Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, fellow witnesses, and guests. My name is Ziyaad Mia, and I am representing the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association today. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this session on this very important matter that we have before us.
The Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association represents various Muslim lawyers across this country. As some of you may know, we've been involved in the national security and anti-terrorism issues that have arisen over the last decade, quite deeply. We have a number of concerns and we have expressed them over the last ten years. Some of them were heard, some of them not heard. We hope that you will listen to us today and that we can engage in a discussion about our concerns.
One of our central concerns with this legislation and the general tone of law and policy in this area is that it is largely driven by fear. The problem with that is that fear does not develop good law and does not develop good policy. At the end of the day, in this climate that we have in the world in the war on terror, the culture of fear, unfortunately there is xenophobia. Muslim Canadians, Muslims around the world seem to bear the brunt of it.
That's not the essence of all I'm going to talk to you about today; it is one concern I have.
I also have concerns about having broad and blunt powers that are not precisely crafted put into the law, to sit there and maybe be used against other vulnerable minority communities in the future. At the end of the day, when you have poorly drafted laws, mistakes are made and innocent people's lives are destroyed. And that's a real thing. We read about in the papers, but at the end of the day, when the rubber hits the road, it's real people—real children and families—who are destroyed. And you can't put that back together through compensation alone.
So we have two major concerns. The first is that these laws that are before you today are not necessary. We have in this country a Criminal Code that is robust; there are a number of provisions, and I'm happy to engage you on them. But what we have before you today is legislation that takes us away from the fundamental protections in the Criminal Code and in the Constitution of this country, which are finely crafted to strike the right balance in respecting rights and getting at criminals and terrorists—because that's what terrorists essentially are. And we're watering down or in some cases possibly throwing away historic, fundamental protections that have been with us for centuries: on arbitrary detention, habeas corpus, judicial independence, and the separation of powers. These are not things to be taken lightly, and we are putting them significantly at risk.
My second point is that these types of powers run the risk of abuse. When we talk about this today, we can talk about all the examples we now have over the last ten years of the mistakes that have been made and innocent people's lives that are being destroyed. I don't think that's your aim and I don't think it's our aim at the Muslim Lawyers Association. We stand firmly with every other Canadian to stop terrorism in its tracks, but we need to make sure we don't catch a lot of innocent people in the process of doing it. It will stigmatize some communities, and as I said, there is the very real fear of scope creep, once we start to change the fundamental fabric of the legislation and the Constitution of this country.
Many people have come before your committee, and the rhetoric and the discourse are about “striking a balance” between national security and civil rights. I'll tell you one thing: I don't think we need to strike a balance. Because we have the Constitution in this country and the criminal law in this country, a balance has been struck. We don't have a system of absolute rights; section 1 of the charter is essentially a balancing mechanism. We as a community have decided to strike that balance.
What you're doing is moving that balance from one place on the spectrum to another, closer to security. That is fine, if you want to do that. But I don't think this is being discussed exactly in that way. We've been told that we're balancing things, away from absolute to a balance, when in fact what we have is a movement of that balance: we're moving and altering the fundamental social contract in this country and we're not having a proper public debate about it.
So it is a fallacious argument to say that we're striking a balance.
As we've said, our position before you on numerous occasions and in front of other committees is that these provisions are unnecessary. The fundamental principle of legal drafting is that you do not draft laws that are unnecessary, and you need to be precise in drafting.
We have—and we can talk about these provisions and you've heard about them before—the Criminal Code.
Section 495 of the code allows you to pre-empt criminal activity. It was fallacious for the previous government and for those saying it now to say that we need to stop the terrorists before they get on the plane and that we didn't have the tools to do that before. We did have the tools to do that before. They were called the Criminal Code and investigative techniques. We need to use those, I agree; we need to use those robustly. But to say that preventative arrest is needed because we need to stop something that might happen.... Well, we have tools that will do that.
There are the peace bond measures. Section 810 of the Criminal Code, as you know and as you've heard, has those protections already there, including for terrorism. Now, I may have some criticisms about how those may be applied broadly, in a civil liberties perspective, but they are there. And they're based on reasonable grounds, not reasonable suspicion; that's a very important point we should be talking about today. Part 13 of the code covers all sorts of preparatory offences—conspiracies, attempts, et cetera—and those address exactly what prevention is all about.
Basically, what I think we're doing today as a society is putting the cart before the horse. These are poorly designed laws, they're overly broad, they're loose, and they're giving police and the security agencies—although CSIS doesn't use these powers, their investigations lead into and feed into this system—loose, blunt powers, and they're ill-equipped to deal with them.
You know that there's a host of inquiries sitting on the table gathering dust: the Arar inquiry, the Air India inquiry, the Iacobucci inquiry. You have two cases, Almrei and Charkaoui, in which CSIS and the RCMP were roundly thrashed as incompetent, as not really understanding geopolitics in the way they should, so that we can catch real terrorists instead of wasting resources on other things. That's what we heard from Justice Mosley.
On top of that—forget national security—the RCMP is in a bit of disarray. You have the Dziekanski affair, which is a tragedy, a fundamental tragedy in this country: that an innocent man was killed and the RCMP then moved forward to mislead all of us. Not only is it an insult to our intelligence; it is fundamentally wrong.
There's a lot that's wrong with the RCMP. At this table two days ago you heard from the RCMP senior brass about what's wrong with the RCMP. We know that CSIS doesn't “get it”, as Justice Mosley says. They don't understand what jihad is. They had it all wrong with Almrei in the first case. They're chasing an innocent guy when they should be chasing real terrorists, putting the cart before the horse.
What you need to do is clean house with CSIS and the RCMP; implement the Arar commission's findings immediately; have that oversight, that transparency, those protections, so that we get our police and security agencies going after real terrorists—which is what we all want to do—while respecting the rule of law. Essentially, we have a picture of a security service and a national police force that are dysfunctional and in disarray, and you need to work with them to clean that house before we even consider any extraordinary new powers.
These are sunsetted provisions, which you're trying to bring back. The point of a sunsetted provision is exceptional power. If we keep renewing it, it's not an exceptional power anymore. Justice Binnie in the Air India case looked at the investigative hearings and raised that very concern. He raised this red flag: that if you keep renewing this, it is no longer an exceptional power. And from a rule-of-law and a democratic perspective, that is very dangerous. We are now at the point where we might have permanent emergency legislation, permanent exceptional legislation. I don't want to get into the constitutional theory, but it's fundamentally contradictory to our system of government and the rule of law. That is the kind of thing that you see Mr. Mubarak has: 30 years of emergency law. It's a bit absurd: it's a permanent emergency.
I'm not comparing us to Mubarak or the Nazis—obviously we're far from that—but I'm raising the issue because we don't want to start adopting measures that are indicative of those societies. Nazi Germany had legal theorists who said essentially that the leader decides when there's exception and when it ends. We don't have that; we have the rule of law and we have oversight over government. We have courts, checks and balances, and oversight over police and security services.
I'm telling you, we don't need to say “we'll just pass this for another five years”. Security agencies will always tell you they need more power. Every government agency and every institution will tell you they need more power and they need more money. That is just how things work.
I'll leave you with one reminder—I'm finishing up. I'm sure you're all familiar with Edmund Burke, a great parliamentarian. He was actually the father of modern conservatism; I have a lot of respect for him. More than 200 years ago he said that “the true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts”. And I think that is what we have before us today: we're nibbling away by expedience—“let this one pass, let that one pass”—and at the end of the day we have nothing left.
Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to your questions.