Opinion

With Anti-Terrorism Act, Tories again Fail to Protect Canadians

Beyond eroding our rights, Bill C-51 ignores key root causes of past alleged 'terrorist' actions.

By Bill Tieleman 3 Feb 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"If you want to... start throwing people into the clink because they're waving the wrong flag at a protest... you're going to have a huge free speech case." -- University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese on the new Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act

The security system is very impressive and not easily penetrated.

A guard must open a locked glass door for anyone to enter the lobby. Entry to the elevator requires a coded keycard. Upstairs, another guard and eight sets of security sealed doors must be passed to get into the heart of the operation.

And where is this veritable bunker? Parliament Hill?

No, it's the Vancouver studio of CTV, where I went to film an interview about Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's highly hyped new Anti-Terrorism Act.

Ironically, the TV station is far more secure than our House of Commons was when Michael Zihaf-Bibeau, a mentally unwell, drug-addicted man with a Winchester lever action rifle murdered an unarmed soldier on honour guard and invaded the heart of our democracy through open doors and past equally unarmed guards.

And so the government that after nine years in power failed to protect even Parliament now claims it will save all of us from terrorist threats.

How will that happen? With serious infringements on our democratic rights.

Among the Conservatives' proposed mighty new powers in Bill C-51 is the right to twist terrorists on Twitter and faze them on Facebook through internet intervention.

That's not a joke. The Act would let the Canadian Security Intelligence Service "disrupt" and "counter-message" suspected terrorists' websites and Twitter accounts.

Before the Act was introduced, Harper said that it would "criminalize the promotion of terrorism," and this legislation gives government the power "to order the removal of terrorist propaganda" from the internet.

But who defines "terrorist propaganda," and how? And will that only drive dangerous people underground where they can't be traced?

The Act also sends CSIS agents to make house calls on would-be terrorists to smarten them up. CSIS "could meet with the individual to advise him they know what he was planning to do and what the consequences of taking further action would be," government documents state.

But would a CSIS visit really intimidate those planning violence into inaction? Or would it spur them to attack the closest possible target?

The Act also includes new restrictions on passports. But remember that authorities had already confiscated or blocked the passports of both Zihaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Roleau -- who killed soldier Patrice Vincent with a car before being shot dead by police -- to stop them from possibly going overseas to join terror groups.

It's clear that our right-wing, defence-oriented Conservative government has fallen down on what should be its primary responsibility of protecting Canadians and their democratic institutions.

And with this Act, a clear reaction to its own obvious failures, the government is now taking further, likely ineffective measures that, beyond eroding our democratic rights, also ignore key root causes of past alleged "terrorist" violent actions: mental illness and drug addiction.

BC's 'terrorism' example

Take for example John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, who are among the alleged Islamic-inspired terrorists that police allegedly "stopped" from attacking Canadians at home.

But as detailed in The Tyee previously, the couple, on welfare and using methadone to treat their addictions while living in a ratty Surrey basement suite, were likely incapable of insurrection on their own. Their lawyer Tom Morino has publicly questioned whether they could have been "entrapped" by police covert actions.

The pressure cooker bombs the two allegedly placed at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria to explode on Canada Day were never going to go off, police said.

"In order to ensure public safety, we employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm," RCMP assistant commissioner Wayne Rideout said in a July 2013 statement announcing the arrests.

"These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety," Rideout said, without detailing how that occurred. Nuttall and Kurody have plead not guilty in a trial that started Monday.

The BC Civil Liberties Association responded by asking how police were so confident that the devices never presented a threat.

"The question is, how could the police be so confident that the explosive devices wouldn't work?" said the BCCLA's Michael Vonn in July 2013. "The surmise is they knew that because they either provided or provided portions of them, or somehow had been actively involved with the accused in developing or facilitating the alleged plot."

These matters remain unresolved as the trial begins.

Real protections missed

The biggest action the Conservative government could've taken to combat terrorism is to dramatically increase medical assistance to those struggling with mental illness or drug addiction, who have unfortunately been responsible or accused in many violent incidents and terrorist attempts in Canada.

Australian terrorist Man Haron Monis, who kidnapped customers and staff at a Sydney coffee shop, leading to three deaths in a police rescue operation, was another sad case. He had multiple run-ins with police as well as documented mental health issues long before his attack.

The key figure in another alleged Australian terror plot, Mohammad Baryalei, also had a history of mental illness and drug abuse.

Yet none of this clear evidence of the link between mental illness and the violent "lone wolf" attacks by individuals claiming to be "Islamic" warriors was addressed by the prime minister.

Instead, Harper asserted: "We do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians, you take away their liberties."

This from the prime minister that prorogued Parliament to avoid democratic defeat at the hands of the majority opposition party MPs, silenced scientists from talking about their research, and ratified a 31-year investment deal with the military dictatorship of China.

Talk about taking liberties with our protection.

Now he wants to suspend fundamental rights, like the right to face charges if detained and freedom of speech even if unpopular, by claiming that removing them does what the Conservative government has failed to do -- protect our country. Beware.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Politics,

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