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Anti-Terrorism Act deserves to stay dead



Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, passed in the panic-stricken aftermath of 9/11, died a well-deserved death in 2007.

It was a hastily concocted piece of legislation containing deeply flawed measures. Its Liberal framers seemed to acknowledge these shortcomings by subjecting parts of the law to a five-year sunset clause.

Parts of the act significantly eroded Canadians' civil liberties, allowing "preventive arrest" for 72 hours and detention of up to a year if a suspect did not agree to court-ordered restrictions on his movements.

Investigative hearings allowed courts to hold secret hearings in which people whom police believed knew something of interest about terrorist activity could be made to testify, even if they incriminated themselves

From this brief summary, it is obvious how easily these provisions could be used to remove the civil rights of individuals.

Yet these are the same measures that the Conservative government wants to resurrect. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson wants to reinstate investigative hearings and court-ordered restrictions to "safeguard" Canada's national security.

Yet in the single case that was tried under the anti-terrorism law, neither of the two measures Nicholson wants to see restored were used - with no harm to the successful prosecution of the case. An affront to human rights, they seem not to even be needed.

This week, Mohammed Momin Khawaja, 29, became the first Canadian to be sentenced under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Ottawa man, who built a bomb detonator for a British-based group of Al-Qa'ida terrorists, was found guilty of five charges of aiding and financing terrorism. He was also found guilty of two Criminal Code charges to do with the bomb detonator.

With some of measures in the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, Ottawa had little choice. The provisions dealing with financing and abetting terrorism, for example, were drawn up to meet Canada's obligations to the United Nations Security Council Resolution criminalizing the financial support of terrorism.

Where Canada's laws were inadequate to the threat of international terrorism, the anti-terrorism bill filled in legal gaps. The problem is that with two of these measures, the 2001 legislative initiative went far beyond what was needed or useful.

Unfettered judicial powers are by definition excessive and wrong. Citizens cannot know what is being done in the name of protecting them. Holding people without charge and compelling them to testify should have no place in Canadian law.