The Anti-Terrorism Act and Security Measures in Canada: Public Views, Impacts and Travel Experiences


The authors would like to take the opportunity to thank Damir Kukec for designing the study and Jeff Latimer, Suzanne Wallace-Capretta, Cathy Thompson, Kim Burnett, Yvonne Stys, Mark Feldbauer and Allan Ferguson for providing valuable editorial comments. In addition, we would also like to thank Laura Hanby for providing the graphs.

Executive Summary

This report examined the responses of 1,703 Canadians in March 2005 to a variety of knowledge, opinion and experienced-based questions in relation to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), as well as other post-9/11 security measures. In order to address concerns raised in previous research conducted by the Department that visible minority Canadians may be disproportionately affected by the ATA and other security measures, this study over-sampled people who self-identified as belonging to a visible minority group. In order to determine if visible minority respondents were disproportionately affected, their responses were compared to non-minority respondents. In addition to the overall results, only statistically significant differences between visible minority and non-minority respondents are provided in this report. The survey includes five sections: awareness and concern surrounding terrorism and anti-terrorism legislation, the application of terrorism-related legislation, racial profiling in Canada, impact of the legislation and the experiences of the respondents when crossing borders and passing through airport security. The discussion and conclusion provide a synthesis and analysis of the results of this survey.

Awareness and Concern

Only one percent of participants could identify the Canadian legislation (ATA/Bill C-36) enacted to combat terrorism. This level of awareness is consistent with findings from previous research. Many (58%) of the respondents were concerned about terrorism in Canada. There was general support of the actions taken by the Canadian government as respondents felt that such actions were needed and that the legislation has made Canada safer. Interestingly, the governmental actions most frequently noted were increased security at airports and increased screening of immigrants/refugees. While these changes were not part of the ATA, they are the areas Canadians most identify with. This is likely a result of 9/11 attacks in the United States and the subsequent media attention paid to airline and border security.

Governmental reporting responsibilities were relatively unknown amongst the respondents, yet there was some acknowledgement of safeguards to protect Canadians' rights and freedoms. Despite being unaware of the legislation, most (73%) respondents stated that they were aware that Parliament was required to review the ATA,but only 12% knew that a review was underway at the time of the survey. Fewer still were aware that the Department of Justice had established an Internet site specifically designed to provide information surrounding the review. The majority of respondents were interested in receiving more information concerning the ATA and would prefer to receive the information via a pamphlet mailed to their household (53%) or via the Internet (36%). This indicates that the Department has made the information available to the public in the medium of their choice.

There were a number of statistically significant differences between visible minority and non-minority respondents with respect to awareness and concern surrounding terrorism and corresponding legislation. More non-minority participants noticed increased security at borders and/or airports as responses to combat terrorism despite similar travel patterns. While the general consensus was that Canada's legislation was not as tough as the U.S. or the U.K.'s legislation, more visible minority respondents felt that the U.S. laws were tougher than Canada's. Fewer visible minority respondents were aware of the safeguards in place within the ATA to protect Canadian's rights and freedoms.


Most (75%) participants felt that the ATA was necessary and that it has made Canada safer (60%) from terrorist activity. There was overwhelming support for law enforcement and security officials to investigate individuals both within Canada and abroad (89%). However, many (52%) respondents felt that the application of the ATA has resulted in people being unfairly targeted because of their ethnic, racial, or religious background.

Fewer visible minority respondents felt that the enactment of the ATA was necessary or that the Act has resulted in a safer Canada. Further, more visible minority respondents felt that the ATA has resulted in the unfair targeting of certain individuals due to their ethnic, racial or religious background.

Racial Profiling

It was generally correctly indicated by the participants that Canada does not have an official policy to racially profile but it was thought that it unofficially occurs at least sometimes. If an individual had been targeted based on ethnic/racial background, most (79%) respondents thought the individual would still receive a fair trial in Canada. Still, most (79%) participants felt that it was inappropriate to screen individuals for potential terrorist activity based solely on race, ethnicity or religion and that this type of screening violated the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Visible minority respondents were more likely to indicate that Canada had an official policy to racially profile and that it occurs unofficially at least some of the time. Fewer visible minority respondents felt that an individual targeted because of his/her racial or ethnic background would get a fair trial in Canada. One-fifth (20%) of the visible minority participants felt that they had been the target of racial profiling over the last four years. The nature and extent of this perceived profiling was not addressed by the survey.


Almost three-quarters (73%) of the participants did not report being personally affected by the post-9/11 measures. The most common ways the new measures affected respondents were by increased security measures at airports/delays in travel (54%) and increased checks at customs/delays in crossing borders (44%).

Respondents were also asked questions regarding the affects of various anti-terrorism related measures on their immediate families. Overall, the respondents reported that the various areas related to terrorism, specifically, the ATA, security at airports/transportation centres and law enforcement/security agencies, had no impact on their immediate families.

Although most respondents indicated that they had not been affected by the post-9/11 security measures, more visible minority respondents indicated that they were affected when compared with non-minority respondents. Interestingly, non-minority participants reported experiencing greater delays in air travel/increased security at airports with no significant differences on the extent of their travel. Visible minority respondents indicated more impact on their immediate families than non-minority respondents with regards to the ATA, security at airports/transportation centres and law enforcement/security agencies.

These differences indicate that Canadians who identified themselves as belonging to a visible minority group are generally more concerned with the use of the ATA, especially in relation to the safeguards, application and potential for racial profiling to occur. These concerns may have had an influence on how visible minority Canadians view the impact of the ATA, especially in relation to the impact of the legislation.

Crossing borders and airport experiences

Respondents were asked several questions regarding their experiences while travelling in Canada and abroad over the last four years. There were no statistically significant differences between visible minority and non-minority participants with respect to the extent of their travel, their experiences with additional screening, or how they felt about the additional screening.

When travelling by air (either within Canada or between Canada and the U.S.), approximately one-fifth (21%) of the participants had undergone additional screening. Smaller proportions of respondents had experienced additional screening when travelling by air outside of North America. The most common types of additional screening included property searches, personal searches and/or the removal of shoes/belts. For the most part, those who had experienced the additional screening felt that it was justified to ensure public safety.

When travelling between Canada and the U.S. by means other than air, about one-fifth (18%) of the respondents had undergone additional screening that consisted mainly of property searches, having documents questioned and being taken into an office and questioned. Only about half (51%) of those surveyed felt the additional screening was justified.

When returning to Canada, fewer respondents reported experiencing additional screening by immigration and/or customs officials (8%). The most common forms of additional screening were property searches and having documents questioned. Again, only about half of the participants felt that the additional screening was justified.

Discussion and Conclusion

Clearly, there is support for the Canadian government's response to terrorism and most participants felt such a response has made Canada a safer place. However, visible minority respondents were less likely to support the ATA or feel that it has had a positive impact on Canada's safety.

The change Canadians perceived most as a result of the government's response to combating terrorism was the increased security at airports and border crossings. Although there was wide-spread support for additional security measures in airports, this was not the case for additional security at border crossings. This may be the result of the visual impact the events of 9/11 have had on Canadians.

Racial profiling was definitely a concern for visible minority respondents. However, the results of this study indicate that there does not appear to be any disproportionate impact on visible minority Canadians at border crossings or when in airport security.

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