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

1. Introduction

This report examines the responses of 1,703 Canadians, including an over-representation of individuals who self-identified as a visible minority, to questions surrounding their knowledge, opinions and experiences regarding the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and related security measures. Specifically, this report explores awareness and concern regarding terrorism and the Canadian government response to terrorism; the application of the ATA and racial profiling. In addition, data was collected regarding the travel and corresponding security experiences of the participants. Comparisons between visible minority and non-minority respondents were also included in the report. The main purpose of establishing comparison groups was to examine whether visible minority respondents were disproportionately affected by the ATA and travel-related security measures.

2. Background

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and in response to the increasing global threat of terrorism, the Government of Canada sought to strengthen its approach to combating terrorism and ensuring public security. Part of Canada's response to the threat of terrorism was the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which received Royal Assent in December 2001.

The Act itself provided amendments to various Canadian statutes, including the Criminal Code and the Security of Information Act. The amendments were designed to disable terrorist groups and their supporters through various means including:

  • Defining "terrorist activity" [1];
  • Creating a process for listing an entity that, upon listing, becomes defined as a terrorist group;
  • Creating new powers through the use of investigative hearings and a recognizance with conditions in order to prevent acts of terrorism;
  • Creating new terrorism offences that include collecting property for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist activity, facilitating a terrorist activity, instructing someone to carry out a terrorist activity, and harbouring or concealing a person known to have carried out or who is likely to carry out a terrorist activity;
  • Stronger laws against hate crimes and propaganda;
  • Provided new investigative tools to security and law enforcement agencies by expanding the use of electronic surveillance and permitting the interception of communications of foreign targets abroad;
  • Amendments to the Official Secrets Act (now the Security of Information Act) designed to counter intelligence-gathering activities by foreign powers and terrorist groups, to address the intimidation or coercion of communities in Canada, as well as to prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of special operational information by individuals bound to secrecy; and
  • Amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act to authorize the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC) to detect financial transactions that may constitute threats to Canada's security and to notify the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

A Parliamentary review of the anti-terrorism legislation was mandated to take place within three years of the Act receiving Royal Assent. A motion was adopted by the House of Commons on December 9, 2004 authorizing the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to begin a review of the ATA. At the time that this report was written, the Subcommittee on Public Safety and National Security had begun work on the review. The Senate adopted a similar motion on December 13, 2004, establishing a Special Committee to undertake a separate review. These committees are to report back to Parliament within one year, unless their mandates are extended.

The two Parliamentary committees began hearing from witnesses in February 2005. The House Subcommittee formally extended its mandate to include a review of s. 4 of the Security of Information Act and security certificates under the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, while the Senate has effectively extended its review beyond the specific provisions of the ATA. Both committees concluded their hearings in November 2005. Once the committees have submitted their reports to Parliament, the government has 120 days to respond to the House Report and 150 days to respond to the Senate Report.

To inform the Parliamentary Review, the Department of Justice has undertaken various research projects, designed to obtain the views of visible minorities, the general public and Canadian scholars on different provisions of the Act.

The first of the projects was conducted in March 2003 (Créatec +, 2003). This project used focus groups to examined two separate cohorts. The first cohort included members of minority groups in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. In the second cohort, focus groups were conducted with participants that were more ethnically proportionate to the general Canadian population. Results were presented overall and, where relevant, differences between the respondents in the two cohorts were noted. The focus group discussions revealed that general awareness of terrorism-related legislation was consistently low among all participants, with the exception of the post 9/11 travel-related security measures, especially at airports and borders. The majority of participants were aware of the new travel-related measures. Overall, the participants expressed support for the provisions of the ATA, with varying degrees of concern about its application. Canada's legislation was generally thought to be less severe than that of the United States and United Kingdom. Moreover, the ATA generally created a sense of comfort, safety and increased security among the focus group participants.

In March 2004 (Millward Brown Goldfarb, 2004), qualitative research surrounding public views of the ATA was also undertaken. The purpose of this research was to obtain the views and attitudes of the Canadian population with respect to anti-terrorism legislation, including specific provisions, and the potential impact of the legislation on their personal and community lives. Only about half of the focus group participants were aware of some aspects of the ATA legislation; and while participants provided general support for the concept of the legislation, many felt the Act was too broad and somewhat vague.

Next, the Department of Justice consulted a diverse group of Canadian scholars regarding their views of the ATA (Gabor, 2004). Scholars who participated in this report came from a variety of fields including, law, political science, history, and conflict studies. The scholars were asked to respond to a set of questions about the ATA, and were encouraged to offer their own opinions and observations regarding the Canadian anti-terrorism legislation and related emerging trends. At the time when the scholars were responding, some felt it was too early to assess the impact of the ATA while others felt the legislation had a negative impact on civil liberties and Canadian values. There were some that felt that the ATA acts as a deterrent and had contributed to improved intelligence and prosecutions without eroding civil liberties.

Finally, the Department of Justice conducted this survey of Canadian visible minorities and non-minorities in March 2005.


[1] Please see Section 83.01 of the Criminal Code of Canada for the full definition.

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