What has not been a good week for supporters of anti-terrorist legislation in Canada and Europe is about to get a bit worse. With the Supreme Court of Canada demanding changes to the way the government utilizes Security Certificates for resident aliens, and European courts moving against the practice of extraordinary rendition and distancing themselves from the war on terror, they've taken a couple of direct hits recently.
But it seems that saying about things coming in threes is about to bear fruit again unless some sort of miracle happens between now and March 1. That's the date that Canada's anti-terrorist legislation allowing for suspects to be detained without charges and compelled to testify before a judge expires. Unless parliament votes to renew those sections before midnight March 1, they will become history.
With both the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Quebecois guaranteed to vote against renewal, the minority Conservative government will need to have the support of thirty members of the Liberal party in order to receive sufficient votes to carry the day. Although the Liberal party was the government that introduced this legislation three years ago they are now ready to let it expire.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to make political hay out of the fact that the Liberals introduced the legislation by accusing them of flip-flopping on the issue, but that hasn't deterred them. Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader, simply returns fire and has accused Mr. Harper and the Conservatives of trying to push the legislation through at the last minute without allowing any room for real debate and consultation.
When Mr. Harper and his officials claim that they can't deny security forces such useful weapons in their war against terror, Mr. Dion and his people respond that human rights aren't something to be trifled with. When the Conservatives offer to address those issues at a later date as long as the Liberals agree to pass the legislation, the Liberals respond with "We don't trust you enough to believe you'll come back to the issue in a few months."
What the Liberals want is a complete review of the whole package of security laws as had been recommended by a joint Senate and House committee six months ago. They wonder why, if the Conservatives have known all along that these two items would expire on Thursday, and that six months ago it was recommended that they should be evaluated within the context of an overall evaluation of all the special security measures passed to fight terrorism, that they have left it to the last minute to try and renew the measures.
I think the answer to the Liberal party's question about why the Conservatives waited until the last moment to re-introduce the legislation is twofold. First you could put it down to the arrogance they've shown throughout their whole term in office, acting as though they can do whatever they want despite the fact they are a minority government.
Second is the fact that in this time leading up to an almost certain spring election, they are doing their best to paint the Liberals as soft on terrorism and not interested in the safety and well-being of the Canadian people. They have already shown no hesitation in exploiting the grief and anger of those who lost family in the Air India bombing twenty years ago. The Prime Minister has already implied that the Liberals are against extending the legislation to protect a Liberal Member of Parliament's father-in-law who might be a terrorist involved with that act of terror.
For all their protestations about human rights, the Liberals really don't come off much better in this incident. It was their party that did write this legislation and had no problem with it being used, as long they were the government. Secondly it rings a bit hollow for their second in command, Michael Ignatieff, to start sounding holier than thou about this act when he has in the past said he wouldn't object to utilizing information obtained through torture.
In the end the only two parties who are acting without ulterior motives are the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. At least they have the decency to stand by their original votes on the issue and have no hidden agendas. Of course their influence in the house is limited, since without the Liberals nobody can defeat the Conservatives.
Legally, in Canada at least, the Supreme Court has already shown itself willing to suspend some rights and freedoms in the name of national security. Their ruling on the security certificates was an example of that when they said that indefinite incarceration without charges for potential terrorist threats was okay in the case of resident aliens. So there is precedent for them not to rule the legislation under dispute unconstitutional.
But the idea of the legislation when it was passed three years ago was that it would be given a full and complete review before it was renewed. The situation in Canada vis a vis terrorist threats would be examined as to whether or not there were any genuine need for the security forces to pluck people from the street and hold them indefinitely without trial.
Unfortunately due to the manner in which Canada's Conservative government has chosen to deal with the matter, no review process was possible. How many people have been arrested using these extraordinary powers? Are they still in detention, and what was the end result of their incarceration? These are questions that won't be answered at this time, if ever.
These type of special powers should not just be renewed for the sake of scoring a few political points or for other trivial reasons. If no threat to our country exists there is no need for anyone to have that type of power.