Minority Views on the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act

3.  Introduction

3.  Introduction

3.1  About this Report

In this report, in accordance with standard qualitative reporting practice, input from all 16 groups are presented together, with any differences among participants across the various demographic classifications—whether by target group (ethnic background), language or location -- pointed out where relevant. 

The target groups in this study were defined by self-reported ethnic origins according to the definitions and classifications used by Statistics Canada for the 2001 Population Census. (See Appendix 2).

Overall, the report presents the major trends as well as the range of views, including the dominant ones and those from other perspectives.   However, in accordance with standard qualitative practice, no percentages are given with respect to findings, and people are not counted per se, although sometimes during discussions, various votes were taken – mainly in order to clarify positions. 

The report begins with an executive summary, which briefly outlines the main findings.  It continues with report highlights, which first outlines the background, purpose and methodology of this study, and then presents respondent awareness of and reactions to various aspects of the anti-terrorism legislation, and ends with some concluding comments. 

Throughout the report, respondents' language and terminology are used wherever possible, to let them speak in their own words.  For easier reading, quotation marks have been used sparingly, and verbatim responses have been italicized and slightly edited (for clarification).

In keeping with usual qualitative reporting practice, while there are no systematic references to each of the 16 sessions, examples may be drawn from specific locales or target groups.

3.2  Background, Purpose and Objectives

3.2.1 Background

In December 2001, Parliament of Canada proclaimed into law the Anti-terrorism Act (formerly Bill C-36).  There has been a perception surrounding the enactment of the legislation, as expressed in media reports for example, that some minority groups may be unfairly targeted as a result of the provisions contained in the legislation.  On this point, the Research and Statistics Division of the Department of Justice Canada sought to examine the views of minority groups on the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA).  Building on the consultations undertaken with various groups prior to the enactment of the legislation, this study randomly sampled the views of minority group members from across the country.  This was not a consultation but rather a focus-group exercise that held structured conversations with participants. 

A Parliamentary review of the entire Act is mandated to take place within three years of the Act receiving Royal Assent.  This research was conducted to inform the review.

3.2.2 Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this qualitative research was to discover the views of the Canadian public towards the ATA and some of its key components – with special attention to the attitudes and concerns of ethno-cultural minorities in Canada.  The purpose was not just to find out what people thought, but also to gain insight as to why such viewpoints were held.  

More specifically, the following 4 issues were to be explored:

  1. Awareness of Canadian anti-terrorism legislation and Government of Canada actions since 9/11;
  2. Awareness of and attitudes towards the ATA in general, and some particular provisions;
  3. Perceived impact of the ATA on people's personal lives;
  4. Interest in further information about the ATA in general and about certain aspects.

3.2.3 Methodological Rationale

While the views of the Canadian public as a whole can be tapped by public opinion surveys, minority views are more difficult to capture not only because of smaller sample sizes, but also because of participants' comfort level in expressing views on such a sensitive topic (the problem of terrorism and related legislation) over the telephone.  In addition, it was considered important to be able to differentiate findings by specific target group. 

It was therefore felt that a qualitative approach – which focuses on providing understanding and insights as to why certain views are held – would be the most effective methodology.  It was also felt that a focus group setting, particularly one where people shared similar ethnic backgrounds, would provide the optimum setting for open discussions. 

The process was not one of consensus building or consultation – but more of an exploration into people's awareness and perceptions with regard to the Canadian ATA.  The role of the moderator was precisely to guide the discussion, to collect information and to observe, but was not to inform, or suggest right or wrong answers.  In fact, participants were told that there were no wrong answers, since it was their views and opinions that were sought.

In the focus group sessions, participants seemed to share their thoughts and feelings honestly and openly, and freely interacted with each other, agreeing and disagreeing as the case may be.  Sometimes the discussions became quite passionate, and at other times, humour was used.  Overall, participants in all 5 locations seemed to appreciate the opportunity to give their views on such an important topic.  For example, several participants of Iranian descent (from Vancouver) came to the session even though it took place during the week they celebrated the Iranian New Year. 

3.3  Methodology

3.3.1 Qualitative Approach

Given the sensitive nature of the research objectives, the conventional focus group discussion method was used – with most sessions comprised of 8-10 participants, and several with 5-7.

