Josh Wingrove reviews bill C-44, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act,” which is soon to become law. He presents views for and against this legislation as well as new legislation soon to be tabled that could lower evidentiary thresholds for police to make “preventative arrests.”

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, history, current events

Key Questions to Explore:

  • (Primary) How might new anti-terrorist laws that make it easier to arrest possible terrorists affect civil rights for all Canadian citizens? (Secondary) How does the use of the term “terrorist” change the way we think about a criminal act and the criminal who commits it?

New Terminology:

Evidentiary threshold, preventative arrest, anti-cyberbullying, oversight, CSIS

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

In its ongoing media campaign in advance of next year’s election, the governing federal Conservative Party has loudly proclaimed that it and its leader, Stephen Harper, are better suited than the opposition parties to protect Canadians from terrorists. To that end, the government has introduced one bill and will soon introduce another, both of which give policing agencies greater powers to make preventative arrests.  As well, the government does not plan to have agencies so empowered to be overseen by an oversight committee. The Canadian Bar association, among other groups, has expressed concern that this kind of legislation could erode existing “cherished [evidentiary] thresholds of police powers.”

In this lesson, students will work in pairs to analyze and critique selected passages from Mr. Wingrove’s article with the goal of presenting clear points for and against the government’s impending and planned legislation. They will then write a short opinion piece on one of two topics, a) the impact of the proposed legislation on security and civil rights or b) the implications and effects of using the term “terrorism” as opposed to “crime” in public discourse.

Students will require access to the Internet to complete their worksheet.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Engage students in a short (5 minute) discussion about the recent violence in Ottawa. Draw out a basic understanding of the fatal shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the war memorial site, and the subsequent gunfire inside the parliament buildings resulting in the death of his killer, Michael Zehalf-Bibeau.
  • Next, explain that the shooting coincided with the tabling of bill C-44, which is designed to help protect Canadians from terrorists and that the government is planning additional legislation that will make it easier for police to make preventative arrests.
  • Provide students with copies of the article by Josh Wingrove and ask for volunteers to read it aloud to the class. Consider pausing to explain the terms: evidentiary threshold (the amount of evidence required to allow police to lawfully arrest or detain a person), preventative arrest (arresting someone before they commit a crime), anti-cyberbullying (laws that respond to suicides from online bullying), oversight (oversee and control), CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service—our version of the American CIA) if necessary.
  • When the reading is done, arrange students in pairs and provide them with this worksheet.

Answer the questions following each of the excerpts, below, taken from the article you just read. Use the Internet to find information, as needed.

The collection of efforts have sparked calls for restraint – to not let the attacks spur knee-jerk counter-terrorism legislation that infringes on civil liberties.

    • What are civil liberties? List several.

…the “ Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act” boosts the powers of Canada’s domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), to share information and operate internationally. It also gives new powers for CSIS to keep its sources anonymous.

    • Some people are warning of dangers in legislating absolute (no appeal) anonymity of such sources. Do Canadians have a fundamental right to know who is accusing them of a crime? If so, how might this new legislation infringe on that right?

Government ministers have mused openly about lowering how much evidence is needed to place a terror suspect under a peace bond, which allows officials to closely monitor the suspect even if they don’t have enough evidence to lay a charge.

    • What civil rights issues do you think might arise were the evidentiary threshold lowered? What do you think could be meant by “closely monitor?”

Other changes could include making it illegal to write online statements that support a terror group and expanding powers for preventative arrest, or arrest without a charge.

    • Were these changes in effect, do you think we would have a safer society? How might they affect what a person posts in social media? What are some possible implications of a law that allows police to arrest someone because they believe they might commit a crime, but have yet to commit a crime?

…the House passed Bill C-13. The government refers to as an anti-cyberbullying bill but it goes well beyond that. The bill contains broad new police powers, including several new warrants for surveillance, tracking and gathering of bank information that critics have said will, in some cases, require little evidence to get.

    • Who does this law hope to protect? How safe would you feel in posting candid comments to friends about other friends now that this law is in place?

Mr. Therrien, the privacy commissioner…was among the 15 privacy watchdogs across Canada to issue an open letter this week urging the government to be transparent about changes and ensure robust oversight.

    • Why is it important that the government be “transparent”? What would “robust oversight” help to prevent?

“I haven’t seen any evidence or a persuasive argument for why we need more tools,” Mr. Gottardi said, later adding: “If things need little tweaks here and there, that might be appropriate. But in terms of new wide-sweeping powers or the lowering down of historically cherished [evidentiary] thresholds of police powers, I don’t know that you really need to mess with something that’s been working quite well for decades.”

    • Why do would Canadians cherish the current evidentiary thresholds of police powers? Why would the Canadian Bar Association be a credible source for this kind of criticism?
    • Would it be reasonable or not to assume that the government is introducing this legislation to enhance their re-election prospects? Give reasons.

Muhammad Aqeeq Ansari, a 30-year-old Ontario resident who is a citizen of Pakistan, was arrested on Oct. 27, days after the attacks. Authorities allege he poses a threat to Canada and have detained him on immigration charges with the aim of deporting him. It’s alleged he was found with jihadist propaganda and that he maintained a website for Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which some countries consider a terror group, though Canada does not. His family have said he is peaceful and a gun collector.

His arrest came the same day as the RCMP Commissioner and a top CSIS official told a Parliamentary committee they were reviewing their efforts in the aftermath of the attacks. Mr. Ansari was denied bail in an Oct. 31 hearing.

    • If Canada does not consider Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat a terror group, why would it be relevant that the accused here maintained a website for it? How might this arrest be considered a breach of civil rights? Do you think you would feel safer if more people like Mr. Ansari were arrested?

Conduct a general discussion session when students are finished their work.

Consolidation of Learning:

Successful, informed, general discussion at the end of the assignment.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Successful completion of the pairs activity and writing assignment, below.

Confirming Activity:

  • Assign a short writing assignment on one of two topics: a) Why you would support or oppose existing and  proposed legislation on security and civil rights or b) Offer your opinion on the implications and effects of using the term “terrorism” as opposed to “crime.” You should address the difference between a “terrorist” and a “criminal,” and the way that you think of the individuals differently, if you do, according to how they are described.