Did Post-9/11 Bill Give Cops Too Much Power?

Like so many stories these days, this one starts with commercial passenger planes flying into buildings on the east coast of North America on September 11, 2001. In the months that followed, while Americans were taking steps to prevent further acts of terrorism, the Canadian Parliament rushed through Bill C-36, our own Anti-Terrorism Act.

It's time for the government to fulfill its promise to review the bill three years later, according to Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. "What we're worried about is the government has no intention to take this [review] at all seriously," he said in a phone interview.

Bill C-36 amended some 20 pieces of legislation to give the government and RCMP extra powers. It also includes a clause saying that a review of it must start by this December 18 at the latest.

But on December 1, the federal Justice Department was still waiting for instructions from Parliament, said spokesperson Patrick Charette. "It's difficult at this point in time to know exactly what will be reviewed and where it will be reviewed," Charette told the Straight by phone from Ottawa.

The act's most controversial measures include allowing police to arrest people and detain them without a warrant, and allowing judges to hold terrorism-related hearings in secret. An October report to Parliament said those measures had not been used between the creation of the law in 2001 and December 23, 2003.

However, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team--created under Bill C-36--has been operating since the bill passed. According to Mollard, an examination of some INSET activities that are on the public record shows why the review is so badly needed.

With a $64-million budget over five years, the team combines resources and people from the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Canada Border Services Agency. It came to public attention in July 2002, when INSET officers seized computers, disks, videos, photos, files, papers, and other documents from the Courtenay home of David Barbarash. At the time, Barbarash was acting as spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front, whose members commit "economic sabotage" but are careful not to harm people or other animals.

In September 2002, a second INSET raid made the news. Officers raided the Port Alberni home of John Rampanen, a member of the Native activist group West Coast Warriors Society, acting on an anonymous tip about unauthorized guns being hidden there.

The officers didn't find any weapons at the residence, Rampanen said in an interview with Monday Magazine a few weeks after the raid, but they did leave him and his family feeling shaken. He asked: "How can indigenous people be considered terrorists on our own homeland?"

Finally, INSET looked into the contacts that Tre Arrow, also known as Michael Scarpitti, had in Canada, and any possible criminal activity he was involved in here. Last March, Arrow was arrested in Victoria for allegedly shoplifting; he is currently in jail in Vancouver, fighting an extradition order.

The FBI wanted Arrow, a well-known activist in the United States, in connection with firebombings of logging equipment in Oregon in 2001, with damage totalling around US$260,000.

The BCCLA's Mollard, speaking about Arrow's case, said: "From day one when we were debating Bill C-36, our concern was the government in Canada was losing sight of what we mean by terrorism," adding that civil libertarians feared the new powers would eventually be used for things most of us don't consider terrorism.

Certainly, when RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli appeared before a joint session of the Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Special Senate Committee on Bill C-36 on October 23, 2001, he described something much more serious than the cases mentioned above.

"Terrorist activity is indiscriminate, global in scope, and destabilizing in effect," he told the committees. "Those who carry out terrorist activity have no respect for human life; they will stop at nothing in their effort to achieve their goals....They think nothing of strapping a bomb around their waist, detonating it and themselves in a location strategically selected to result in the greatest possible loss of life and destruction of property."

It is entirely possible that INSET has been involved in preventing that kind of thing. According to Insp. Lloyde Plante, the RCMP officer in charge of INSET in B.C., the cases on the public record form only a small part of what the agency has done. Security risks make it impossible to discuss specific cases or even how many there've been, Plante argued. However, he did say that INSET has "disrupted a variety of criminal enterprises" and that its work has resulted in people being removed from Canada.

The goal is to prevent terrorist attacks before they happen, Plante added. "Sometimes no news is good news. Maybe we are being effective; maybe we are disrupting those activities. I know we've had a lot of successes, perhaps more than we're even aware of."

That may be the case, but Murray Mollard said that simply looking at the cases we do know about shows why INSET and Bill C-36 need to be reviewed, and why the BCCLA plans to make a submission when that review happens. "There's never been a piece of legislation that was so rushed through," he said in an earlier interview. "When you create legislation at a moment of heightened emotion and anxiety, you're not always creating the best legislation."