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Power to the RCMP

Northern lawyer says C-36 goes too far

Bruce Valpy
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 07/02) - For many Canadians, the scariest part of Canada's war on terrorism is the sweeping power given to police. Under certain circumstances, people can be jailed for being suspected of planning a terrorist act.

NNSL Photo
Paul Smith

Bill Lenton is assistant commissioner federal services directorate, with over 30 years in the RCMP. He said any potential for abuse is balanced by the requirement that either a judge or cabinet minister permit the police to proceed.

In the North, the Walter Lothar Ebke case brings home what the new terrorism laws might mean. Germany has been attempting to extradite Ebke since May 2000. Owner of a bed and breakfast in Yellowknife, he's wanted by German police, accused of left-wing terrorist activities in the 1980s.

Lawyer Paul Smith is vice-president of the NWT branch of the Canadian Bar Association. He said the balance referred to by Lenton doesn't meet the standards of Canadian criminal law. "Ebke would very likely have been designated a terrorist," he said.

In Smith's opinion, Bill C-36, passed by parliament last month, would have allowed Ebke to be arrested without a warrant and held for 72 hours before being brought in front of a judge. Evidence can be kept secret from the accused or kept secret from the public.

Smith said the laws were designed for foreign governments. They might be reluctant to share information with Canadian intelligence agencies if it was all going to come out in a public courtroom.

Without speaking to the Ebke case specifically, Department of Justice senior officials emphasized the new terrorism laws are directed at prevention. Police cannot use the powers unless they have reasonable grounds to suspect a person is planning a terrorism act. Present laws cover someone accused of a past crime, they said.

Bill C-36 also states people can no longer refuse to answer questions if they are suspected of knowing something about a terrorist event. If they do, they are breaking the law. Whatever they say cannot be used against them if they're later charged with an offence. Smith said in criminal law, people have to answer to a judge, not the police. Justice officials point to the grand jury process in the U.S. where witnesses are compelled to testify.

Smith is confident there will be appeals, perhaps to the Supreme Court of Canada. He wasn't as confident the media would be able to track any abuses of the new law. "They're not going to get the information from the police."

At the end of five years, the preventive arrest and investigative hearing powers have to be renewed by parliament and the senate. Investigations begun before the five-year deadline would be allowed to continue to conclusion.