With the federal election well underway and political campaigns in full swing, there’s no shortage of big promises being made. One promise, however, which was recently made by our current prime minister, seems to have captured some attention and stood out from the rest—but for all the wrong reasons.
Last week, Stephen Harper announced his intention to criminalize travel to specific countries and regions of the world, which he has coined "declared areas", and considers "hot beds" for terrorism. If he is re-elected, Harper has vowed to establish laws that will effectively prohibit Canadian citizens from travelling to these areas. He wishes to use existing national security agencies to track Canadians travellers who go to these destinations and to subsequently monitor them upon their return. Unless they are able to prove that they were travelling for humanitarian or journalism reasons, Harper has promised that they will face criminal sanctions.
He has not specified where, exactly, the "declared areas" will be. However, there are indications that parts of Syria and Iraq are likely to be among the first areas that will be subject to any such travel ban.
The prime minister’s promise is one that should worry all Canadians—but it is particularly worrisome for those who have Syrian roots.
Many Syrian Canadians have already come forward to share their fears over this proposal, saying that, if the law is passed, they will face prosecution for simply visiting family in their country of birth. The Syrian Canadian Council has pointed out that many Syrian Canadians travel to the country to visit relatives, take part in humanitarian missions, and work in legitimate modes of employment. Although Harper—somewhat unhappily—admitted that some people may have legitimate reasons for travelling to such countries, he appears to be completely committed to seeing his promise through if he is re-elected.
And Syria may only be the beginning.
We have to wonder where else the prime minister will see it fit to apply a ban and limit travel for Canadians. Harper has not provided any parameters, limitations, or definitions beyond simply saying that prohibited areas will be those that are “ground zero for terrorist activity.” When discussing a proposal that could seriously limit the freedom of Canadian citizens, this answer leaves something to be desired.
The practical utility of such a ban is highly questionable. As some have already pointed out, it is unlikely to have any deterrent effect. This is especially true due to the fact that Canada already has legislation that prevents citizens from travelling anywhere for the purposes of fighting and training with terrorist groups. The very small number of extremist individuals who wish to travel abroad for this purpose are already aware of the fact that they are breaking the law, so the imposition of yet another law is not likely to give them reason for pause.
There is simply little to no evidence to show that the blanket-policy travel-specific ban proposed by Harper would have any effect on reducing the threat of terrorism in Canada.
Thankfully the opposition to this proposal has been vocal. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has called it nothing but “electoral posturing,” while NDP Leader Tom Muclair has focused on the problems that it could potentially pose for civil liberties. When challenged, however, the prime minister stuck to his guns. He defended his position, saying that there is “no right in this country to travel to an area under the governance of terrorists; that is not a human right.”
Human rights aren’t something that most Canadians take lightly.
Mobility rights are one of the cornerstones of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Every Canadian citizen is guaranteed the right to enter, remain in, and leave Canada as they see fit. When Charter rights are limited by the government, it is absolutely imperative that the government can answer to them and demonstrate that they are both reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic country. I have yet to see Harper do that.
Harper’s proposal is especially disturbing in light of Bill C-51. It is also puzzling as to why, if this mandate is so necessary in the fight against terrorism, the prime minister did not simply include it as a part of that massive and controversial bill. Perhaps Harper is simply using this issue to detract from other, less-desirable issues, that he hopes voters will forget—such as the Mike Duffy scandal or his failed economic policies.
Either way—this is one campaign trail promise that should be broken.