Senators demand limits to terror bill

Committee unanimous in demand for sunset clause, secrecy appeal system

Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa Citizen

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Thursday, November 01, 2001

Jack Aubry and Jancice Tibbetts
The Ottawa Citizen

A special Senate committee report is recommending the Liberal government's controversial anti-terrorism bill include a sunset clause that would see the legislation expire automatically after five years, the Citizen has learned.

The 15-page, unanimous report, which is scheduled to be released today after final drafting, also recommends an appeal system for the portion of the bill that allows the government to issue a certificate exempting records from the Access to Information Act.

As well, the Liberal and Conservative senators on the committee are recommending an annual review of the bill by an officer of Parliament.

Involved in a pre-study of the fast-tracked bill during the past two weeks, the committee will send its report to the House of Commons committee reviewing the legislation.

The anti-terrorism bill is the government's response to the Sept. 11 attacks that claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

The report adds momentum to the push for the inclusion of a sunset clause with the bill. Cabinet solidarity was shattered earlier this week by Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who broke ranks with the government on some of the more controversial aspects of the legislation.

While confident the 146-clause bill will withstand court challenges, Justice Minister Anne McLellan and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien say they are open-minded about changes.

Rather than a sunset clause, Mr. Chrétien has argued in favour of the automatic review by Parliament in three years included in the legislation.

Ms. McLellan hinted Monday when she appeared before the Senate committee that she was prepared to tinker with the terror law but stood firm on the issue of a sunset clause, saying it would leave the government with a legislative hole.

But one Liberal senator on the committee said a parliamentary review of the bill, which would begin during the fourth year of the legislation prior to the five-year expiry date, would not result in a hole, but rather newly improved anti-terrorism legislation.

"A sunset clause will not mean the bill would disappear," said the senator, who did not want to be identified. "What we will find in four years' time, as we start the review, is how well did it work, what adjustment did we make, is it in balance or out of balance -- and we'll do it in light of experience and hopefully we won't be feeling as stressed or rushed."

Liberal Senator Peter Stollery said a sunset clause would fix expected problems. "There will be mistakes in the bill, so a sunset clause means that in five years the bill will be looked at."

Another major recommendation, he said, is that an "officer of Parliament" similar to the federal privacy commission be appointed within six months of the bill becoming law. He or she would conduct an annual review to ensure that the legislation wasn't being misused and that people weren't being wrongfully targeted as terrorists.

The Senate report is also expected to recommend Ms. McLellan include a check and balance to the clause that will allow the government to issue a certificate exempting records, or even an entire department, from the Access to Information Act for reasons of security or international relations.

It's a recommendation Ms. McLellan could well accept, given her suggestion earlier this week that she might allow the Federal Court of Canada to have final say on the access provision by giving it the power to review each case individually.

Federal Information Commission John Reid has warned that the bill, as it now stands, could cripple the federal access law by giving the government an "unfettered, unreviewable right to cloak information in secrecy."

The committee will also express concerns about the preventive-arrest section of the bill, which allows police to arrest, detain and force suspected terrorists to answer questions before a judge, even if they haven't been charged with anything. The committee is worried immigrants could be unfairly targeted.

The Canadian Police Association will appear before the Commons justice committee today to defend the extensive and controversial powers that have been handed to police officers in the proposed legislation.

The Canadian Bar Association, appearing yesterday before the House of Commons justice committee, also called for an expiry date.

"If Canadians can be assured that the provisions in the legislation are temporary, they will accept them in this period of immediate response to an extraordinary threat," the organization, representing Canada's lawyers, said in its submission.

The group, which calls for 25 changes to the massive bill, also reiterated concerns that the proposed definition of terrorism is so broad that it could target wildcat strikes or public demonstrations.

The CBA is also calling on government to increase spending for security and law enforcement.

© Copyright 2001 The Ottawa Citizen

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