Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the opportunity, even as late in the day as it came, to appear before this committee as it studies this important legislation.
I am delighted to be here on behalf of Canadian Jewish Congress, which for over 90 years now has been the advocacy voice of the Jewish community of Canada and a voice for human rights for all Canadians.
Thank you for the invitation to present the Jewish community's views on antiterrorism in Canada and on Bill C-17.
Let me begin by stating clearly that Canadian Jewish Congress supports Bill C-17. I think it's good that I understand what it means to be a minority, because I clearly am one at this panel. At the same time, we would examine with interest any amendments that this committee might eventually recommend after completing its review towards strengthening the legislation as part of the overall anti-terrorist regime in Canada.
It will come as no surprise, I'm sure, that Canadian Jewish Congress has for many years, and well prior to 9/11, been a strong advocate for a comprehensive and effective counter-terrorism regime in Canada on behalf of a community that is essentially twice targeted--that is, both as Canadians and as Jews.
In our brief on the legislation establishing CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CJC noted, and I quote:
If terrorism is allowed to implant itself in Canada because we are reluctant to establish realistic measures to prevent it, its impact will spread beyond any particular community to affect Canada as a nation and in the international forum. As terrorism grows more organized and more international in scope, so must the efforts to contain it be more organized, serious, and efficacious.
Members of the committee, that brief was submitted in April 1984, almost 27 years ago, and yet in the aftermath of September 11 it became clear just how unprepared Canada was in dealing with the threat of international terrorism and its domestic manifestations. Canadian Jewish Congress was therefore gratified by the government's introduction of then Bill C-36, including the two ultimately sunsetting clauses that lie at the heart of Bill C-17 now.
To date, thankfully, Canada has been spared the agony of the suicide bombings and attacks that, at least since the turn of the new century, have become a commonplace weapon in the terrorist arsenal. But our nation has certainly not been immune to terrorism, not least the tragic events surrounding the bombing of Air India flight 182.
Canada's Jewish community has been targeted for terrorist violence by the likes of Ahmed Ressam and Jamal Akal, and beyond that we cannot but see the community's security in the context of the vulnerability of and attacks on sister communities elsewhere in the world, both before and after September 11, 2001.
Given the multicultural and pluralistic nature of its society, Canada is especially vulnerable in an increasingly interconnected world to terrorist infiltration. While the vast majority of ethnic, cultural, and community groups and their members pose no threat, terrorists are well positioned to exploit, intimidate, or attract individual fellow ethnics and/or co-religionists into supporting, financially and otherwise, and providing valuable cover for their activities in one way or another. We have already had a glimpse into the potential for homegrown radicalization, and if that weren't enough, we have the examples of the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe to ponder.
From our perspective, it was a decided strength of the Anti-terrorism Act that it set its primary sights on prevention of terrorist acts rather than the apprehension and punishment of perpetrators. Potential terrorist operations, or those discovered in progress, must be thwarted immediately. The powers of recognizance with conditions and investigative hearings introduced by the act remain important for the attainment of this purpose. Though having been sparingly used, as we know, it is still important to have these powers available to our security and police forces, because the best and first line of defence against terrorism is effective and timely surveillance and intelligence gathering, intrusive though they may be at times.
We believed in 2001 and continue to believe in the importance of granting expanded powers to the security services through recognizance with conditions and investigative hearings for the careful monitoring of individuals and groups that are suspect and the amassing of relevant information well in advance.
Now, since the passage of the Anti-terrorism Act, Canadians have been passing judgment on how well it met the most fundamental challenge facing any democracy, namely, how to provide for the safety and security of its citizens while minimally impairing the basic civil liberties that underpin their society.
The two sunsetted measures clearly provide a stern test to any democratic society. In fact, these two provisions seem to epitomize the zero sum game of protection of security versus protection of human rights. And as we know, they ultimately died on the floor of the House of Commons.
From our perspective, one need not approach the debate from the either/or perspective of security versus rights. If terrorism is rightly regarded as an assault on human rights, it stands to reason that the implementation of counter-terrorism measures necessarily protects the highest priority rights of life, liberty, and the security of the person--the foundation of all other rights and freedoms.
Now, the corollary of course is that these actions themselves must always be rooted in and comport with the rule of law. A properly framed and implemented counter-terrorism policy enhances civil liberties and core charter values and protects them as part of the way of our life, whose essence is threatened by terrorism.
A look around the world clearly tells us that terrorist acts remain a clear and present danger, and our security and police personnel must have sufficient authority to take preventive action to interdict possible attacks before they occur. Nonetheless, we are fully cognizant of the potential severity of these measures, and we are heartened that Bill C-17 provides additional safeguards to reassure Canadians' concerns about the possible adverse impact of these measures.
Members of the committee, the most fundamental role of the state is to protect the safety and security of its citizens and the core national way of life. Governments such as ours must thwart the efforts of those who would use our open society against us and then shut it down, while at the same time we must be sure not to impair the very democratic nature of that society. But it would be the ultimate irony if in striving to maintain civil liberties we strip authorities of the necessary powers to stop terrorists and extremists from destroying our open and free society.
In our respectful submission, Bill C-17 deserves expeditious passage, as it successfully meets the challenge in restoring the authority for the use of recognizance with conditions and investigative hearings while providing additional safeguards for fundamental civil liberties and rights.
I thank you for your kind attention and look forward to your questions.