Thank you for having me. Good afternoon.
My name is Maureen Basnicki. I'm here as a co-founder of C-CAT, the Canadian Coalition Against Terror.
C-CAT is a non-partisan advocacy body comprised of Canadian terror victims, counterterrorism professionals, lawyers, and other individuals committed to enhancing Canada's counterterrorism policies. We represent a unique constituency of Canadians of every background, religion, and political affiliation who have become victims of terrorism. Some of us lost a single relative, others lost entire families, and some of us were injured ourselves. Any of us could have been any of you, under different circumstances, but all of us are united in our determination to ensure that other potential victims of terror are spared the horror that we had to endure.
Over the last few weeks, I have read some of the transcripts of the debates and testimony regarding Bill S-7. I would like to direct my comments to several recurrent themes in the concerns raised by critics about the very nature and legitimacy of the provisions in this bill, relating to investigative hearings, recognizance with conditions, and leaving Canada to commit a terrorist offence.
Some critics question whether Bill S-7, regardless of any proposed revisions, is needed, whether the threat of terrorism really warrants provisions that they describe as a departure from powers traditionally available to investigate criminal offences. Others question whether these provisions will violate the rights of Canadians, or whether this bill is the beginning of the much-dreaded slippery slope that will ultimately result in the abrogation of constitutional rights at a later date. And still others question whether passage of this bill is handing the government a blank cheque of sorts that could lay the groundwork for the ever-expanding use of the controversial provisions—originally justified only on the basis of the extraordinary and tragic events of 9/11.
Summarized in the words of one MP, these critics feel that at best there is no balance in this bill between security and the fundamental rights of Canadians.
At the core of this critique lies what I find to be a remarkable supposition, that terrorism as a phenomenon has not amply demonstrated the justification and need for some rather modest enhancements to the powers of authorities investigating terrorism cases. We believe this supposition clearly flies in the face of the words of Justice Dorno, who presided over the Toronto 18 cases and stated bluntly that terrorism offences are abnormal crimes whose object is to strike fear and terror into citizens in a way not seen in any other criminal offences.
Justice Dorno is entirely correct, as well as the Appeals Court in the Khawaja case, which noted the unique nature of terrorism-related offences and the special danger these crimes pose to Canadian society.
As I have stated previously in other testimony before Parliament, terrorism is not simply a more pernicious form of organized crime. The primary interest of most criminals is personal gain of some sort, while the objective of terrorism is to fundamentally undermine, if not destroy, the society or country being targeted.
We need to look no further than the daily newspaper to be reminded of the ability of terrorists to destabilize entire countries or regions and to inflict violence at a level once reserved only for sovereign entities. But most chillingly, for terrorists there is no weapon or tactic, including weapons of mass destruction, that is inherently beyond contemplation. Acquiring weapons of mass destruction is a stated terrorist imperative, and the immediacy and magnitude of this threat has led some of the world's most prominent experts to conclude that a terrorist attack with unconventional weaponry may be all but inevitable.
Given the magnitude of this threat, we must therefore disagree with those critics who have stated that the legislators who introduced these measures in 2001 were simply hitting the panic button in the aftermath of the urgency created by the events of 9/11 and that there is no justification or urgency today that mandates their continued presence in the Criminal Code of Canada. This is not the case.
Far from being an overreaction to 9/11, these provisions were, in fact, a sober and responsible recognition of the danger posed by terrorism to the future of the international community. They were an acknowledgment that the western world had already tumbled down a slippery slope of another sort and had grossly misread the terrorist peril because of what the 9/11 commission referred to as a “failure of imagination”.
Today, in the aftermath of 9/11, lawmakers no longer need imagination to conceive of the unimaginable. They need legislative imagination to find better ways of navigating the competing concerns of security and liberty. I believe Bill S-7 has demonstrated that type of legislative imagination.
To suggest, as some have, that the supporters of this bill are soft on protecting constitutional rights is to ignore the fact that the vitality of a democracy is measured not only by its liberty but by its capacity and obligation to find a balance between those liberties and other concerns in uncharted waters.
Given the numerous safeguards, reporting requirements, and time limitations imposed on these provisions, we do not agree that Canadian legislators are betraying Canada's democratic ideals in seeking their passage. Rather, we see this bill as having found reasonable and effective accommodation in balancing what the Supreme Court of Canada has described as the “imperatives both of security and of accountable constitutional governance” while recognizing the truth of what British Minister of State Ian Pearson stated in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, that “...there is no human right more sacred than the right to be alive. Without this human right all others are impossible.”
As for concerns that some of these measures are a blank cheque that might be used by the government, the record clearly indicates otherwise. Even this bill's most vociferous critics have acknowledged that the authorities have scrupulously avoided utilizing these tools. In fact, they have never been used and therefore have never been abused. There is clearly no ravenous appetite in law enforcement to utilize these provisions.
This does not mean that they are not invaluable tools for contending with an ever-adapting and evolving enemy that presents a danger of unprecedented dimensions. If these provisions succeed just once in stopping a terrorist outrage, they will have more than served their purpose. While we agree that some of these provisions should be sparingly used, others, such as those that prevent individuals from leaving Canada to be trained as terrorists, must be aggressively advocated by anyone concerned with human rights and war crimes. If Canada can prevent individuals within its borders from seeking advanced training to commit the worst atrocities in countries around the world, it absolutely should.
If for some the concern regarding potential future abuse of these tools supersedes the concern for saving real lives from a very real and immediate threat, they should consider the following: by assisting authorities in interdicting a major terrorist incident, these rather modest provisions will have protected our justice system from the inevitability of coming under even greater pressure, in the aftermath of an attack, to enact measures even more stringent and controversial to protect Canadians from other attacks.
We therefore urge all MPs to approach Bill S-7 with the security of Canadians in mind. Canada should not be removing reasonable tools for fighting terrorism while terrorists are busy sharpening their tools for use against Canadians and other innocent victims. While the provisions of Bill S-7 can always be revisited at a later date, the lives shattered by a future terrorist attack that may have been prevented cannot be reconstituted by any act of Parliament.
As a Canadian who lost her husband on 9/11, I am a living example of just how true that is.