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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

October 24th, 2001. Index Button

Anti-Terrorism Legislation.

The legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Rachel King, in a statement she gave before the house judiciary committee on September 24th, 2001, in respect to the American Anti-Terrorism Bill, quoted a friend of hers when she said in respect to the terrorism which so dramatically revealed itself to the American public on September the 11th, "I do not fear what will happen to us as much as I fear what we will become." What we will become, will be as the result of legislation that is being patriotically passed, not only in Washington, but also here in Canada. "While it is very natural to want to react emotionally and quickly," as King was to say, "we ask that Congress consider this legislation in a serious and deliberative manner subjecting it to a public hearing process and full public discussion and debate. The American public deserves no less."

In the United States, it is the Fourth Amendment to their constitution, that the American people have determined to hold themselves safe from unreasonable searches of their persons and their places, and seizure of their property. It is by the constitution of the country that the people intend to protect themselves against government intruding into their lives: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." (Incidently, it has always struck me how the drafters of this amendment, American wise men of long ago, didn't intend by this wording to give something to the people, but rather to protect rights that naturally accrue. The drafters of the American constitution were very much aware of the writings of the Englishman, John Locke.)

The anti-terrorism legislation in the United States expands government eavesdropping. The attempt to inject privacy safeguards into the bill was simply interpreted as anti-patriotic and was soundly rejected. It remains to be determined, by an American constitutional court, whether this legislation runs afoul the Fourth Amendment; in the meantime the police agencies in the United States will be doing a lot of snooping, with, based on anti-terrorism legislation, some colour of right. The wiretap sections, I should say, in the American legislation, will expire in December 2004 -- unless the president decides it is in the "national interest" to extend them until December 2006.

Here in Canada, there was unveiled, a number of days back, a sweeping security bill to ban fund-raising by terrorist groups, widen wiretapping authority and allow police to make preventive arrests of people they think will engage in terrorism. The bill, created entirely by the ruling authority, will pass through its legislative chambers, a setup which is totally dominated by that ruling authority (here in Canada, we have what might well be described as term dictatorships; though the Canadian people generally proceed blissfully believing they have some sort of a meaningful input). Thus the government has taken powers onto itself, on its own motion, to arrest potential assailants, to force people to testify before judges at investigative hearings conducted behind closed doors, and to intercept communications. In expanding wiretap authority domestically, the Canadian bill eliminates the need to demonstrate that electronic surveillance is a last resort in the investigation of terrorists, something hitherto before which was needed. Also, the requirement to notify a target after surveillance has taken place could be delayed to up to three years from the current one year. Nowhere is there to be found a "sunset clause" as is to be found in the American legislation, a provision, incidently, which one would think would be automatic given section 33 of the Canadian Charter.

As to what it is that we are fighting is somewhat up in the air. The government took a circuitous route in order to avoid some bogs. In the act ( a "terrorist group" is defined as being "an entity that has as one of its purposes or activities facilitating or carrying out any terrorist activity." This is a fine example of a fatal flaw that is to be found in so many arguments, Begging the Question, viz., using the proposition to be proved as part of the proof. Terrorism is, to quote the OED, "A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted; the employment of methods of intimidation; the fact of terrorizing or condition of being terrorized." And a terrorist, as, "Any one who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation." Given these definitions, it seems to me, that the Canadian anti-terrorism legislation is itself an example of terrorism.

Do we not have constitutional rights here in Canada? Well, though government at such times seem not to give it much heed -- we do. We have The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 8 reads, "Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure." This goes along with the other "fundamental freedoms" as are spelled out in section 2: "freedom of conscience and religion; of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; of peaceful assembly; and of association." (Note that the tone of the Canadian Charter is quite un-Lockian, quite unlike that of the United States Constitution; the Charter reads as if these rights are being granted as opposed to being preserved.) The question, in regards the Canadian anti-terrorism legislation, is, whether it will stand up against a constitutional challenge: it may, it may not. The challenge, if it is to come, is to come from a Canadian citizen at his or her own expense; a Canadian citizen who, in the exhausting legal process, will be met with untiring opposition of the government, funded by the tax dollars of the Canadian citizens. In the meantime, the police agencies in Canada, under the purported authority of the anti-terrorism legislation, agencies newly infused with tax money so as to acquire the latest eavesdropping technology, will go about, clearly infringing the rights of Canadian citizens; all in the hope that they can catch terrorists (whoever they may be), not in the act (that's difficult enough) but before the act. What the authorities would like us to believe is that the provisions of the proposed law will "provide more effective tools to identify, prosecute, convict and punish terrorists" and to see that there are "proper security measures to safeguard our freedom and democracy." While swallowing this, give a nod to the triumph of public relations. It is more power that they want; both the politicians (the Mountebanks and Zanies of Patriotism) and their toad-eating underlings. An Orwellian World exists, if not beginning in 1984, then for sure in 2001. Is it to be that we must trade our freedoms in so that we might be free? Are we to trade our freedoms in for a world without terror (as if it could be). Can you imagine a world without freedom, a world of Orwellian grimness, -- is not such a world, a terrifying world? Are we to accept that there must now be Official Moderators of the Ministry of Received Truth gushing with proclamations, such as: "War is Peace, Love is Hate, Ignorance is Knowledge?"

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Peter Landry

October, 2001 (2019)