We believe that when conducting exploratory research, the qualitative approach works best when used as a learning tool to help understand the range and depth of reaction to the issues at a given moment in time.  Such an in-depth review of complex factors, opinions and rationales, including their emotional and psychological basis, is not possible with a quantitative survey.

However, while the findings do provide unique insights into the perceptions and attitudes surrounding the various issues, and snapshot-in-time impressions, these are not quantifiable, and may or may not be representative of the population at large.  It is left to the reader's judgement to evaluate the findings generated from such research.  Qualitative research may be further pursued by other instruments to add to the findings.  If statistically valid results are desired, a separate follow-up quantitative study is certainly an option.

3.3.2 Target Groups

Groups were split according to self-reported ethnic backgrounds (see Statistics Canada group classification in Appendix 3) to allow for 3 subgroups with possible contrasting views on the Anti-terrorism Act. The placement of participants in groups was made based on ethnicity, not racial or religious backgrounds. Only the principal ethnic origin reported was used as criteria for placement. The 3 groups were the following:

  1. Group 1:  made up of individuals reporting Arab and West Asian ethnic backgrounds as well as those of North African and Pakistani ethnicity.  Group 1 members were mostly visible minorities.
  2. Group 2:  made up of individuals reporting Black, African, East Asian, South-East Asian and South Asian ethnic origins, excluding Group 1 members.
  3. Group 3:  made up of individuals of Western, Northern, Central, Southern and Eastern European ethnic origins, including those reporting Aboriginal and Jewish backgrounds. 

3.3.3 Number and Type of Sessions

From March 10-21, 2003, a national study was undertaken, comprising 16 focus groups in 5 locations across the country (Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver) with a total of 138 participants belonging to about 60 different self-reported ethnic origins (for a table showing group composition by ethnic backgrounds, see Appendix 2).

In each of the 5 locations, Groups 1, 2 and 3 were organized, plus an additional Group 3 of English-speakers in Montreal.  Most discussions were conducted in English (3 each in Halifax, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver plus 1 in Montreal), and 3 in Montreal were in French.  The allocation of participants is shown in the following table.

Number of Participants by Location and Target Group
Ethnic Composition Halifax Montreal French Montreal English Toronto Calgary Vancouver Totals
Group 1 7 8 --- 10 5 7 37
Group 2 7 8 --- 10 9 9 53
Group 3 9 10 10 10 9 10 48
Total 23 26 10 30 23 26 138

As is standard qualitative practice, all sessions were held in facilities equipped with an observation room, and each 2-hour session was audio taped (with respondents' consent).

The following table shows the self-reported ethnic backgrounds (in alphabetical order) from which participants in this study were drawn.

Ethnic Origins of Participants by Target Group
Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
  • 1) Afghani
  • 2) North African
  • 3) Algerian
  • 4) Armenian
  • 5) Egyptian
  • 6) Iranian
  • 7) Iraqi
  • 8) Jordanian
  • 9) Lebanese
  • 10) Libyan
  • 11) Moroccan
  • 12) Pakistani
  • 13) Persian
  • 14) Sudanese
  • 15) Syrian
  • 16) Tunisian
  • 17) Turkish
  • 18) Afro-American
  • 19) Algerian
  • 20) Brazilian
  • 21) Chilean
  • 22) Chinese
  • 23) Salvadorian
  • 24) Gabon's
  • 25) Grenadine
  • 26) Guatemalan
  • 27) Haitian
  • 28) Chinese
  • 29) South Asian
  • 30) Ivory Coastian
  • 31) Japanese
  • 32) Malaysian
  • 33) Paraguayan
  • 34) Filipino
  • 35) Somalian
  • 36) Tanzanian
  • 37) Venezuelan
  • 38) Metis
  • 39) Austrian
  • 40) Bosnian
  • 41) Bulgarian
  • 42) Croatian
  • 43) Danish
  • 44) Estonian
  • 45) Finnish
  • 46) German
  • 47) Greek
  • 48) Hungarian
  • 49) Irish
  • 50) Italian
  • 51) Jewish
  • 52) Dutch
  • 53) Polish
  • 54) Romanian
  • 55) Russian
  • 56) Scandinavian
  • 57) Slovenian
  • 58) South African
  • 59) Spanish
  • 60) Vietnamese
Date modified: