Controversial anti-terrorism tools revived as bill passes
Preventive arrests and investigative hearings return, terrorism-related penalties increase
A bill that would revive some provisions of Canada's Anti-terrorism Act passed in the House of Commons Wednesday night.
The Liberals joined the Conservatives to pass the bill — known as S-7, the combating terrorism act — by a vote of 183 to 93. It would bring back two central provisions that were originally instituted by the Jean Chrétien government after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York in 2001 but were "sunsetted" after a five-year period.
One allowed for "preventive detention," meaning someone can be held without charge for up to three days just on suspicion of being involved in terrorism. The person can then be bound by certain probationary conditions for up to a year, and if he or she refuses the conditions, can be jailed for 12 months.
The second provides for an "investigative hearing" in which someone suspected of having knowledge of a terrorist act can be forced to answer questions. The objective is not to prosecute the person for a criminal offence, but merely to gather information.
If he or she refuses, that person can be imprisoned for up to 12 months. When the Harper government, during its first term, tried to bring back the terrorism measures in 2007, the Liberals opposed the move. Now, however, the government has Liberal support and only the official Opposition, the NDP, is protesting the bill.
Bill S-7 would also amend the Criminal Code and other acts to increase existing penalties for certain terrorism-related offences and introduce new terrorism offences to prohibit individuals from leaving Canada for the purpose of committing terrorist acts, among other changes.
The bill has already been through the Senate, and has been awaiting third reading in the Commons for months, but was rushed suddenly into debate on Monday in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. A final vote expected Tuesday was deferred for a day.
Opposition critics have accused the government of trying to exploit the events in Boston and have skeptically pointed out the coincidence of pushing the bill to debate on the same day a major terrorist arrest was announced in Toronto.
In debate, the NDP pointed out it had proposed 17 amendments to the bill at the committee stage, but all were rejected by the Conservatives, who dominate the committee. The Liberals proposed no amendments.