pentagon in Washington were attacked. These attacks were labeled Acts of Terrorism.

Terrorism is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the systematic use of violence and intimidation to coerce a government or community into acceding to specific political demands.”

A terrorist is defined as “a person who uses or favours violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or community.” While traditional war pits countries against each other, with citizens as collateral damage, terrorism tends to be more personal. The acts of violence and intimidation are carried out against individuals or groups of individuals often indiscriminately. They are carried out by people we label “extremists.” It is the obligation of our democratically elected government to find ways of fighting terrorism and protecting its citizens from terrorists.

This brings me to Bill C-51, the Canada Anti-terrorism Act, which originally came into effect in December 2001 but was recently amended and has become a divisive issue. In response to the attacks in the U.S.A. on September 11, the United Nations Security Council adopted a Resolution on September 28, 2001 requiring all UN member states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts, criminalize the willful provision or collection of funds to be used to finance terrorist acts, suppress the recruitment of terrorist groups, and deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts.

Our government reviewed existing federal legislation including the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act and decided amendments were necessary in order to combat terrorism. The Canadian Anti-terrorism Act was passed by the Liberal government of Canada in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

It received Royal Assent on December 18, 2001, as Bill C-36. The bill extended the powers of government and security-related institutions to respond to the threat of terrorism.

It is this legislation that was recently amended as Bill C-51. The raison d’être for both bills is the same, namely that the people of Canada are entitled to live free from threats to their lives and their security, that there is no more fundamental role for a government than protecting its country and its people, that acts of terrorism threaten Canada’s political institutions, the stability of the economy and the general welfare of the nation.

Because activities that undermine the security of Canada are often carried out in a clandestine, deceptive or hostile manner, are increasingly global, complex and sophisticated, and often emerge and evolve rapidly, they constitute a substantial threat to both domestic and international peace and security.

“Activities that undermine the security of Canada” are defined by the law as any activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada or the lives or the security of the people of Canada. Included in this list are “terrorism” and an “activity that causes serious harm to a person or their property because of that person’s association with Canada.”

The amendments to current legislation pertain to sharing of information between Government of Canada institutions, the prevention of financing acts of terrorism, identifying and responding to persons who may engage in acts that pose a threat to transportation security or who may travel by air for the purpose of committing a terrorism offence. The Criminal Code is amended to provide for an offence of knowingly advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism offences and provides a judge with the power to order the seizure of terrorist propaganda or order the deletion of the propaganda from a computer system. It permits the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to take measures to reduce threats to the security of Canada if there are reasonable grounds to believe that such a threat exists.

There are specific stipulations that any measures taken be reasonable and must not contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or be contrary to other Canadian law and must not attempt in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice.

War, whether carried out in the traditional way or as terrorism, is the weapon of those who desire power. They may espouse a religious, philosophical or political belief system as a pretext but the ultimate goal is power. Those we remember and pay homage to on November 11 died protecting our Rights and Freedoms. Let us be grateful for legislation that attempts to do the same.

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