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After Attacks, Canadian Lawmakers Threaten Basic Human Rights

The Harper government is capitalizing on two recent attacks to curtail Canadians’ civil rights.

Canada saw two violent incidents the last week of October. The first occurred 30 miles outside of Montreal, Quebec, when 25-year-old Martin Couture-Rouleau, drove his car into two soldiers, killing one of them. A second and separate incident occurred on Wednesday in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, when 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed a Canadian soldier guarding the national war memorial.

Reaction to last week’s incidents were varied, but have mainly been comprised of an us-versus-them narrative. Immediately following the second incident, Harper decried the attacks as terrorist (using the term “terror” a total of seven times throughout his short address to the nation that same day) and against our nation’s values, “as free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all.”

The timing was impeccable, as the Harper government had just announced its backing of the US-led coalition and bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS). Both Canada and the United States used the attacks as opportunity to promote their fear-mongering, terrorist agenda, reaffirming a joint and collaborative mission not only against threats abroad, but to thwart security risks at home.

In an address to members of Parliament, Harper stated that such incidents will lead Canada to strengthen its security measures to step-up its powers of surveillance and detention, “a work which is already underway will be expedited.” Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the United States will “work quietly and carefully in the next days and months” to strengthen security between the two countries, “. . . we will continue to have vigilance and aggressively take every step possible to do that . . . to intensify our law enforcement, border protections and intel-sharing relationship.” What “quietly” or “intensify” mean is yet to be seen.

The Harper government has already set in motion overreaching legislative amendments, which would give Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) broad surveillance and detention powers, and, according to former justice Iacobucci, risk spilling over and infringing Canadians’ fundamental freedoms.

The first of these amendments is Bill C-13, termed Canada’s “warrantless online spying legislation,” an anti-cyber-bullying law, which, in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous ruling in R. v. Spencer, finding it unconstitutional for telecom providers to hand over customers’ private information to government authorities without a warrant, would also likely be unconstitutional.

The second, Bill C-44, Canada’s “anti-terror bill,” which was tabled this past Monday by the conservative government, gives the CSIS broader powers to monitor terrorist suspects and conduct sweeping investigations abroad, including lowering the threshold of preventive arrest. This last point is crucial and where this us-versus-them narrative is utterly reprehensible.

Canada lost its “innocence” long ago, not only when it chose to participate in the “war on terror” by invading and occupying Afghanistan 13 years ago, but also with its repeated and blatant failure to uphold its international and domestic human rights law standards, post-September 11, 2001. As if by some cruel twist of fate, this past week marked the 10th anniversary since the Canadian judicial inquiry of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was apprehended by US officials while traveling through JFK airport on his way home to Canada. Arar was arrested and transferred to Syria where he was tortured with the complicity of the Canadian government. Arar was never charged, nor was he ever considered a terrorist suspect.

This is not the only case; There are countless others. Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nurredin are some of the Canadian citizens who were tortured abroad. Omar Khadr, a Canadian, was arrested in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old, as a child soldier, and detained in Guantanamo Bay for 10 years. He took the opportunity during this past week’s anniversary to write about his experience and to caution Canadians about the abhorrent conditions and injustices he lived through for reasons of “national security,” at the hands of both the US and Canadian governments. Khadr is still waiting for redress.

The response to each of these cases has been dismal, as expressed by Amnesty International’s secretary general, Alex Neve. The necessity of ensuring Canada’s national security measures comply with democratic and basic human rights standards is urgent. In the words of Khadr, Canadians must demand that “the response to last week’s attacks will not once again leave human rights behind.”

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