Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
November 12, 2001
Terrorism bill too broad, say churches
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA — Canadian churches say the net cast by the definition of terrorism in the federal government's anti-terrorist legislation is too wide and could catch those involved in legitimate political dissent and protest.
"There are already sufficient legal instruments available to respond should protesters become violent or destructive," said the Canadian Council of Churches.
It made its submission to the House of Commons' standing committee on justice and human rights Nov. 6. The committee is studying Bill C-36, the proposed government bill to fight terrorism.
"The government's anti-terrorist legislation must ensure that important Canadian values aren't jeopardized," said the council in a brief presented by Peter Noteboom, CCC associate secretary for Justice and Peace, and Jennifer Leddy of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The CCC said the relevant section of Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorist Act, should be deleted as recommended by the Canadian Bar Association "so that there is no doubt that traditional social protest will not be treated as terrorism."
Another section of the bill, it said, should be changed so that it wouldn't punish Church groups "who in good faith and with due diligence provide funds to their overseas partners for development or humanitarian assistance, only to discover that they have been inadvertently diverted to a terrorist organization."
The council said the section should be amended to include a requirement of criminal intent.
The 19 Church denominations represented by the council are also worried that groups in countries that have a poor human rights record may be wrongly labeled as terrorist organizations.
"Many of those states are willing to apply the 'terrorist' label to unpopular minorities, unofficial religions, human rights groups, and so on," said the CCC.
"Canada needs to ensure that a foreign state, particularly a state with a poor record of respect for human rights and democracy, is not the only source of information that would lead to a group being labeled as a terrorist organization."
As well, the legislation needs to make clear that humanitarian assistance is not an offence, even when it is delivered to people who have been labeled "terrorists" by a hostile government, the council said.
The churches are also concerned that bona fide charities will be caught by one section of the bill and that a drop in international charitable activities would result.
"Our experience is that some governments designate our Church partners and related non-governmental organizations as terrorist groups simply because they work among minorities or among the poorest people of their country," the council said.
"An excellent example would be the support given in the past to the dependent children of black South Africans who had been labeled as terrorists and were imprisoned for their efforts to replace apartheid with a democratic political system."
The Canadian Bar Association and the Senate had earlier called for a "sunset clause" in the proposed legislation. The CCC said the recommendations of the groups should be considered fully.
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