Canadians saw a great example of politicians capitalizing on crisis this week as parliament rammed through the third and final reading of Bill S-7 AKA the ‘Combating Terrorism Act.’ on April 23rd and 24th, 2013. This bill received ‘Royal Assent’ and became law the following day (April 25th, 2013).
Lest any Canadians be with doubt that the timing of this reading was specifically to take advantage of current events in Boston here’s what the House Leader Peter Van Loan had to say:
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a brief statement respecting the business of the House next week. As I said at the start of question period, leadership requires decisive and serious action in response to the serious threats of violent terrorism.
In order to give members of this House an opportunity to express their views on the appropriate way to respond to terrorist violence, on Monday and Tuesday the House will debate Bill S-7, the Combating Terrorism Act. This bill is at its final stage in Parliament and I call upon all members of this place to pass this bill, we don’t need further study – we need action.
As a result, the government business originally scheduled for those days will be re-scheduled to a later date.
-Peter Van Loan (April 19th)
So, here we have our elected representatives, you know, the ones who we would hope to be advocates for calm and reason in times of panic, openly taking advantage of the public’s emotional responses to recent events (specifically the Boston Marathon bombing).
Then, with perfectly coordinated precision the RCMP holds a press conference on Monday, April 22nd (the day before the start of third reading for S-7) to announce the arrest of two men accused of conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA passenger train. Convenient timing to say the least.
With these events as the backdrop dissent against Bill S-7 was clearly an uphill battle for the few MPs who stood against it. Resistance was crushed and S-7 is now law.
So, what is S-7? What does it say and why should Canadians care? Essentially this bill modifies the Canadian Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act. It includes the following changes that should appal libertarian minded Canadians:
Criminal Code Sections 83.183, 83.191, 83.201, 83.202
All these sections are variations of the same concept: If you leave or attempt to leave Canada (or even attempt to board transportation leaving Canada) for the purposes of committing an act that would be an indictable offence in Canada (related to terrorism), you are guilty and can imprisoned up to 10 or 14 years. Let’s take a look at one of these sections:
83.181 Everyone who leaves or attempts to leave Canada, or goes or attempts to go on board a conveyance with the intent to leave Canada, for the purpose of committing an act or omission outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would be an offence under subsection 83.18(1) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years.
Clearly the goal here is a noble one: To stop a terrorist crime before it happens and to apprehend people in Canada before they can leave the country to commit some dastardly deed.
But this is yet another step down a very slippery slope to tyranny. We were all taught in high school that a guilty act (i.e. actus reus) is required for indictable offences. These sections require no such act. Or, more precisely, these amendments make thinking about committing an indictable act an indictable act. One can, and indeed I would, argue that this is the essence George Orwell’s thoughtcrime.
Prosecuting individuals under this statute would necessarily come down to proving their state of mind and intent. This is simply not correct in a free society. The further we allow guilt to be moved away from the act and towards planning for the act the more liberties will be taken. That’s why I take issue with these revisions.
This inevitably leads to the standard debate about trading liberty for security. That is a larger discussion for another post…
Criminal Code Section 83.28
83.28 is a new section added to the Criminal Code (as opposed to amending an existing section). In short it provides police and investigators the ability to compel citizens to appear before an Investigative Hearing. At this investigative hearing the person is required to provide information or physical evidence. Here’s how this is worded:
83.28 (10) No person shall be excused from answering a question or producing a thing under subsection (8) on the ground that the answer or thing may tend to incriminate them or subject them to any proceeding or penalty, but
(a) no answer given or thing produced under subsection (8) shall be used or received against the person in any criminal proceedings against them, other than a prosecution under section 132 or 136; and
(b) no evidence derived from the evidence obtained from the person shall be used or received against the person in any criminal proceedings against them, other than a prosecution under section 132 or 136.
This clearly contravenes the right to remain silent guaranteed by the section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which deals with fundamental principals of justice. I suspect the legal game that has been played is that, since the investigative hearing is not a criminal proceeding and the evidence arising from the hearing cannot be used as part of a criminal prosecution, it is not covered under section 7 of the Charter.
Regardless of how things have been twisted to make this legally acceptable, it clearly takes away a fundamental right not to incriminate yourself. Further, if you refuse to provide evidence or information that the authorities believe you to have punishment is imprisonment for up to one year. This is an absolute affront to Canadian liberties.
Criminal Code Section 83.3
Still on the topic of the investigative hearing is section 83.3. This section says that, even if you comply with the Investigative hearing, you can be ordered to enter recognizance for up to one year. In the recognizance period specific ‘reasonable conditions’ can be imposed on you. Basically you are on probation.
So let’s get this straight. You have been charged with no crime, convicted of nothing, not tried by a jury of your peers and yet you can have unspecified ‘reasonable conditions’ imposed on you? Ya, that sounds like justice to me.
While the act leaves what constitutes a reasonable restriction up to the judge, it explicitly includes the following:
83.3 (10) Before making an order under paragraph (8)(a), the judge shall consider whether it is desirable, in the interests of the safety of the person or of any other person, to include as a condition of the recognizance that the person be prohibited from possessing any firearm, cross- bow, prohibited weapon, restricted weapon, prohibited device, ammunition, prohibited ammunition or explosive substance, or all of those things, for any period specified in the recognizance, and if the judge decides that it is so desirable, they shall add the condition to the recognizance.
So, basically it you get pulled before one of these kangaroo hearings, even if you comply with their demands, your firearms and ammunition can be seized. Again, you’ve been convicted of nothing and yet your rights are summarily stripped.