National Post Online
October 17, 2001
Violent protest is a terrorist activity, Liberal MP says
By Luiza Chwialkowska
OTTAWA - Violent protesters who destroy property and endanger lives in the name of a political cause could fall under the broad measures of the government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation, predicted MPs from across the political spectrum yesterday.
"In my opinion, [the bill] clearly and explicitly would include, as terrorist activity, the kind of violent protest that we saw at Quebec City and we are seeing at the World Trade Organization whenever the leaders meet across the world, where protesters throw Molotov cocktails, as they did at Quebec City, and attack the police and the barriers with the use of violence," said John Bryden, an Ontario Liberal MP
"Violent protest is a type of terrorist activity. It is designed to intimidate and disrupt the democratic process," said Mr. Bryden, stressing that peaceful protest would not be affected.
"I am glad to see that the government in its wisdom has brought forward a bill that is sufficiently broad to include that activity," agreed Peter McKay, justice critic for the Progressive Conservative party.
"It is a threat to life and limb, and it has to be dealt with in the harshest and most just but swift fashion," he said of violent protest.
But Bill Blaikie, NDP justice critic, said protesters should be covered under the existing criminal law without the added sanctions designed for terrorists.
"The bill needs to make clear the difference between protest and terrorism. Part of what our job will be in committee is to make sure the bill does that as it stands, and if it doesn't to amend it so that it does," he told reporters.
Pressed by Michel Bellehumeur, the Bloc Québécois justice critic, for assurances that Quebec City-style protesters would not be covered by the bill, Anne McLellan, the Minister of Justice, who tabled proposed anti-terrorism legislation on Monday, did not address directly the issue of violence.
"We have taken great care to ensure that those who would carry out lawful and legitimate activities, be it political protests in relation to labour movements and other things, are not affected by this legislation," said Ms. McLellan in the House.
Bill Bartlett, counsel for the department of Justice, said that even though the bill does not target protesters, they could get caught up in it.
The intent behind the violence would be critical to deciding whether it qualified as terrorist activity, he said.
"We presume that they have to have political, religious or ideological purpose, and that they are trying to either intimidate the population or compel -- compel, not simply influence -- a government and they intend by their act to cause serious bodily harm or endanger life," he said.
A violent act by protesters would not characterize an entire protest event as a terrorist activity, and not all acts of violence would qualify.
"It's not simply a matter of violence occurring. It's not simply a matter of whether a weapon is used," he said, noting that a Molotov cocktail thrown to get police to back up could not be construed as terrorist activity under the law.
The novel and sweeping powers under the bill led many MPs to call on the government to include a so-called sunset clause that would cause the legislation to expire after a number of years and require the government to reintroduce -- and justify anew -- expanded police and government power.
"What is contained in this legislation is so profound and so important and so, in a sense, contrary to the way Canadians like to see themselves, and yet so terribly necessary in the context of international terrorist threat, that I hope the government would consider a sunset clause," said Mr. Bryden.
Ms. McLellan rejected the request as well as a demand by the NDP to refer the legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion as to whether the bill complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
She said the legislation fully complies with the Charter and is subject to parliamentary review within three years.
Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, said he would be open to mandating a review sooner.
Some of the harshest criticism of the sprawling legislation came from within the Liberal ranks.
Mr. Bryden compared the measures to conceal security information to measures taken by totalitarian dictatorships because they would allow the Attorney-General to prohibit indefinitely the disclosure of information pertaining to international relations, national defence and security.
"The government will be able to exclude information from public view forever, indefinitely and with no review. No outside ombudsman, no court, no one can come in and see what they are doing," he said, noting that even secret Cabinet documents must be released after 20 years.
"That is terribly, terribly, terribly dangerous. That is precisely the excuse that has been used by dictatorships throughout history and around the world is that in the interests of security -- we are talking about the police -- information is withheld forever. We cannot have that," he said.
Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance leader, said the law did not go far enough in banning only participation, rather than membership, in terrorist organizations.