|Feb. 15, 2005. 01:00 AM|
Act strikes `right balance,' minister tells review group But `police, CSIS, all racially profile,'
OTTAWA—Canada's anti-terror law needs only "fine-tuning" because it strikes "the right balance" between protecting national security and civil liberties, says Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan.A tough-talking Albertan, McLellan introduced the law as justice minister; now, as solicitor-general, she is responsible for its enforcement. Yesterday, she told a special Senate committee that began a review of the Anti-Terror Act that she is "open" to suggestions for fine-tuning, but is convinced all powers in the law are necessary.The act created measures to deter, disable, identify, prosecute, convict and punish terrorist groups. It also provided new investigative tools to law enforcement and national security agencies. "I believe we struck the right balance with this law but I recognize that some are not so comfortable with the perceived impact," said McLellan.Still, she defended the law's reach and denied any of her officials — Canada's border guards, Mounties, spies and prison guards — practice "racial profiling."Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer told McLellan "with the greatest respect" she didn't believe the minister, and asked her to submit, in writing, the training her officials undergo."We do not racially profile," said McLellan, "That would be a firing offence." She said the senator should produce evidence if there was any, and said her officials use the same techniques of "best risk management (that) are used globally." Jaffer later told reporters: "I don't accept that at all, and I don't think she herself can believe that, because on a regular basis people are racially profiled. "The police, CSIS, they all racially profile. I have documents that show it. I would not say a minister is lying, I would say she is mistaken."If your name is a Muslim name, Mohammed or Jaffer, you are stopped," she said. "I have been stopped. My family has been stopped for no reason except for our name. So the problem, the challenge we have is that the law should be the same for everybody."McLellan repeatedly said she believes terrorists come in all colours, follow all religions, and speak all languages, and that the government does not target any one group. She also said a cross-cultural roundtable set up to consult different communities is a way to address such concerns.McLellan said she is convinced now "more than ever" that Canada's anti-terror act was the appropriate legislative response to the terrorist threat, which "has not improved since Sept. 11, 2001, and is arguably worse and certainly more complex."She noted, as she and senior federal officials have before, that Canada was "deemed a target of Al Qaeda, named by Osama bin Laden in November 2002.""The danger has not passed, the threat has not diminished and our vigilance must not falter," McLellan told the committee.McLellan claimed most Canadians support what the government has done, citing polling by EKOS Research Associates that shows 50 per cent of Canadians believe the government has "appropriately responded" to the issue of terrorism, while 41 per cent feel it hasn't gone far enough. Only 7 per cent believe the government has gone too far, she said. Two per cent said they didn't know or didn't respond. The syndicated poll of 1,015 Canadians was taken in November, and presented to a parliamentary committee in December.But McLellan faced a gr illing yesterday by Conservative Senators John Lynch-Staunton and Raynell Andreychuk, as well as Jaffer, over application of the law, and whether enforcement officials haven't gone too far in some cases, and not far enough in others.Lynch-Staunton criticized the government for not formally listing as terrorists the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a rebel group in Sri Lanka. McLellan said the Tamil Tigers are barred from fundraising in Canada, but said the group is not officially black-listed as part of an effort to encourage peace talks in Sri Lanka."I continue to review that situation," said McLellan, and finally after repeated questions about the government's refusal to act, she said, "Senator, I take your point."Andreychuk and Lynch-Staunton condemned overzealous government enforcement in the Maher Arar case, and cases in Toronto where Lynch-Staunton said Ottawa sought to deport terrorist suspects using secretive "security certificates" to countries like Egypt and Syria, which are known to practise torture.(Arar was detained at New York's JFK airport in 2002 during a stopover en route home to Canada. He was flown to Syria, via Jordan, and although not charged, he said he was tortured and held for a year. An inquiry is under way in Ottawa to determine the role Canadian officials played in Arar's deportation.) Yesterday, McLellan rejected the senators' suggestions, and noted security certificates are issued under immigration law, not anti-terror legislation. She also urged the senate committee to stay focused on the review of the law. McLellan also said she hadreviewed the Canadian list of terrorist entities and confirmed a decision to keep all 35 groups on the list.