Foreign powers urged bill's secrecy clause

Liberal MP bristles: Critics worry powers are like those found in dictatorships

Reprinted with permission from The National Post

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Thursday, October 18, 2001

Luiza Chwialkowska

The National Post, with files from Southam News

OTTAWA - Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, said yesterday pressure from foreign governments led her to include in the anti-terrorism bill a controversial clause that allows the government to keep secret indefinitely information relating to international relations, national defence and security.

John Bryden, a Liberal MP, has suggested during the House debate such a power was akin to measures taken in dictatorships.

But Ms. McLellan said it was a necessary measure in order to obtain co-operation from allies in the war on terrorism.

"Mr. Speaker, there are certain limited circumstances in which highly confidential information should not be disclosed in a judicial or other proceeding. This information, in many cases, is provided to us by our allies.

"In fact, they will not provide us with information that may help us in judicial or other investigations unless we can provide them with a guarantee of confidentiality. That is what the provision in the anti-terrorism bill speaks to," Ms. McLellan said in the House of Commons.

Her office could not specify who had made such a request or the nature of the investigation in which it was made.

"We have been advised by other countries that this has been a concern for them in sharing information with Canada," said Farah Mohamed, a spokeswoman for the Minister.

Ms. McLellan could appear as early as today before the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights, whose members are preparing to work late nights to complete a swift study of the sweeping and complex anti-terrorism bill introduced Monday.

"I think you'll find we're going to work hard to hear as many people as we can in as short a time as possible," Andy Scott, chairman of the committee, said in an interview.

Concerns likely to dominate the hearing include demands for a sunset clause or a mandatory review of the law sooner than the planned three years, the breadth of the definition of terrorist activity and whether it could be interpreted by police or intelligence agents to cover anti-globalization protesters, novel police powers such as preventive arrests that do not require judicial warrants and "investigative hearings" that allow questioning of witnesses outside a trial setting.

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