Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
(Who will guard us from the guardians?)
— Juvenal, Satires, vi, 347 c 116 AD
The Hon. Anne McLellan
Minster of Justice
Government of Canada
Dear Ms McLellan,
I am writing to express our concerns about the federal anti-terrorism legislation, Bill C-36.
We fully understand there is fear (and, alas, much fear-mongering) in Canada at present as a result of America’s war with Afghanistan. We understand that Canadians want to be safe and to feel safe. We understand that it is the job of the federal government to respond to all of this in an appropriate way.
But we are worried about the repercussions for our own communities, the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities across Canada. And the reason for our apprehension is the record of the authorities who will be given extra powers in the fight against terrorism.
Eric Rice of the Canadian Bar Association argues that the definition of terrorism under C-36 “could include legitimate activities that upset the social order, like the recent illegal strikes waged by nurses and truckers, anti-globalization marches, or First Nation demonstrations” – and the civil disobedience used as a last resort by women and minority groups whose rights are threatened.
We feel it imperative to recognize that this bill is being enacted in a time of crisis and bestows on various agencies extra-ordinary powers. In order that the situation brought about by these new and far-reaching powers does not become the norm, we also feel it imperative that a “sunset clause” be built into the legislation to ensure a) that its term is limited to three years or less, b) that it cannot be renewed easily or without public debate, and c) that an annual report be made, tabled in parliament and accessible to the public, on the actions taken under Bill C-36.
Further, it must be recognized that the RCMP and many local police forces across the country have investigated, kept records on, and, in some cases, harassed lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and organizations, assuming that our sexual orientation makes us a security risk. We have seen little evidence of changed mentality among these officials.
This makes the proposed police powers of email and phone monitoring a particular worry for us. The capacity police will be given to put suspected troublemakers into preventative detention is even more worrying. It gives the police the power to throw in jail anyone they choose, without justification or recourse for the detainee. Further, the fundamental right to not answer questions will be stripped away, and, as the CBA points out, this powerful combination erases the distinction between suspect and witness. We fear that, as in the police’s recent Project Guardian in London Ontario, there is opportunity for abuse: people can be kept in jail until they confess to whatever they think will improve their situation.
Unfortunately, even though the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and most provincial human rights legislations offer us protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, it is still the case that people lose their jobs, their housing, and sometimes their children when they encounter prejudice as a result of their sexual orientation being known. Nor is our human rights protection complete: for example, hate literature directed at people of a particular sexual orientation is not proscribed in the Criminal Code.
In short, even though Canada has treated us better than many countries do, we are still highly vulnerable.
For this bill to make us feel safe, we would need to know that policies, procedures, and training were being mandated by the legislation, put in place immediately, and then regularly monitored for compliance to make sure that those entrusted with the duty of assessing security risks are not misled by their prejudice into thinking that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are an apt target simply because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
And we would need to know that they have received a strong message from the government to let them know that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are not a target approved by the federal government.
C M Donald