My name is Maureen Basnicki. My husband, Ken Basnicki, a proud Canadian, was murdered by al-Qaeda terrorists in New York on September 11, 2001, while attending a meeting on the 106th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Ken was one of 24 Canadians murdered that day.
I am here as the founder of C-CAT, the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. C-CAT is a non-partisan advocacy body comprised of Canadian terror victims from every walk of life and faith group, as well as counter-terrorism professionals, lawyers, and other individuals committed to enhancing Canada's counter-terrorism policy.
My comments before this committee will be focused primarily on the issue of terrorism as it relates to security certificates, not on the broader categories of inadmissibility set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
I would argue that the most crucial role of security certificates pertains to terrorism, and in particular to the prevention of terrorist acts.
When Canada removes non-Canadian citizens with past records of criminality, or even war crimes, we are making an important statement about our Canadian values and acting to maintain the integrity of Canada as a society. But when Canada removes non-Canadian citizens where there are sufficient grounds to believe they are planning to murder Canadians, to bring down our subways, our school and our water systems, that is more than a statement about Canadian values; that is about saving human lives.
In most of my previous appearances before parliamentary committees and the Air India commission of inquiry, I have testified on behalf of the victims we represent about issues related to counter-terrorism and the rights of terror victims. Today, I am here to speak on behalf of those Canadians who are not yet victims and their rights, to speak about a fundamental right of every Canadian and every human being: the right not to be a victim of a terrorist attack. This is expressed in more general terms in section 7 of the charter of rights, which guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. There is a corresponding obligation of the Canadian government to ensure that such rights are protected.
I fully concur with British Minister Ian Pearson, who stated in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, that there is no human right more sacred than the right to be alive, and without this human right all others are impossible.
It would therefore be an error to perceive the security certificate debate only as a conflict between civil rights and security imperatives. That language obscures the fact that, in truth, this is a debate about determining the appropriate equilibrium between the rights of non-Canadian citizens subject to a security certificate and the rights of all Canadians who are potential targets of a terrorist act by such an individual.
It is C-CAT's view that Bill C-3, drafted according to the directives of the Supreme Court of Canada and two parliamentary committees, has struck the appropriate balance between protecting the rights of the individual named in the certificate and protecting the rights of the ordinary Canadian to be spared victimhood of the type that I and hundreds of other Canadians have suffered.
Security certificates are giving greater latitude to authorities, ensuring that individuals who are not citizens of Canada and are suspected of having committed or are planning to commit the most egregious offences, such as terrorist acts, cannot remain in Canada, disappear into the woodwork, and harm Canadians.
The ability of the government to detain and remove dangerous non-Canadians from Canada, while protecting sensitive information, implements a critical national objective. This is especially true, in my view, if the security certificates are able to prevent a terrorist act.
According to the 2003 public report of CSIS, safeguarding against the possibility of a terrorist attack occurring in or originating from Canada is the highest national security priority. The strength of Bill C-3 is that it provides a tool to protect Canadian citizens while protecting the rights of an individual subject to a certificate. In fact, it could be argued that when comparing the rights of the individual named in the certificate with the rights of the potential victims, should that named individual actually commit a terrorist act, one could easily conclude that this person's rights have taken precedence over those of the potential victims.
Here are a few examples.
First, any individual detained under the legislation can be released from detention at any time should that individual agree to return to his or her country of origin or to a third country. The choice is that of the detainee.
In contrast, the potential victims of these individuals are given no choices. They cannot choose to leave the location of a terrorist incident. My husband and 3,000 others that day in New York had no such choice. Neither did the 331 people murdered in the Air India bombing.
Second, the Supreme Court of Canada has explicitly noted that detention under a security certificate is not cruel and unusual punishment if accompanied by a process that provides for regular detention reviews. Bill C-3 has created such a process, and a very fair one at that.
It seems to me that a person choosing to remain in detention until the resolution of the process, while benefiting from three meals a day, a stocked kitchen, an exercise room, a television, visits from his or her family and religious leaders, as well as regular reviews of his or her detention and the opportunity to appeal decisions at taxpayers' expense is not suffering cruel and unusual punishment.
But cruelty of the most exceptional sort is precisely what could befall Canadians if a terrorist should slip through our system; cruelty of the type that forced couples trapped in the World Trade Center to jump 100 floors, holding hands, to their deaths; cruelty of the type that killed every man, woman, and child on board Air Canada Flight 182, either from the immediate explosion of the suitcase bomb planted in the cargo or from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean after falling thousands of feet out of the plane.
I cannot help but add that in contrast to the detainees, who have access to an on-call psychiatrist, Canadian terror victims and their families have had to pay out of pocket for much needed psychological counselling. This issue has been raised by Air India family members, who testified at the Air India Inquiry that they were in need of counselling after the attack but did not have the necessary resources to obtain it themselves.
Lastly, any individual subject to a security certificate is entitled to a special advocate, who will have access to classified evidentiary materials and can challenge the minister's claim to the confidentiality of these materials as well as their relevance, reliability, sufficiency, and weight. But for the potential victims of such a named individual, our legal system provides no special advocates or other assistance to address the legal needs of victims after a terrorist attack.
All in all, given the dire and irreversible consequences in store for Canadian citizens if an error is made in favour of an individual named in a certificate who then commits a terrorist act, Bill C-3 has given considerable leeway to these individuals.
If for some the concern regarding the potential abuse of security certificates still supercedes the concern for saving real lives from the very real threat of terrorism, they should consider the following. By assisting authorities in preventing a major terrorist attack, these rather modest provisions will have protected our legal system from the inevitability of coming under even greater pressure, in the aftermath of an attack, to enact measures even more stringent and controversial in order to more adequately protect Canadians from other attacks. This possible backlash, resulting in even tougher laws that would go much farther than Bill C-3, is surely a scenario that all sides of this debate wish to avoid.
Members of the committee, given the unprecedented security challenges presented by terrorism as well as some of the obvious limitations of our criminal justice system in prosecuting the perpetrators and sponsors of terrorist attacks, security certificates are sorely needed. We must face the fact that terrorism is not another form of ordinary criminality. Terrorism is different in its scope, intent, method, and consequence. Combatting terrorism has pushed to new extremes what the Supreme Court has described as the “tension that lies at the heart of modern democratic governance” between “imperatives both of security and of accountable constitutional governance”.
We believe that Bill C-3 has found a reasonable and effective accommodation that addresses this tension, fulfilling the base requirements of both imperatives. Terrorism requires special technologies, policies, and legal structures to protect Canadians. Bill C-3 is a very good step in this direction, and on behalf of C-CAT and the terror victims we represent, we wish to voice our support for this bill.