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National security organizations open up on racial profiling, 'secret police'
Scott Hornby
The Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Fears about racial profiling, secret evidence and abuse of power were at the forefront of a discussion between Edmontonians and Canadian security organizations on Sunday.

Representatives from CSIS, the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency met with about 50 members of the public at Grant MacEwan College.

"People strongly felt that they were being over-watched, over-policed," said Charlene Hay, executive director of the Northern Alberta Alliance on Race Relations, one of the groups that organized the discussion. "They felt really on edge and really uncomfortable."

Hay said many people don't understand the crippling effect that privacy and security fears have on minorities.

"I've heard of people that decide not to fly, not to leave the country, because they don't want to deal with these issues," Hay said.

One attendee said he feared CSIS or another government agency would read his e-mail if someone with a grudge reported him as a terrorist.

Brian Rumig, the director general of CSIS's Prairie region, assured the man the are procedures to prevent CSIS from abusing its power. He said it would take more than one anonymous phone call to launch an investigation.

"People think that we are the secret police, we came to dispel that myth," Rumig said.

Larry Shaben, chair of the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities, said racial profiling is another fear that needs to be addressed.

"I think it's self-evident that people that have a Muslim-sounding name, or have their origins in a Muslim country, are under greater scrutiny than those from other nations," Shaben said.

All three agencies said racial profiling is not used, and there is legislation in place to prevent its use.

Another key issue was Bill C36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, and an amendment of the Canada Evidence Act.

"We have a huge concern with secret evidence, that the person who's accused, or their council, cannot see the evidence against them," Shaben said. "This legislation is dangerous, and Canadians need to know it's dangerous."

Information collected by CSIS deemed to be in the interests of national security can be withheld from an accused. It was suggested an impartial third party could be asked to view the evidence.

Rumig said he had "no problem" with the idea of a third party, but noted CSIS had no power to change the legislation.

© The Edmonton Journal 2006

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