Vote on anti-terror bill put off to Wednesday
NDP suggests Conservatives taking advantage of Boston bombings
A bill that would revive some provisions of Canada's Anti-terrorism Act will be put over to Wednesday in the House of Commons, with debate on it coming quickly after the Boston Marathon bombings and arrests in an alleged plot to derail a Via passenger train.
The bill has already been though the Senate, and it's been ready for third reading in the House of Commons for months, but it was rushed suddenly into debate on Monday.
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.
The bill will bring back two central provisions that were originally instituted by the Chrétien government after the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001 but were "sunsetted" after a five-year period.
One allowed for "preventative 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 it. Now, however, the government has Liberal support and only the official Opposition, the NDP, is protesting the bill.
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.
It's possible that the NDP could continue to bring forward its members to speak on the bill, and carry on debate through Wednesday or even Thursday, but it's expected New Democrats will agree to the vote Tuesday evening.
NDP MP Robert Chisolm called the bill "a bad law" and said, "Surely the government realizes the import of what happened in Boston and it's not something we should be playing politics with."
Conservative MP Laurie Hawn asked members to imagine "what didn't happen in Toronto," referring to the fact that RCMP announced Monday a terrorist plot to derail a Via Rail train in Toronto was foiled. But several NDP MPs pointed out that the RCMP made its arrests without the provisions of the new bill.
The Liberals support the bill and proposed no amendments.
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former minister of justice and a human rights lawyer, defended the principles of the anti-terrorism bill on Tuesday, saying that other countries have indefinite holding periods for terrorism suspects, but in Canada suspects must undergo an hearing within 24 hours of their detention.
Cotler said the bill, known as S-7, has "an inventory of safeguards" and employs "the principle of least injustice."
The NDP put forward speaker after speaker on the bill on Tuesday, with MP Pat Martin at one point lambasting the Senate for daring to introduce the bill first and send it to the House of Commons for final debate, rather than the other way round.
The Conservatives have barely attended the Commons debate. At one point Tuesday morning, there wasn't a quorum in the House to continue the debate. More Conservative MPs quickly entered the room.