Good evening, and thank you for your invitation to discuss Bill C-75.
My name is Maureen Basnicki. I am the co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. I'm also the founder of the Canadian National Day of Service Foundation.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to address both House and Senate committees re many topics concerning terrorism, counterterrorism initiatives, and advocating for victims of violent crime, which includes Canadians victimized by terrorists. I was one of the original recipients of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for my enduring dialogue on terrorism, and it is through this lens that I'm giving a brief today. I thank you for the opportunity to do so.
On September 11, 2001, my life changed forever when my husband Ken was murdered in the attacks on 9/11. He was a proud Canadian who worked from his home in Toronto. Ken was on his first trip to New York to network for his job. In the aftermath of the horrific attacks, I decided that I wanted to do something to ensure that no family has to go through what mine did, and I shared this with other victims.
I'm a very proud Canadian, as was my late husband Ken. Even though Ken was murdered outside our border, it is important for me to have my country send a proper message to the global community that my Canada will not tolerate anyone, either a Canadian citizen or a citizen from another country, deliberately trying to harm or murder innocent civilians. That is why I co-founded C-CAT, along with my friend and colleague, Danny Eisen. For those of you who are unaware, the Canadian Coalition Against Terror is a non-partisan policy research and advocacy body committed to seeking innovative legal and public policy strategies in the fight against terrorism.
In that context, I would like to speak to you about some of what is contained in this legislation that concerns me greatly.
The government has used the anodyne term “hybridization” to refer to more than a hundred changes they are making to sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. However, it is clear that what is happening here is simply a reduction in sentences. I would particularly like to speak to clauses 16, 17, and 20 to 23. These are all provisions relating to terrorism.
Currently, providing property or services for terrorist purposes could be punished by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, using or possessing property for terrorist purposes could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, participation in the activity of a terrorist group could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, participation in terrorist activities could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, leaving Canada to participate in a terrorist activity could be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Currently, advocating or promoting terrorism could be punishable by up to five years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine. Finally, harbouring a terrorist is currently punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Under this bill, the sentence could be as little as a fine.
The rationale provided by the government has been that there is a need to speed up the court system. On that point, I don't disagree. There are unconscionable delays in prosecuting criminals, and those delays have often led to criminals walking free on a technicality. However, one has to wonder if treating a terrorist in the same manner as someone who got a parking ticket is the best way to fix a broken system. I would say absolutely not. It sends the wrong message to victims and to Canadian society as a whole. It sends the wrong message to other countries and would-be terrorists, either homegrown or from outside our borders.
Terrorists, members of terrorist groups, and those who profit from them should face the full force of the law. I have to wonder, since this government is often very fond of consultation, what groups were asking for this. I can't imagine that any of the members of Parliament on this committee knocked on a single door where someone told them they were concerned the punishment for terrorists was simply too harsh.
I would recommend that this committee repeal all the provisions in this bill that lessen the penalties for terrorists. Unclogging the courts is certainly a noble objective, but there are many better ways to do this than have been attempted here. Victims have an important interest in the criminal justice system that is not delayed. Remedies that emphasize both the rights of the accused and the rights of the victims must be found.
I would like to close by stating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's words when he was challenged by Canadians across the country with regard to the $10.5-million payout to satisfy the settlement regarding the violation of Omar Khadr's rights. He said:
The measure of a society – a just society – is not whether we stand up for peoples' rights when it is easy or popular to do so, but whether we recognize rights when it is difficult, when it is unpopular.... We are a society that stands up for peoples' rights and when governments fail to respect peoples' rights, we all end up paying and that is the lesson hopefully future governments will draw from this settlement.
I'd like to remind you that it's the safety and security of citizens that is the primary responsibility of our Prime Minister. Ensuring that there are laws and penalties in place that send a strong message of condemnation and act as a deterrent are of vital importance to Canada. I'm a Canadian who has been victimized by terrorism. I join many other victims of violent crime to say that, in our opinion, changing sentencing to minimum time in the case of heinous crimes committed by terrorists, repeat offenders, drunk drivers, etc., lessens the rights of victims.
Justice and accountability are not obtainable for all victims. However, when our security forces do get the perpetrator, I hope that our judicial system delivers the proper sentence that is fair to both the offender and the victim. I want my rights as a Canadian who has been victimized. Please do not decimate our criminal laws. That will send the wrong message.
Thank you, and I'll be pleased to take questions later.