Public Views on the Anti-Terrorism Act
(formerly Bill C-36)
By far, most of the participants in the sessions agreed that, to the best of their knowledge, the law had no impact on their own personal life and activities. Some mentioned having problems at the border (usually the United States border) or waiting longer and being exposed to greater security scrutiny at the airport. A few participants mentioned that incidents of alleged discrimination at the border or at airports had been reported to them by friends, acquaintances, or spouses. The individuals who had experienced discrimination were generally people of colour or of Middle Eastern background. One Halifax Group 2 participant recounted that a friend of Middle Eastern origin was deported from the United States after the events of September 11.
Aside from the Maher Arar affair and the RCMP investigation of the Ottawa Citizen journalist, no participant was specifically aware of any public case involving the Anti-terrorism Act, which led a few participants to question the effectiveness of the Act itself.
Although not directly related to the Anti-terrorism Act, the main impact on the population since September 11, 2001, is widely acknowledged as having to do with air travel and border crossing. A few participants also mentioned additional safety measures in schools. Otherwise, no participant could recall changes associated with encounters with the police, attendance to public events, and relationships with other people. However, a few participants mentioned that they now tend to be a little bit more wary of persons of Middle Eastern descent.
Most participants across both age groups and in most cities indicated that they felt no more or no less secure after being made aware of the Anti-terrorism Act, not so much because they thought that the Act did not "have teeth," but because they did not think that the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Canada was high to begin with. Basically, these participants did not feel threatened and did not think that much had changed since September 11, 2001. A very small minority claimed that after having been made aware of the Act, they felt less sure that their civil rights are protected.
Among participants in Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, one or two in each group said they felt
"a little bit more secure" now that they were aware of the existence of this legislation.
Whereas many participants claimed that more people should be aware of the Act and its provisions, the majority acknowledged that knowing more about it was not a priority for them because terrorism has had no impact on their daily life. Only a minority would make the effort to visit the Internet site of the Department of Justice Canada, for example, to obtain either more information about Bill C-36, the list of organizations designated as terrorists, or the report of the Solicitor General to Parliament on the use of the new investigative and preventive arrest powers.
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