Canada plans crackdown to guard against terrorism

October 18, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

OTTAWA - The Canadian government introduced the most stringent anti-terrorism legislation in the country's history this week. It would allow preventive arrests and broader electronic surveillance.

The legislation also would grant the power to compel testimony during investigations, setting aside the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination.

Taken with new regulations stepping up border operations and revamping immigration procedures since the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, the laws are the first step toward dealing with a new sense of danger across North America, Foreign Minister John Manley said yesterday.

He said the government also would consider establishing a foreign intelligence service, which Canada does not have.

Presence of terrorist cells

The measures are being promoted as making Canada safer, not as a response to similar new laws in the United States or Britain, which they resemble.

"There's quite an instinctive realization that what happened on Sept. 11 may have been an attack on somewhat symbolic targets but that they were symbols of open and free societies, including our own," said Manley, who as chairman of a Cabinet committee on anti-terrorism is roughly Canada's counterpart to Tom Ridge, director of the new Office of Homeland Security in the United States.

"I think Canadians understand perfectly well that we would be naive to believe that we do not have people linked to al-Qaida within Canada and that they might take action against Canada," he said. "After all, we are the third-largest contributor in a military sense to the campaign that's going on now."

As Manley spoke, Prime Minister Jean Chretien was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, seeing off three ships - a destroyer, a frigate and a supply ship - headed for the Arabian Sea to join the U.S.-led coalition attacking Afghanistan. Canada has pledged ships, aircraft and about 2,000 troops, most of them sailors. Commandos are thought to be among the troops.

The anti-terrorism bill, presented to Parliament on Monday, is subject to weeks of debate and committee hearings and its final form is uncertain. The government has marshaled a team of ministers to defend it.

Legal experts, civil rights organizations and advocates of immigrant rights and a liberal asylum policy are alarmed at the sweep of the proposal and have raised questions about other measures already announced to expand the powers of the police and immigration authorities.

`Causes for concern'

Simon Potter, the first vice president of the Canadian Bar Association, said yesterday that the organization saw "red flags" in the legislation and had formed a team of lawyers to study it and recommend changes to the government.

"In many, many aspects, it does things that Canada has never seen before," said Potter, an expert on constitutional law. The only parallel, he said, was a war powers act invoked briefly in Quebec in October 1970, when armed separatists took hostages and assassinated the provincial justice minister.

"Even if we accept that enhanced enforcement powers are needed, and even if we accept that the point of balance between security and individual rights has shifted, we nevertheless have to work to make that new balance," he said.

"This new legislation has causes for concern: the definition what terrorist activities are, the provision for preventative arrest and the provision for forcing people to testify even if they don't want to. It is disturbing to think that police can arrest you and keep you until they think you aren't going to be a menace any more."

He added that because Canadians do not have constitutional protection against self-incrimination, compulsory testimony is worrying. "Never in Canada have we forced people to abandon their right to silence in an investigation," he said.

In separate actions this month, Canada's immigration minister, Elinor Caplan, announced that 300 more immigration and customs officers would be hired to screen would-be refugees or asylum seekers and detain those found potentially dangerous.

Immigrants will have to carry a plastic identity card, not unlike the U.S. "green card," enhanced with a magnetic stripe and photograph. An earlier version of this card was found to be easy to tamper with or forge.

Tighter border controls are a problem for both Canada and the United States, given the length of their border and the isolation of many areas.

The Canadian government remains opposed to integrated American-Canadian immigration and asylum policies and practices, however. Such policies, intended to form a North American "security perimeter," have been proposed for several years by the United States.

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