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Canada: Expanded Anti-Terror Legislation

(May 2, 2013) Late on April 24, 2013, the Canadian parliament passed the Combating Terrorism Act, which will expand powers of investigation and increase penalties in terrorism cases. While some parts of the law had been enacted as provisions in previous legislation, they had not been used. (An Act to Amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act, Bill S-7, Apr. 25, 2013, Parliament of Canada website; Tobi Cohen, Controversial Anti-Terror Bill Passes, Allowing Preventative Arrests, Secret Hearings, NATIONAL POST (Apr. 25, 2013).)

The legislation allows police to detain those suspected of terrorism for up to three days without charging them. It also provides for conditional recognizance of suspects for a period of one year to prevent them from committing terrorist acts. The new law makes it a crime to leave Canada to assist terrorist groups or receive training in terrorism; it also increases the penalties for terrorist acts originating in Canada. (Jerry Votava, Canada House of Commons Passes Expanded Anti-Terror Legislation, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Apr. 26, 2013).)

Additional provisions make it possible for courts to force witnesses to appear at a hearing to disclose information about past or future terrorist actions, even if the witnesses have not been charged with any crimes themselves. A witness could be questioned in a secret hearing and face arrest for not cooperating. Preventative arrest would be permitted for terrorism suspects, who would be brought to a court and possibly subjected to conditions before they are released. These conditions could include things such as banning communication with a specific person. A jail sentence of up to one year could be imposed for refusal to follow the conditions. (Cohen, supra.)

The bill was first introduced in Parliament in February 2012, bu the Boston bombings generated renewed interest in its provisions, resulting in the legislation being fast-tracked. Some critics, concerned about the impact of the provisions on civil liberties, argued that the success against the potential terror attack on the Via Canada railroad shows that the new provisions are unnecessary. (Id.; Votava, supra.)

A spokesman for the Canadian Justice Department, Andrew Gowing, expressed support for the new law, arguing that it will “ensure that law enforcement have the means to anticipate and respond effectively to terrorism, thereby complementing the government’s ongoing efforts to combat radicalization leading to violent extremism.” (Stephanie Levitz, Canada Anti-Terror Bill S-7 Passes House of Commons, HUFF POST POLITICS (Apr. 24, 2013); for background on how Canada’s Supreme Court viewed previous legislation on terrorism, see Wendy Zeldin, Canada: Anti-Terror Law Ruled Constitutional, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 18, 2012).)